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Inside the prison system with Warden Shelith Hansbro of the Decatur Correctional Institution

By June 22, 2016 No Comments

 

UM-wolf-small“I will say this–it’s not my job to punish offenders who are in my facility. That’s not my job. They were punished when they received their sentence in court.” –Shelith Hansbro

Commander Mark Divine talks to Warden Shelith Hansbro who has run the Decatur Correctional Institution for the past 6 years. This podcast gets into how a prison warden can have an Unbeatable Mind, in the midst of an environment that often brings despair, crime, hopelessness—but can also sometimes bring restoration, hope and change for the better. After spending time there with the team, Shelith Hansbro shares her perspective on how prison works, ought to work and describes a number of innovative programs she has developed for offenders, including a program to keep pregnant mothers with their new-born children in prison.

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Transcript & Shownotes

Mark Divine: Hey folks, this is Commander Mark Divine, welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for joining me today. I am super, super stoked for today’s guest. We’re going to have an extraordinarily interesting conversation, and I don’t think we’ve ever had a guest like Shelith, but I’m not gonna tell you about her just yet, because I have to remind you that if you like the guests that we have here and the topic of mental toughness, and resiliency and fortitude and courage and hope and transformation. If those things inspire you and you want to hear more, then go to iTunes and rate my podcast, that way other people will be able to find it. And then also if you’re not on our email list, please go to unbeatablemind.com/podcasts and drop your name in, so that you can be informed of upcoming guests and any offers we have and that kind of cool stuff.

Introduction

[0:54]

All right, so today, I’m actually speaking with someone I met in Boston a few weeks ago, when I was visiting and presenting and doing some work with a group called the Prison Fellowship and one of their sub-organizations called the Warden Exchange. So we’re talking to Shelith Hansbro. So I’m going to read a little bio, and then we’ll get right into it. And this is going to be a fascinating and very interesting and I think valuable conversation.

So Shelith was appointed warden of the Decatur Correctional Center in September, 2010. Prior to that, she served as a chief of community and constituent services and special assistant to the director of the Illinois department of corrections. She lives in Decatur, Illinois with her husband Ken, or Kenneth I should say, and two daughters, Kendril and Kennedy, who are sixteen and twelve.

Shelith thanks so much for joining me today. I’m super-stoked to chat with you.

Shelith Hansbro: Thank you for inviting me, because I’m excited about this as well.

Mark: You know, it was a long shot. When I threw it out there I said, “Hey, I really want to interview a prison warden.” I asked Pedro who would be a good warden to interview and he immediately recommended you. But I kind of expected that the bureaucracy would throw up a lot of barriers. You know like, for me to just go out and say, “Hey, I wanna go out interview the commander of NASPEC, Naval Special Warfare Group Two,” well the public affairs office would get involved. I’d probably have to sign all sorts of releases and they flat out would say “no” ultimately, you know what I mean?

Shelith: I’ll give you a little hint, or just give you a little secret… little tidbit. I did start out as a reporter, and I spent time in public affairs, and my department knows that.

Mark: (laughing) So they know that you’re going to do them right.

Shelith: Absolutely.

Origins of a Warden

[2:50]

Mark: Oh, that’s cool. So what I wanna talk about today is the life of a correctional officer and a warden and how it is for you, because it’s just so far removed… we were talking about before the call… so far removed from everybody’s experience. Just like, people are intrigued with the SEALs just because they just have no way to connect with it. And I don’t know how many people listening to this call have ever visited a prison. I was deeply moved when we visited that prison outside of Boston. 1500 inmates there, over 60% were lifers, and I got to meet a lot of these men, you know, it was really interesting. I’d never been able to experience that, and it kind of opened my eyes a lot, about both the prison population, the correctional officers–the challenges they face, and as a leader, the challenges you face.

Well let’s start… before we jump right into that, let’s find out kinda who you are. What were your early childhood influences and how did you get interested in this career path? Did you wake up one day and say, “Hey, I wanna be a prison warden?” Or was it an incremental thing?

