How Wardens Hold the Key to Changing Prisons for the Better
Kerensa Lockwood, Ph.D., has a lengthy career in the field of criminal justice. She spent 13 years with the Florida Department of Corrections’ Office of Reentry, was the director of implementation and administration for a research institute at Florida State University, and wrote numerous grants to support reentry efforts, mainly focusing on improving outcomes of adults and young people upon their release from incarceration.
Now Kerensa is the program director for Warden Exchange®, Prison Fellowship’s unique program for corrections professionals. Warden Exchange equips correctional leaders to bring restorative change to their facilities through an interactive, transformational leadership curriculum. In February, our ninth Warden Exchange cohort gathered for their first residency in San Francisco. There, Prison Fellowship® sat down with Kerensa to chat about what it looks like to make prisons into centers of restoration.
Prison Fellowship: How is Warden Exchange positioned to help wardens change prisons for the better?
Kerensa Lockwood: Corrections has moved into an arena where we know we can’t continue doing things the way we’ve always done them. They’re eager and wanting more direction, more information. There’s a lot of talk about evidence-based programs and practices, which has lost its meaning a little bit because we’ve never put a definition behind some of it. How do we show the impact? We’ve got great anecdotal information—we hear it in the wardens, in their appreciation for being here, in the things that they’re learning.
With our growing team at Prison Fellowship, we’ll see not only anecdotally, but through actual data, that we know this program is working. We’ll see how it’s working and why it works, and we’ll be able to build more from there.
What do you find that wardens are looking for when they enter this program?
They’re looking for something tangible to come out of this. A lot of them have been in this business a while. And they have changed as individuals, and they are really looking to figure out, “How do I get back to my ‘why’? Why did I get into this industry to begin with?” They have made it a career, and they’re trying to figure out, how do I get back there?
Wardens recognize that this work can harden you, and many of them don’t want to be that [hardened] person. They realize they have such a monumental responsibility for the people, not only who work with them and work for them, but also the people who are in their care, in custody. And they really want to truly make a difference. Those are the type of people who are going to really make a difference because they’re taking that step forward, and Warden Exchange is providing that platform for them.
What makes Warden Exchange a vital resource for wardens today?
The uniqueness of Warden Exchange is that we’re coming from a different standpoint than wardens might be used to. When it comes to training, the corrections departments have the essentials under their belt and know exactly which boxes to check off—walking in cadence, teaching them how to shoot a rifle. And that’s important.
What wardens haven’t always been taught are values and how to incorporate those into their jobs. Every week, Warden Exchange tackles a value. We really get into, what stands out to me about this value? Why is it important? Warden Exchange is going to get more into the values and the "why" of doing this, while also being able to provide real-world opportunities and resources. Then, make a plan to implement those values.
Along with that, Warden Exchange provides a network on a common ground, and that is so important for the growth and development of our leadership. It’s about those intrinsic values that we have, not just these extrinsic motivators that we sometimes talk about—it’s not, “Let's give them more money, and that solves this problem.” Only throwing money at a problem doesn’t solve it. We have to get back to values.
What are some misconceptions that people might have about prison wardens?
Our media doesn’t help portray the right picture of what is happening in the facilities. There are some people who are in prison who belong there. But there are individuals who made choices that were, granted, bad choices, and it landed them in the facility, and it doesn’t mean they’re bad people. It was a bad choice that had dire consequences, and they will live with that for the rest of their lives, even when they get out. And you have to realize that, of everybody who goes to prison, there’s a very small portion who won’t be released one day. So the idea of “lock them up, throw away the key” is just not the way this works anymore. And it hasn’t worked for decades.
Wardens bear a lot of stress for their residents and their staff. Today [in the cohort] we had a warden who was very concerned about her staff working 14-hour shifts and then going home, spending an hour [on the road] to get home, and then getting a couple hours sleep or being with family and then getting back to work. You can see the pain and the hurt around that situation. Then ideas start coming out of the audience and our advisory panel. What if they got a van to transport staff? As soon as that idea was mentioned, everybody’s head went down, and they started writing. If you walked around, you’d see this on all their notepads: “Vans! We’ve got vans, we can do this.”
Is there anything that has surprised you about working with corrections leaders at Warden Exchange?
The ability for the wardens to almost become instantaneously cohesive. They all come from different backgrounds, different states with different rules and policies that they're dealing with. But there’s this common ground that they all have. It’s amazing to see when they have such a difficult job. They’re here networking, taking notes, bringing loads of experience to the table, so willing to listen and learn.
In corrections, nobody really wants to hear about our jobs, right? Corrections is that 10-foot-pole, “Oh, nope. That’s over there. I'm not going to touch that or hear anything about that” thing. We don’t give wardens much credit. To make a really big impact in corrections, people have got to start recognizing them as professionals. We’re putting people in their custody to do better. And I think we need more resources to do that—that’s another ballgame—but these wardens are here in this program because they want to make a difference for their staff and their residents.
What direction do you see corrections moving in the future?
I hope we’re going to start to see more of a concerted effort for real outcomes by doing some really commonsense stuff. We’re talking about humanizing, using plain language, talking about our wellbeing—staff and prisoners. These are commonsense things for a lot of people, but it’s not always practiced. The great thing about Warden Exchange in 2022 is that we’re actually putting those things in place, so wardens can take that information back to their facilities to implement real change.
We’re going to have data to show them from three years prior and three years post-Warden Exchange. I think the information that's going to come out of this is just going to be just astonishing. I think some of it’ll be common sense too. But sometimes you need somebody else to say it. And that's what I think a lot of them want.
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