I’ve heard corrections described as “the accidental profession” and that is certainly true for me. If someone with a crystal ball had told me how I would spend my career, I never would have believed it. I was an “undecided” major in college, unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. I tried physics, but that wasn’t a good fit for me. I finally settled on psychology as a major. After college, jobs were scarce, especially in my rural hometown. I pumped gas, pulled weeds, and did some construction work.
My brother, who was a police officer in the Twin Cities, told me about a detention deputy job posting at the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department. The pay and benefits were good, so I applied thinking I’d build up some savings until I found my “real” calling.
I became a jail officer in a 509-bed facility in Minneapolis. I received average performance reviews for several years with no particular career goal identified. Just before my next evaluation, my supervisor was reassigned and my new sergeant told me that I needed to identify a specific career goal before my next review. I selected an assignment in the Main Control Center, mostly because I had some friends working there. In addition to being the control center for the facility, it also processed all booking paperwork, scheduled daily court calendars, and processed all releases. The level of responsibility was high but I found I enjoyed the position. We often booked in a hundred or more inmates during a busy overnight shift.
At this time, I was thinking of becoming an author and writer. In my off-duty spare time, I tried to get a novel published, without success. Word of my avocational interest got around among my peers and I became known in the facility as a “writer”. One night, as I was working in a living unit control center, a sergeant gave me a draft procedure and asked me to edit it. Little did I know how much this would foreshadow the future of my career!
One day I saw a posting for a 5/2 permanent dayshift position for a Standards Compliance Officer (SCO) position which involved coordinating the ACA accreditation process for the facility and maintaining the procedure manual. I sent off a memo of interest. I got the SCO assignment, I’m sure in part because I was known as a “writer” and they figured I’d be good at producing policy manuals.
When I started my assignment as SCO and began to learn about all my new duties, I thought I was in over my head! However, I learned I was good at it and enjoyed it. After two years, the facility passed an ACA re-accreditation audit. I really enjoyed the 5/2 schedule. Unfortunately, it was traditional practice to rotate out of the SCO position after completing an audit. I was on the sergeant’s promotional list but I really didn’t want to return to operations. I really liked doing the policy and ACA work. I faced a career dilemma.
Then I saw a posting with the Minnesota Department of Corrections doing policy and ACA accreditation work in Central Office. I applied and got the job. Once again, I felt I was immediately in over my head, but I kept at the tasks of editing the procedures, learning about the complexities of a large agency, and putting together accreditation files and working with facility staff to prepare for ACA audits. First the Central Office achieved accreditation; then each of the facilities, and finally, adult and juvenile community services achieved this objective. Thirteen accreditations were granted in all.
Then DOC administration changed and the new leadership discontinued accreditation activity. At that time, I became involved in developing an operational security audit process for internal inspections at DOC facilities. We performed security audits at minimum security to “supermax” institutions. This job provided me with the opportunity to draw upon both my old-line officer experience and my policy writing knowledge and expertise.
Throughout my career, my objective was to help keep administrative policy aligned with operational reality. I decided I wanted to expand my career horizon. I completed a master’s degree in criminal justice, where I saw the connection between research and practice. I wanted to be able to share these connections with my colleagues in the trenches who actually make things happen on a daily basis.
At this point in my career, Minnesota began a process of civil commitments of sexual psychopaths to secure treatment facilities operated by the Minnesota Department of Human Servicers, known as the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP). This agency had numerous start-up problems as it began to work these new “patients” in a system that wasn’t designed to manage this population. DHS asked for assistance from DOC and I became a part of this process. A number of DOC employees were transferred to administrative positions with the MSOP. In 2009, I became the Policy and Compliance Director of MSOP, writing policy and procedure and integrating operations with the many regulations and external oversight bodies governing this new and evolving system. There is so much to learn in this job, but there is also a sense of accomplishment in the complex task of working with so many professional disciplines to provide a stable, secure treatment environment, even in the midst of many challenges and external examination of this program.
The job I have now didn’t even exist when I started working in this field. However, my future didn’t take off until a supervisor challenged me to stretch myself, take new initiatives, and develop the aptitudes I didn’t even know I had. That’s the nice thing about a career in corrections -- you never know where it can lead when you show initiative and take on challenging assignments!