Shelith: Absolutely not. I did not wake up one morning and think, “I’m gonna be a prison warden.” As a matter of fact, anyone who knew me beforehand said, “Now wait a minute. You’re a prison warden?” But you know what, it has been an awesome move for me personally, as well I hope I’ve been able to really be beneficial to my staff and the women that are in the correctional center where I work. I started out as a… my dream of becoming a reporter. I was a reporter when I first got out of college and moved to Decatur, Illinois where I learned a lot about the community and people. I moved on and I moved to the state of Illinois and I did public affairs.

Mark: For the state government, right?

Shelith: For the state government, yes. And so… and for the Department of Corrections. And so I sat on the director’s council and started really having input in policy and procedure and really what it means for the staff and for the prisons, I really got interested. And so I started to volunteer for security reviews. I volunteered to be the leader of a quality of life improvement committee for the women prisoners. And so I started really doing a lot more than what my job entailed, because I really, really felt a passion for it. And so I went back to school. I got a Masters in Public Administration and I thought, “You know, I could run a city.” And that’s exactly what I found. I run a city.

Mark: It makes sense. It’s kinda like a aircraft carrier commander. You’ve got a self-contained… you’ve gotta provide food, you gotta provide bedding. You gotta provide health care, everything. Wow. That’s very interesting.

So you had…you’d started to develop a passion for this but can you identify where that passion? Was it a deep care for the female prison population? Or was it more about the institutional side? I mean, what was behind your passion for moving into this as a career path?

Shelith: Well, I had never, ever in my previous years, ever thought that I would be in corrections. Especially on the security side. But again, going into the prisons, and talking with family members who had so many concerns about their loved ones. Being involved on the management side and determining which prisons are we recommending to stay open. What about improvements to the prison facility and improvements to the population by providing them with the programs that they need. And things like that to help them be successful. And really, at the end of the day, I started to be able to see them as _people_ and not as prisoners.

Mindshift

[6:45]

Mark: Right, yeah. Taking the label away. I wonder…this is what was going through my mind while you were talking. Probably not all correctional officers, or not all wardens have that mindset. That positive orientation, that everyone… the population has goodness and can re-enter society and be productive and happy citizens again. And I can imagine how much that will impact a) their experience of the job and b) the performance and actually the impact on the prisoners. Right? So if you go to work everyday and you believe that these are bad people who need to be punished versus go to work every day and say, “Hey, these people made a mistake and we’re here to help reform them and get them back on their feet.” Let me form this into a question. First of all, you’re orientation is the later. I know that from talking to you and meeting you. Is that the norm? Or is that unusual for people in your career position?

Shelith: You know, you have people all over the gamut. You have people that do believe that through programming and through support and resources that individuals can change and be successful. But you do have that population that wants to punish offenders when they are in a prison setting. And I’m not just talking about the females, but the males also. You have a lot of staff that work in the women’s facilities that feel like you can’t even really discipline the women, because we’re always coming to their assistance or to their aid. But as a warden I get to see the whole picture. When a police officer writes a ticket, if he follows that ticket all the way to court and beyond–sometimes he has to come in–but he has to realize that that ticket may get thrown out. And it’s the same way in the prison setting, because I have the complete picture of what’s going on. Because I have researched it and I’ve looked into it. I will say this–it’s not my job to punish offenders who are in my facility. That’s not my job. They were punished when they received their sentence in court. What my responsibility and my staff’s responsibilities are–it’s our responsibility to keep them safe and secure, to ensure public safety and at the same time, try to provide them with needed resources to help them be successful. And success means not returning to prison, and being a viable part of their families and communities.

Mark: Yeah, you know what, what you just said there was a huge eye-opener for me, because I think a lot of people are ignorant about that, and think that the prison is the punishment. And you’re right, the prison is the holding tank to reform, but the punishment is the loss of freedom.

Shelith: The deprivation of their freedom and time. Absolutely.

Mark: And that’s a real shift… a mental shift. And when you make that mental shift, then you’re like, “okay.” You could see how all sorts of reforms could be made to the way… the prison system was built for the industrial age. And the success or lack of success it might be having… And I know… So, some prisons are doing better than others at reducing the recidivism.

Shelith: Recidivism rate

Mark: (laughing) Recidivism. You must have a special class just to be able to say that word right.

