For some time I have felt a desire to work in a prison. I’m not exactly sure why. Could it be because of my prison visit three years ago? Perhaps. I don’t remember it having a profound impact on me at the time.
Recently I have been working as an intern research assistant with the Warden Exchange, a program of Prison Fellowship. It has been one of the most valuable experiences I never expected to have.
I am ending a period of time off from Christopher Newport University, where I am pursuing a double major with a concentration in criminology. I had no real plans or jobs lined up when I chose to take the semester off (which my mom was not thrilled about). But now I am aspiring to someday work in a correctional facility with my own rehabilitation or reentry program focused on the inmate’s needs.
I started the new year googling any possible job, internship, or volunteer position even remotely related to criminal justice and corrections. It was not until I found the Prison Fellowship website and began talking with Pedro Moreno, director of the Warden Exchange, when I had realized I hit the college-kid jackpot.
The Warden Exchange works with wardens and top corrections professionals nationwide and empowers them by developing leadership skills so they can create a prison culture conducive to the moral rehabilitation of inmates.
This intern experience has been far from stereotypical. Sure, I’ve made a few photocopies here and there, but it has been much more rewarding that merely going on coffee runs. I have read many substantive documents and written summaries on topics such as transformational leadership and gamification.
I’ve had the incredible privilege of meeting people from various walks of life who are committed to making prisons more transformative. While working at the second residency for the wardens, I met a Navy SEAL Commander who has trained over 200 Navy SEALS. I met Bernie Kerik, former Commissioner of the New York Police department, who instead of becoming Secretary of Homeland Security ended up in prison for three years. I met a professor from the John Jay School of Criminology, a former vice president with Price Waterhouse Coopers, legislators, the former prison head of the federal Supermax prison in Colorado where the Unabomber and Shoe Bomber are, and many more.
My boss, Pedro, has not only helped me strengthen skills required in the office and life, but also helped me solidify and affirm my passion for criminal justice reform. It can be hard for me, and I assume for all of us sometimes, to receive feedback and critiques. But Pedro has taught that it is okay to be teachable and to always “attack the problem and not the person.” Everyone I have met is inspired to find positive change in a large, run-down, and static system.
Our nation’s recidivism rates are obscene and many prisoners are not receiving the proper care, treatment, diagnoses, or rehabilitative measures they desperately need. The Office of Justice Programs at the National Institute of Justice released the results a study of 30 states which found that 67.8 percent of the over 400,000 state prisoners released in those states in 2005 were rearrested within three years.
It is time to put the ‘correction’ back into corrections. Prisons should not be solely about punishing crime, but also need to provide proper rehabilitation programming before prisoners reenter society. The Warden Exchange works from the top-down to inspire hope in those prison officials who participate, so that they can pass on that hope to the men and women in their facilities.
There is power in believing that criminals can change. The Warden Exchange provides tools so prison wardens can become leaders and, in turn, help create a prison environment where prisoners start to believe that they can change for the better. Besides, if a prison warden is unwilling to provide their inmates with the necessary rehabilitation programming, then I am out of a job before I even graduate.
We have a trip planned for next week to visit a Navy consolidated brig (a military prison) in Chesapeake, Virginia. Could this second prison visit finally reveal to me the reason my desire to work with prisons and prisoners? This is the life of an intern. I never know what will come next.
Allison McNulla is an intern with Prison Fellowship’s Warden Exchange program. To learn more about Warden Exchange, click here.