It is hard to believe that thirty years have gone by since I began my career in community corrections. When I first decided to pursue criminal justice as a field of study, I was a teenager just finishing high school. A stint with the local Explorers gave me an experience that shaped by professional career. For an entire year I served as a Cadet with the local police department in a suburban town just south of Minneapolis. Part of that opportunity included special training and riding along with local police officers every month. I was fascinated with police work but the ride alongs also extinguished the glamorization of the profession. Most of the shift work was tedious and mundane. We would drive for hours and scarcely see anything worth telling my inquisitive friends the next day. On the other hand, some days were thrilling, sad, or rewarding, often all in the same evening. I learned a lot about the profession and about myself. I learned that I was fascinated about the human condition, had a sense of adventure, and a yearning to help people, all of which could be satisfied in the field of criminal and juvenile justice.
After I graduated from college with my degree in Criminal Justice I decided to cut my teeth on working with delinquent youth in a residential setting. The job proved much harder than I expected. While I genuinely enjoyed working with troubled youth, I was unsophisticated about its difficulty. It took more than developing rapport to help the youth change behavior. Many of them were damaged by years of abuse/neglect and antisocial role modeling. I was initially discouraged by the worn out door that seemed to keep revolving, but that would change over time. Eventually, I became a probation and parole officer for Dodge-Fillmore-Olmsted Counties in Minnesota. I had the unique experience of managing a mixed caseload of juveniles and adults, parolees and probationers. It was there in Rochester, Minnesota that I met and learned from a number of experienced professionals who would become my mentors. This local community corrections system was guided by a set of clearly articulated values, a compelling vision, competent leadership, and a compassionate community-led Advisory Board. I felt like I had “come home,” staying nine years, and eventually becoming the Director of the agency.
From there I went on to become the Director of another community corrections agency (Dakota County). After another rewarding nine years in that job, I took on the Deputy Commissioner job for the State of Minnesota. After four years in that capacity, I was asked to become a warden of a women’s prison in Shakopee, Minnesota. While I initially declined the offer, I eventually accepted it and learned a tremendous amount from the correctional officers, inmates, and peers.
During these years of professional growth, I became more and more involved in the American Probation and Parole Association. I met dozens of colleagues who taught me about the profession and about leadership. The Association contributed so much to my growth that I decided to get involved in its committees, and eventually, I served as President of the Association. I consider myself fortunate to have had these experiences as they helped shape my personal and professional future.
I now consult full time on all types of justice related topics. I have met hundreds of fascinating colleagues in police, prosecution, courts, defense, probation, parole, victim advocacy, community programming, and research. It is truly a fascinating field and I never for even a day regret my decision to pursue this line of work. From a naïve law enforcement Cadet at age seventeen to an overworked consultant working in nearly all fifty states, it has been and remains a rewarding experience.