Shelith: (laughing) Just to be able to say that. You know, women recidivate at a lesser rate than men do, as well. And I also have another caveat to add to that as well, which is that I have a prison nursery program. So do have staff that really believe that there are instances for women to change. There were so many people that were against that program nearly nine years ago, when it started… and now, most of my staff that you talk to, they buy into it and they believe that women being able to have their babies in prison with them, helps them be able to be more productive and successful when they go home.

Mark: I can imagine. So you’re talking about women who are forced to leave their child behind because they’re incarcerated?

Shelith: Absolutely. What happens is, I interview women at the other prison when they come in if they’re pregnant. And we’re able to select up to eight at a time, to come to my prison and live on a specialized housing unit. With specialized staff, and they’re infant.

Mark: And the infant stays with them full-time?

Shelith: The infant then stays with them full-time. Up to 24 months and then they leave.

Mark: Wow. That’s amazing. I’m stunned. I think… how powerful it is for the kid to be able to be connected to the mom.

Shelith: Absolutely. The time when they have those formative years when they have that bonding and they need to bond with their mothers. Then we are able to help them do that. I had a woman that had four other children on the outside. And so… and she was pregnant, she came over to our program. What happened at the end? She said our program helped her to become a better parent to the children that she left on the outside. We also allowed for those children to come in on extended visits with the mom and the baby. And then when they left, they went to a treatment center together. She went there with the rest of her children and the baby that she had there. And she said, “By far, this program has helped me to become an overall better parent. I never parented my children. My mother did that. But now I am their parent.

Mark: That’s really cool. Now of course, I’m sure, a significant number or percentage of the prison population has a lot of mental baggage let’s call it, and still makes bad choices in prison.

Shelith: Absolutely.

A Day in the Life

[13:20]

Mark: So let’s talk about… what are the challenges for your correctional officers? What’s a day in the life look like for a correctional officer? And what’s a day in the life of a warden look like?

Shelith: Absolutely. And it really depends on what’s going on that day. We may have offenders that need to go out to court, or need to go to a scheduled medical furlough. It may not be scheduled, it may be an emergency. Well the officers will have to take them out to those appointments that have to happen. And we have to know what the policies and procedures are for getting someone out of the facility. We have a records office that has to drop them from the population count. We’ve gotta get them from point A to point B safely and securely. Inside the facility you’ve got programs going on–educational programs as well as lifestyle redirection type groups.

Mark: Give us an example of those.

Shelith: Lifestyle redirection is a six weeks curriculum that allows the offender to really focus on her criminogenic path. What led her down the road that she’s on? So dealing with some real critical issues in their lives. You have women that have been broken. You know, I have staff that don’t believe that, but if they really knew their backstories there’s no way that they could say that we have people that haven’t been broken, and found themselves in this situation. And many times, Mark, the reason that they even survived at all, is because they’re locked up in prison.

Mark: Yeah, I can see that. So it’s a form of therapy essentially. So when you do those programs, you have contractors who come in? Or professionals? Or are they part of the staff?

Shelith: We have professionals. We have professionals that come in. But we also have offenders who participate in some of the mental health groups. And you know, we have transition teams. Those are the transition… they’re transitioning from prison and getting ready to go home.

Mark: Like the people who are transitioning, who have graduated some of these programs, do they help teach?

Shelith: Yes, they do. They help to provide the actual… they actually are the ones that provide the lecture for the class and lead that discussion. In addition to that, we have the youthful offender. Those who are coming in, who are just starting out in their criminal history. And just trying to help them realize how this is really not the life that they wanna lead. And there are offenders who lead those discussions as well. With the assistance of the behavioral health technician who is an employee of the department

Mark: So, Shelith, what does your day look like? When you go… what time do you go in? I mean, is it like going to a normal job for you, or do you have to go through, major security just to get into your office? What does that look and feel like to you? ‘Cause again, you know, I’ve seen images of wardens on TV, and a lot of times they’re kind of unsavory characters, the way their portrayed by the media.

