I had the privilege of serving as the warden for a high security facility. During my time in the position, I realized that I had great employees, but I also realized that my employees were under a tremendous strain from the work in this environment. I noticed that my employees were involved in a high number of worker compensation incidents, they used a high number of FMLA hours, and a high number of staff reported criminal charges from their actions in the community (i.e. DUI, domestic violence, menacing, theft, etc.).

By the time I was appointed the warden I had worked for the DOC for over 20 years. That background led me to believe that my employees were dealing with more issues of depression, anger, drug and alcohol struggles, and stress issues than what I had noticed previously.

Due to the structure of the facility, most of the posts that had inmate contact were with high security inmates, so I couldn’t “give them a break” with lower custody inmates. Additionally, most employees did not want to transfer out to another facility for a variety of reasons, including losing their shift and days off.

I grew increasingly concerned about the welfare of my employees and began to look around for help. I found that Dr. Kevin Gilmartin and Dr. Caterina Spinaris were about the only people that were publishing any type of resources for law enforcement. Gilmartin’s work (2002) was aimed primarily at the street cop, but it did offer some good advice. I also discovered that the work of Dr. Caterina Spinaris and the Desert Waters Correctional Outreach (DWCO) organization was developed specifically for corrections environments.

I had heard good things about the way corrections people were treated by DWCO, and I knew many people that believed that the resources that were being developed at Desert Waters were right on target. At about that same time, a “training for trainer’s” course was being advertised in Florence, Colorado for the “From Corrections Fatigue to Fulfillment” (CF2F) course. I was very involved in training in the DOC for the majority of my career and I also knew that if such a class would help my employees, it had to be communicated that the management of the facilities totally supported it. As a result, I signed up one of my training staff and myself to take the class, so we traveled to Florence. When I completed the training, I felt like I had discovered a tool to actually bring some type of relief to my employees, as well as the other employees in the DOC.

The next step I took was to present a mini-version of the class to the wardens and executive staff. After that presentation, the decision was made to ask Desert Waters to provide a trainer to present a four-hour class to all the managers and above in our department. This presentation was set up and Caterina was able to present to a room of almost 100 DOC management employees. I was unsure what type of reaction she might get from this particular group, because I was worried that members of this group might not see the value or need for this type of training, but I was wrong. The people in attendance seemed to take the information very seriously and seemed to be fully aware of the seriousness of the situation. As a result, a commitment was made to send additional trainers from each facility to the next several T for T classes.

After that “kick off” session, I began to present this class to employees. The reactions that I saw from employees attending the training ranged from relief to tears. I saw employees reach out to coworkers and supervisors to talk about what they were experiencing. I also saw employees reach out to medical/mental health providers for assistance. The number of employees that asked for contact information for the Employee Assistance Program also increased. The most important result was that I saw employees sharing their stories. It was as if this training opportunity opened the dialogue and gave my employees permission to talk about “it.”

I retired from the Department of Corrections, but when I look back upon the time that I worked in corrections I am proud of many things, including helping to implement the CF2F program in DOC. My only regret it that it took me so long to realize the need for it. CF2F is not a cure-all. I had employees for which it did not seem to offer any relief, but I credit this program for giving “permission,” to employees from entry level to executive staff, to admit that the environment changed them and some of those changes were negative. Prior to this program, such a discussion seemed disloyal somehow.

I know that the program continues to flourish in my absence, and I still get feedback from employees that stop me in the community to thank me for helping them by providing the CF2F training. This program may not have the same impact on every system as what I experienced, but the significant effect that I saw made me a believer that we must devote more attention to this issue. So much attention has been focused on the prison environment and the future of the inmates, but what is that same environment doing to our employees? The resources that are available from Desert Waters are easy to access and evaluate. I hope that each person reading this takes the time to visit or revisit the Desert Waters website to see what is available, and to contemplate the needs of your individual employees.