Chris Hendry Is the Program’s New National Director
Chris Hendry began his career as a correctional officer and rose through the ranks of the Florida Department of Corrections, ending his tenure as bureau chief of professional development and training. Back in October 2014, his appointment to the warden's post at Martin Correctional Institution in Indiantown, Florida, came with a unique perk: enrollment in Warden Exchange®, the innovative Prison Fellowship® program that equips corrections officials to be transformative leaders in their facilities and the wider corrections community.
Warden Exchange was just what Chris needed as he took over Martin C. I. "It was an institution with difficult challenges. A lot of stabbings, a lot of violence, a lot of use of force, gang activity," he recalls.
During his Warden Exchange experience, Chris and his fellow participants explored correctional best practices. They interacted with renowned thought leaders and experts. Together they considered restorative justice, change management, and engagement strategies. They discussed strategic planning, media relations, and team development.
Martin C.I. underwent a culture change during Chris' tenure. And in March 2021, he became national director of the program that helped him build a safer, more rehabilitative correctional environment at his former facility. We sat down to chat with this 30-year corrections veteran to discuss his journey with Warden Exchange.
Prison Fellowship: What had you heard about Martin C.I. before you arrived?
Chris Hendry: Most of the staff told me there was a dark cloud over Martin C.I., that bad things happen. [Then] my first day I reported to work, some of the staff came up to me and said, "I think you're going to be really good for this institution," and I said, "Why?" They said, "Well, step outside."
There was actually a rainbow, and the end of the rainbow was on Martin C.I. with the dark clouds in the background. They said, "See sir, that's hope. You're bringing us some hope here." … That was my first day at Martin.
How did Warden Exchange impact your work as Martin’s warden?
It taught me to look at things differently. I first found out about transformational leadership. … I'd always been one of those outside-the-box thinkers. Ever since I was a correctional officer, I didn't think we needed to call incarcerated men and women "inmates," and I think that I'd always thought that we needed to be more polite and respectful than forceful. …
[But] it took me 24 years to make warden where I had the ability to effect that change at an institution.
How did you start bringing about that change?
I met with all my team, met with the staff. … I focused on the heart of the institution. [The] institution [is] a community, and I was the mayor and the CEO of this corporation there.
Warden Exchange is known for working with correction professionals to transform the view of prison as a place to simply house, feed, and forget those convicted of crimes until they are released. What did you do to make Martin a more rehabilitative place?
I had to look for the physical well-being of the physical plant [with dramatic improvements] as well as all of the men incarcerated and the men and women that worked for me as well. I started to really dive into the humanity of the institution and started showing compassion.
How were the prisoners affected?
I immediately met with all of the Martin population. We picked representatives from every dormitory, every quad, … and we went and met with them. Usually, it's the warden going in there and laying down the law. I wanted to flip the script, so when they all sat down, they were all like this, "What's this big bald-headed white guy going to tell us now?"
What did you tell them?
I introduced myself. [Then,] I asked them a question that blew their minds. … I said, "As your warden, I would like to hear from each of you what your expectations of me and my staff are for this facility, for your treatment and care."
You could've heard a pin drop. One of the incarcerated men, who'd been there a while, said, "Is this a trick question, sir?"
I said, "No, sir. It's not a trick question."
He said, "We just don't want to be yelled and cussed at. We want to be talked to like we're human beings."
Warden Exchange equips transformational leaders. What does that look like?
A modern warden has to look at their institution as a community, and [know] that they're responsible for the safety and well-being of everybody that's involved in that community … everybody that goes in and out of that community. You're the CEO of this process. That's what Warden Exchange helped transform my mind to. I wasn't a prison boss. I was a new modern warden in modern corrections and had to look at this totally differently.
How then should men and women behind bars be viewed?
People make mistakes. There are people out there that will not change. We do everything that we can to help them. We don't forget about them.
Some people, due to the heinousness of their crimes, need to be incarcerated forever or [for] their life sentence. [Even so], we have to provide them a humane, safe environment to live in, where they're treated with human dignity and respect.
In that mindset and change, we have to focus on restoration and rehabilitation, the two Rs—the two important Rs. We have to bring [prisoners] to an [inside] community that models the community that they need to live in society.
[Prisons must] treat everybody with human dignity and respect. For years, we were releasing hardened criminals because we weren't restoring them. [Instead, correctional officers] were treating them like criminals while they were in there. We never changed the concept of how they view themselves and how they view their role in society.
My vision is to make Warden Exchange [available] for every warden in the nation and the world.
DID YOU ENJOY THIS ARTICLE?
Make sure you don' t miss out on any of our helpful articles and incredible transformation stories! Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter, and you' ll get great content delivered directly to your inbox.
Your privacy is safe with us. We will never sell, trade, or share your personal information.