Shelith: I work at a minimum security women’s prison. It’s still a prison. But definitely, we feel safe there. I mean, if you ask the offenders that. Because we do have quality of life tours where we go and ask them. They feel safe, and I believe my staff feels safe too. We ask them as well. But I come in and I don’t go through the same security as my officers do. When they come in, they have to clear the metal detector. There are certain things that they can and cannot bring in. And I try to lead by example. If it’s something that I’m not going to allow my officers to bring in, I won’t bring it in either.

And so I come in, and usually when I hit the door… It depends, my normal workday is 8 to 4, but as a warden that’s not the time I’m there. I go in for unscheduled inspections or unscheduled tours. I may go in at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. I may go at… I go at least one day on the weekend if I’m the duty warden who’s on call. So let’s just say a regular day, I come in at 8 o’clock. I come in and as soon as I hit the door, I have people waiting to talk to me.

I have offender request lists. I have staff who are standing… needing some direction. And it’s that way throughout. As soon as I’m able to pull myself away from my computer with all of the paperwork that needs to be done, I go out and I walk the facility. And I go in and I check in with staff and offenders. And again, they may want to talk to me. Most of the time I have time, and I will talk to them. If it’s something that I can handle later I’ll just tell them to drop me a slip. But I make sure that I at least make eye contact with them, and let them know that I’m interested in what their situation is.

And so, that’s usually it, you know. Inspecting… when I say inspecting, it’s basically touring. Finding out what the issues are of the day, and dealing with them. There may be a pipe that busts somewhere. I’ve gotta find out from my chief engineer, what do we do? How much is this going to cost? Deal with the business administrator and try and get the money to get things fixed and approved. So it just really, it’s just being in charge. Meeting with my assistant warden, with my administrative assistant. The clinical services staff, they’re the counselors who make sure that offenders are taken care of in terms of their mental health as well as making sure that they’re time is accurate, and answering questions, and helping them to transition into… having a positive transition.

Mark: Right. What is the process or what does it all of a sudden become like when the routine is shattered and there’s a crisis like a riot or a major fight? Or someone actually trying to escape? I imagine that happens probably infrequently, right?

Shelith: Well, at my facility we’ve never had an escape. We’ve never had anyone attempt to escape. Because these… and no prison riot, you have fights because any time you have a large group of women who live together you’re going to have issues where people just don’t get along. But in terms of the facility… you know, these are the women that are going home. 50% of the women at the Decatur correctional center will go home within a year’s time. And then 50% of _that_ number are going to go home in six months. You can be there up to eight years, if you really have some time. But after that, we’re not going to get that maximum and medium security offender. The offenders that are here are minimum security. And, you know, they haven’t tried to do any of that. And I should find some wood to knock on.

Mark: (laughing) I’ll knock on it for ya.

Shelith: But, now, when you talk about unusual occurrences, where everything changes, you’re routine is thrown… For example, if we lose a tool. Something as easy or as small or as simple as, let’s say, a kitchen utensil. We’ve gotta find it.

Mark: No kidding.

Shelith: A dental instrument. If we lose that then women are getting shaken down or searched. Staff are going in there and all hands are looking for that. In the meantime, the prison is going to go on limited to no movement until we can find that. Because, ultimately, we want to make sure that nobody uses that on someone. Uses it as a weapon. And even though we have not had a history of that behavior, we still need to remember that it is a prison, and we have a responsibility and an obligation to keep staff and offenders safe.

Transitions

[20:28]

Mark: Now when I went to the prison in Boston, I was surprised to see that the prisoners were not… Is there a better term for them than prisoners? I mean, is that the term…?

Shelith: We call them offenders.

Mark: The offenders were not actually locked down so to speak, even at night. So they were free to roam. And it almost felt a little bit like a college campus. They lived in kinda these little pod apartments, and they were like in class… I went to the gym, and there was a group doing the “Insanity” workout. And they had this gymnasium, which was far better than mine. It was really interesting to me, because again my perception was that they were in these cells most of the time, and when they weren’t they were out marching in a line around the grinder, you know what I mean?

