On a sunny day in February, a group of men and women met inside a hotel at the University of Texas at Austin. The group members, who had flown in from around the country, ranged in age, race, and background. But they had one thing in common: They were all prison wardens. Laughter, conversation, and energy filled the room—until one man got up to speak. All eyes fell on Chris Hendry, the former bureau chief of professional development and training for the Florida Department of Corrections, as he welcomed everyone to Texas. In a few words, he described the importance of what they would seek to accomplish together. This was the first day of the Warden Exchange® residency of 2023.
A NEW IDEA
Warden Exchange was founded in 2013 with a mission to create safer prisons and a hope for a more restorative justice system—all starting with transformational leadership. The first residency, hosted in 2014, brought 15 wardens from five states to Monterey, California, to discuss a new way of doing corrections. Since then, the program has grown and expanded—even as corrections itself has changed.
“Corrections is at a pinnacle point now of totally being reimagined,” says Chris, who now serves as the national director of Warden Exchange. “And what we’re learning today is that we’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. Locking the people up and throwing away the key, and keeping them in a cell, is just not working.”
In response to the need for a new type of corrections, Prison Fellowship® launched Warden Exchange. The program offers a 24-week online series of webinars, known as the Leadership Development Academy, that serves as a prerequisite to a 12-week residency. During the residency program, wardens participate in both webinars and two multiday, in-person workshops. Each workshop is hosted in a different city and aims to connect wardens for a time of learning, discussion, and collaboration.
A COMBINED EFFORT
Warden Exchange is one of many programs Prison Fellowship offers. Another, the Prison Fellowship Academy® is a yearlong program for incarcerated people that uses targeted curriculum to replace habitual criminal behavior with the Values of Good Citizenship™. Because Warden Exchange is based on the same principles as the Academy, using these two programs in concert has a profound effect.
Texas warden Daniel Dickerson, who graduated from the program in September 2022, experienced how powerful the two programs are in conjunction with each other.
“The Warden Exchange program is literally starting from the top down. And the Prison Fellowship Academy comes from the bottom up,” he says. “Then those two together change the whole environment, change the whole culture, for the better.”
Together, Warden Exchange and the Academy help create a better prison culture—which has been shown to reduce recidivism.
Daniel had just launched an Academy at his facility when he began the residency. The Values of Good Citizenship—which include community, affirmation, productivity, responsibility, restoration, and integrity—are built into both the Academy and Warden Exchange. While going through the Warden Exchange program, Daniel shared a unique bond with the Academy participants at his facility—giving them new common ground to stand on.
Daniel also appreciates the chance to show the men at his facility that there is never a time to stop growing.
“They learn that just because you are in a place of leadership … you never stop learning, you never stop going, because if you do, you become complacent,” he says.
'The Warden Exchange program is literally starting from the top down. And the Prison Fellowship Academy comes from the bottom up. Then those two together change the whole environment, change the whole culture, for the better.'
—Daniel Dickerson, Warden (Texas)
Since its inception, Warden Exchange has grown from the first class of 15 participants to more than 160 participants in 2023. More than 400 correctional leaders have graduated from the program in the last 10 years, representing 276 different facilities.
Graduates have remained involved and some are becoming senior fellows in the program, a group made up of former directors of corrections. The role of the senior fellows is to provide leadership and guidance to current participants. This has given Warden Exchange a wealth of shared generational experience—allowing it to grow not only wider but deeper.
“One of the advantages of going 10 years long is you build a [group of] alumni,” says Dan Kingery, Prison Fellowship’s executive vice president of field development. “Not only learning year to year, but compounding that influence by folding in lessons learned, and continuing to advance the vision of really being all that we can be for the people that we serve inside and outside of prison.”
'I think Warden Exchange helps lift people’s eyes up to look around, to look up.'
— Dan Kingery, Prison Fellowship Executive Vice President of Field Development
Dan has watched the program grow over its 10-year run. He has also witnessed the heavy burden carried by those in correctional leadership and the way they can struggle to think outside the box when it comes to new methods of doing corrections.
“Sometimes I already have good ideas, and I’m afraid to try them,” he says. “Being in a room of people that are exchanging ideas, encouraging one other, exchanging what didn’t work, is very valuable. I think Warden Exchange helps lift people’s eyes up to look around, to look up.”
Keith Foley, warden at Grafton Correctional Institute in Ohio and a Warden Exchange graduate, noted the influence of the connections he made in the program.
“It is one of the most beneficial programs I’ve been in—that I can say I have brothers and sisters across the United States as wardens that I can reach out to,” he says. “And we are all headed in the same direction. We may have our vision in Texas, and Maine may have their vision, but Warden Exchange helps glue that together and get us all headed to the same direction.”
HOW TO CHANGE PRISON CULTURE
Warden Exchange encourages transformational leadership in its participants. Transformational leadership is a leadership style that creates change in systems and focuses on inspiring others. Rather than being transactional, transformational leadership seeks to create transformation in those below leaders. In the prison system, this style has been shown to reduce staff turnover and promote a healthier prison culture.
One of the key components to Warden Exchange is changing the understanding of what it means to be a prison warden. The program encourages participants to view themselves like a CEO of a company or the mayor of a town. Participants are trained in “fire prevention,” instead of responding to incidents as they occur.
A recent addition this year is the Prison Culture Assessment (PCA), resulting in the program becoming more data-driven than ever before. The PCA is a tool designed by Prison Fellowship that allows correctional leaders to measure the prison environment from the perspective of both staff and those in prison. This measurement allows prison leaders to assess if their facility’s culture is healthy, functional, and conducive to the development of good citizenship. If improvements are needed, the warden is then given practical recommendations built on the wealth of knowledge that Warden Exchange has acquired over 10 years.
Wardens who commit to the in-person residency have continued engagement with Warden Exchange for three years after completion of the program. During this time, they can implement the changes they imagined while in the program and monitor the change in prison culture through the PCA. They also receive ongoing coaching and connection to wardens across the country.
Warden Exchange has always been a program that looks to the future. Today, Warden Exchange continues this practice by working to implement an even more well-rounded, cohesive program that meets the varied needs of corrections professionals across America. The program has been recognized as one of the premier national programs for those in correctional leadership.
“[Warden Exchange] has been paramount in my growth and development and mind change. I'm very proud of who I'm becoming and where I'm going—and I attribute a lot of my growth [to] the Warden Exchange program,” says Kimberly Garza, who graduated from the program in 2022.
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of Warden Exchange. While it has grown and changed over the years, its heart remains the same: to see transformational leadership create safer prisons for those who live and work there—now and for decades to come.