As a high school senior I was told by my Guidance Counselor, “You do not want to be a teacher…they are a dime a dozen!” Trusting in an adult who seemingly knew what she was talking about, I began to think of other avenues. Social work came to mind, but I was told by a cousin, who was a member of a religious order, “You won’t make any money doing that!” So began my journey into the field of Corrections.
One of my grade school basketball coaches who, herself, decided to major in Corrections, suggested a friend of mine and I go into this field. She emphasized the growing opportunities for women and, as I had an interest in working with children, suggested I look at Juvenile Corrections.
I am one of few people from my era that actually majored in Corrections in college. I graduated in 1981 from Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA with a BA in Corrections and Sociology. During the course of my college career I had several opportunities to work with youth in group homes, as a part of Vision Quest and as a one-on-one volunteer. It was during the summer between my junior and senior year in college that I had an opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. for an internship with Federal Probation. My eyes were widened to the various possibilities in this field!
I was assigned to the Research Unit at Federal Probation. This experience nurtured in me an interest in studying social behavior and causal relationships. After completing my internship, I decided to apply for graduate programs in the field of Sociology with a concentration in Criminal Justice. Graduate school brought me to Virginia from my home in Pennsylvania. I completed all but my thesis towards a master’s degree in Sociology at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. While there I volunteered with the Friends of the Norfolk Juvenile Court (a non-profit organization that provides supportive services to the Court Services Unit); waiting for my opportunity at a paid position.
In 1984 I was hired as a Diagnostic Counselor; writing social-history investigations on juvenile and domestic relations matters. Marriage resulted in a move away from Norfolk to Northern Virginia and a new position with the Alexandria Court Services Unit (CSU.) Once again, I realized the infinite possibilities in the field of Corrections.
My experience as a volunteer in Norfolk and involvement with the “Friends” molded me as the prime applicant for a newly created position as Special Project Coordinator. The responsibilities included coordinating the CSU Volunteer Program, resource development, coordinating residential placements, and serving as a liaison with community groups. I learned a great deal in this position…most especially that there is more to the field of Corrections than custody, case management and supervision. I learned of the importance of community collaboration, partnerships and leadership. Funny - many of these same things that are emphasized today.
From the CSU, I took a position with the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office as the Volunteer / Programs Coordinator. The use of volunteers in a detention facility was a rather new concept and I took the challenge head on. Through this experience I learned to write policies and procedures as there were none with respect to the use of volunteers. I also learned about the operation of a Direct Supervision Facility and the importance of this concept in the management of the inmate population and availability of programming.
In 1989 my husband and I decided to leave Northern Virginia. I had no plan for what I wanted to do in our new home town of Richmond, Virginia. I learned quickly that being the state capital and location of the headquarters for the Department of Corrections, the possibilities were numerous.
My first position with the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) was with the Certification Unit. I had been involved with the preparations for the American Correctional Association (ACA) compliance audit of the Alexandria Detention Center so I had some familiarity with the area of compliance determination. Once again, I discovered another opportunity in the field of Corrections. My experience with both adult and juvenile facilities / programs landed me in the position that handled both types of audits.
From there I advanced to the position of Regional Manager with the Central Region of the Division of Community Corrections. In this position I provided oversight of a number of Community Corrections programs to include Probation & Parole offices, Community Diversion Incentive programs and local jails. I loved this job and may still be in it if it were not for a reduction in funding and the abolishment of the lowest seniority position – mine!
I was placed in a newly created position as a Local Facilities Manager; conducting audits and unannounced inspections of local and regional jails. Travel and a growing family did not sit well with me so I opted to apply for a position with another state agency, the Department of Criminal Justice Services. The year was 1995 and parole was recently abolished in Virginia. With the creation of the Comprehensive Community Corrections and Pre-Trial Services Acts, new positions were funded to oversee the management of these programs.
Again, a growing family influenced my decision with regard to my professional life. In 1998 I decided to leave full-time employment (a risk, I know) for a part-time position managing the ACA Accreditation project for the VADOC Probation & Parole Services Division. While I was pleased with the 98% compliance rating the agency achieved, I did not know where I was headed when it was completed. I know I wanted to continue to work part-time and, as luck would have it, a position became available in the agency’s Human Resources Unit. I was nervous about leaving Community Corrections, but as my new supervisor told me, “Human Resources are still a part of Corrections.” He was right! I only expanded my knowledge base and circle of contacts through this position.
When I chose to work part-time, it was always with the understanding I would return to full-time employment when the time was right. The year was 2004 and Reentry was quickly becoming the priority for many Departments of Corrections. Virginia was selected by the National Governor’s Association to be one of seven states to receive technical assistance through the Reentry Policy Academy. Again, a new position was created to serve as the coordinator of this initiative and a liaison with the Office of the Secretary of Public Safety.
Being a new position involved with a new initiative, the job duties changed frequently. Eventually, the position was realigned as Reentry Services Manager; supervising five newly created Regional Reentry Specialist positions. Supervision was something I never sought out, but being a supervisor for three years had to be one of the best times of my professional career. Having the opportunity to develop these positions and mentor those who occupied them was both challenging and rewarding.
In August 2010, through department reorganization, my position was transferred to Community Corrections where I became the Operations Manager. Harold Clarke came on board as the Department’s new Director in November 2010. With a Director having a passion for Reentry, the position was once again reorganized under the newly created Reentry and Programs Unit. Currently, I occupy the position of Reentry Administrator. And, once again, I am realizing the infinite possibilities in the field of Corrections.