Shelith: Uh-huh. Well I’ll tell you about my facility. We don’t have bars in my facility, so when you said “a college campus” that’s one of the descriptors that people have given to the Decatur Correctional Center when they come in. And so the only locked door is the outside door, but the inside of the housing unit, they’re kept secure in the housing unit, but again, it doesn’t look like what you would expect a normal prison, or a prison with bars to look like. That’s not our facility at all. And I tell you, if you come on any given Sunday, you’ll catch them playing volleyball, and I bet if I put them against anybody in the state…

Mark: (laughing) Sounds like a challenge.

Shelith: And maybe further than that. We have some very good volleyball players at my prison. We just actually had, on the memorial day holiday, we had a tournament, and so it’s something to see. But yes, our women… and you know what? I talk about the sports, but we have women that give back so to the community. It’s just amazing.

They give to the cancer care walk, they give to breast cancer awareness, if there’s something going on, they send me notes and they ask, “Warden, is it okay if we give, or if we donate…” They do that.

You have women who may make $30 a month at the most, who send money home for their kids. So that they can get school supplies. You know, when school starts. Or birthdays. They never forget. And so, just because they’re locked up in prison, doesn’t mean that they stop being that parent. Or stop being someone that their family cares for and loves.

Mark: Right, right. I read something recently that there’s actually a surprisingly high number of inmates who sabotage their release. So there’s some sort of psychological thing going on where the closer they get to their release date, the more incidences of problems that they have. It’s almost like they’re trying to say, “I’m not ready for my freedom.” You know? They’ve gained some sort of comfort level with that system. Have you experienced that, and what are your thoughts on that?

Shelith: I have experienced that. I have someone right now, she’s been locked up for over thirty years. She’s spent more time incarcerated than she spent on the outside. And the way that she says it is, “You know I spent more birthdays here than I have on the outside.” And so, she started out at one women’s facility, and then as time went on, she was able to transfer into Decatur Correctional Center. And so right now, though, she goes home in September. And she is really acting out because she doesn’t even know how to use a cell phone. She doesn’t know how to use a computer. All of the technology… the world has changed in thirty years, and she’s been incarcerated that whole time. And again, she’s acting out and she’s very afraid. I’ve had someone who was going home that day, and she committed an infraction that kept her there. ‘Cause she wasn’t ready to go home.

Mark: Don’t you have programs to prepare them for just the practical aspect of getting back on their feet, you know, like how to go set up a bank account, and how to use a cell phone and all that kind of stuff?

Shelith: We do. We have our counselors who help them with that, and we also have re-entry summits a couple of times a year where we bring in community organizations and state departments that come in and they help them with just those issues. How to find housing. Jobs. How to assist with getting a Social Security card, or just an ID that doesn’t have “Illinois Department of Corrections” on it. And so helping them to be able to… you know, basically a case work supervisor who helps them to determine what their issues are as they prepare to go out. And then from the parole aspect, once they go out and they’re under supervised watch, then at that point, they also almost take on the same role as a case manager to help them be successful.

Mark: So are you still involved with the… is your organization still involved once they’re out on parole? Or do you hand them over to a different unit?

Shelith: No we are not. That’s a different unit. It’s still the Illinois Department of Corrections, but it’s no longer the Decatur Correctional Center. The only way that I would be involved again would be if they were violated and returned to prison.

Privatizing Prisons

[27:47]

Mark: Right. So let’s shift focus from your prison, to prisons at large. What do you think about the private prisons and the move to privatize? It seems to me that there’s a big conflict of interest with that whole idea. And a lot of people I talk to are uncomfortable with that notion.

Shelith: I am. The state of Illinois it’s actually against the law to have private prisons in the state. So all of our prisons are public institutions. And so that’s all I’ve ever known. So I really don’t know much about moving into the private sector. But what I do know… I guess I’m not very comfortable with it, and it may be just lack of knowledge. But it does just seem… the things that I’ve heard that they really don’t have a vested interest in the offenders or the facility, they just want to… it’s all about profit.

Mark: Well it does seem like if you’re… maybe it’s the way their paid, right? If they were actually compensated to get people back on the street, to reform them, then it would make more sense. But if you’re paid by head count, then your whole incentive is to keep people in, or to get more people in. I remember talking to one of the individuals who was a former inmate. Was in for seven years, when I was in Boston. And he said he did a short stint at a private facility, and he said it was really kind of eerie, because there were very few correctional officers. And everything was high-tech, and cameras and it was like ghost town. And it didn’t have a lot of programs. He said it was very austere, techno kinda strange. And the whole point was just to keep you locked down, and keep prisoners in.

And, of course, he was providing his perspective, but it made me think that it could be a real challenge for states that do allow private prisons, you know? Where do you think we stand on reforming prisons? You know, like a lot of bureaucratic institutions that were built for the industrial age… do you see movement to improve the systems and the programs and really try to reduce recidivism in Illinois?

Shelith: Well Illinois right now is, I think a lot of people know this, we’re going through some real budget challenges. And so what we’re finding is that we’re… may have been able to previously bring in more contractors, bring in additional resources that we could pay for. We’re finding that that’s limited right now. However, we do have opportunities for staff to participate in educating offenders and providing them with some of that resource. And I think what has happened is we are finding ourselves being able to do those things.

For example, parole school. When they’re getting ready to go out on parole we’re able to sit them down and explain everything that they might need to know. Substance abuse awareness. There’s education that goes along with that. Our own staff can teach those education courses. They can’t provide the treatment but they can provide the education.

We have an industries program, where women are learning how to sew and they’re making uniforms for officers and for other departments in the state. We have a dog grooming program, where they can get a license. So we have that… so there are things that we find ourselves… we may not be able to get money thrown into the situation, but we’re finding ourselves figuring out what we need to do to best assist the offenders.

But there’s still accountability. They have to want it, and that’s the part that sometimes people don’t understand. They’ll hear me say, “We need to provide resources, we need to help.” But the offenders have to also have accountability and they have to want to change. If they don’t want it, if they don’t own up to their part in what needs to happen to make them a better citizen, a better daughter, a better friend, a better parent, then it will never work.

Mark: Right. Well that’s brings up a really interesting point. How do you and your staff develop a culture of hope and desire for transformation? You know, is there a way that you can influence…? Let’s say someone who comes in and is depressed and not able… not really showing any interest… do you guys have language around encouraging them to move forward, and to get on with their life? You know, create an atmosphere and a culture of hope?

Shelith: We do. And part of that is just being responsive. If they have issues that they need to discuss. You know, I have male staff that work in my prisons. And I let my male staff know, “You know, you may be the only positive male that she has ever seen in her entire life. Everyone else has taken from her, or abused her. Or just stolen from her. You name it. You may be the only male that she ever gets to see that shows her that everyone is not that same person who did all those bad things. And just reminding them, I think that that goes a long way too. And the same with the female staff. Just also, if you tell them you’re going to do something, you do it. You lead by example. And if you do that, then they get to see a whole environment that they may have never ever seen before. And, I just… there will be times that an officer may not act appropriately. That happens. But when that happens we also have to act quickly and make sure that we are looking into every allegation, every instance of impropriety. We have to do that, and when we show them that we are doing those things, I think that we show them that there is hope, that there are people who care about them. And I’m constantly telling them, you have to care for yourself. If you don’t care about yourself, then you can’t care about others either.

“Unbeatable Mind” in prison

[34:19]

Mark: That’s so true. In fact, that’s a core message of my book “Unbeatable Mind,” is that we take care of ourselves, we work toward being able to control our mind and emotion, so that we can begin to show up in the world positively. Feed the courage wolf, and those types of things. And I can imagine how important it would be to have that kind of language because as you alluded to most of these women, and others in other facilities, came from such broken systems. You know, family and their friends and gangs and everything. So it was all negative. And they’ve never experienced a positive mindset, or even feeling good about themselves. There’s no self-esteem. No self worth there.

That reminds me, did you get a copy of the “Unbeatable Mind” book?

Shelith: I did.

Mark: I sent some to Pedro to… I’d like to distribute those to the prisons so they can start to…

Shelith: I’ve actually put one out there, because I received one when I did just the podcast with the warden exchange program, and then I received another one when we had our residency. And so, I’ve already put one out in the prison library.

Mark: Thanks. Yeah, that’s cool. I often get letters from prisoners who have read “8 weeks to SEALfit.” So if somehow that’s found its way into some of the prisons… because a lot of these young guys, they workout so I mentioned I saw guys doing “Insanity,” I was really kinda looking for someone doing like a SEALfit workout when I went to the prison in Boston. But, it stuns me, and I wrote one guy back and I sent him a copy of “Unbeatable Mind.” He was just so appreciative. It was cool to be able to help him out in that small way. He wrote back and said that he was doing his workouts and working on his mind and trying to improve, and trying to own his part of why he was in that situation. That was pretty neat.

So, how do you… what are your rituals that help you maintain a positive attitude everyday in this career?

Shelith: You know, I will say, right before I came there, just the stress levels had gone to just somewhere that I wasn’t even comfortable with. And so something that you taught us, and Major Angela Locke who was also there with me, and we still do this now and that’s your… the breathing. You know, sometimes when it just gets overwhelming, and just take a moment… And not only does it help us but I’ve also… when I’ve had an offender who is just really upset, overwhelmed, that’s one thing that I’ve said, “Just stop. Now breath.” And just breathing up and breathing down and just taking your time. And then saying, “Okay, now let’s talk.”

And so I do that. And doing more exercise again, because there was a time for a while that I wasn’t able to and didn’t. And so getting back into that, it just really helps a lot. It really does. And you feel like you’re taking care of yourself.

Mark: Do you have a meditative or contemplative or prayer practice?

Shelith: I have a prayer and it’s on my computer. And I read it every morning. But actually, before I even go into my prison on a daily basis, I do pray. And I ask God to go in before me to prepare a way for me. And I also ask him to help lead and guide my decisions that I make. That I make the best decisions for my… that allows my staff to go home, and allows prisoners to feel safe and secure in their environment.

Mark: Nice. So we gotta wrap this up here, and I know you’ve got a vacation to start attending to.

Shelith: I do.

The Future

[38:10]

Mark: But what’s next for you? Where do you go from being a CEO of battleship prison, you know what I mean? What’s next for you?

Shelith: I don’t know. I am right now the longest sitting warden at the Decatur Correctional Center. I’ve been there for six years. And probably the longest warden right now in the same prison. So, I haven’t really… not sure, just yet. I was on the road so much with my other jobs. Driving and flying throughout the state, and this actually gave me a chance personally, to be home with my children, where I used to have to hire people to pick them up, drop them off, babysit. But I was able to do that. So really it’s been helpful for my family also, to be in close proximity to where I work, and also where my family is.

Mark: (laughing) So there’s no, like, term limits or anything like that for you?

Shelith: Nope. No term limits.

Mark: That brings up a question that I probably could have asked earlier, but how do you… are you appointed? How do you get to be a warden?

Shelith: Right. I am appointed, yes. And you’re appointed, you know, we’re at the governor’s will. But appointed by the governor and the director of the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Mark: So if the governor came to you and said, “Shelith, I need you on my corrections commission,” or something like that, is that something you would say “yes” to? You probably… it’s tough to say “no” to the governor.

Shelith: It’s tough to say “no” to the governor, I’ll just leave it at that.

Mark: (laughing) All right. Well I won’t pressure you on that one.

Well this has been fascinating. So, you know, oftentimes my podcast guests are like authors, and they’re promoting stuff, but I know you’re not that. But if someone wanted to learn more about this subject, is there a good resource or book about prison reform? Where does someone like me go to learn more about your world?

Shelith: There’s just so much that’s out there. There really is. And so, one thing that I was… you know the Vera Institute does a lot. A lot of work. The Illinois Criminal Justice Authority. You can find a lot of information there as well.

Mark: Does the Prison Fellowship have any resources that…?

Shelith: Prison Fellowship is awesome. Excuse me, but I can’t even believe that I didn’t bring them up, but Prison Fellowship is awesome. They have website. They have really been instrumental in bringing wardens together. Having an opportunity to just share. You know, our facilities may be different, our issues may be different, some of them. But at the same time, there’s a lot of similarities. And then you learn from each other. Just being able to go to the prisons that we’ve been able to visit, I’ve come back and just thought, “Okay, so how could we make that work here.” And then, I’ve also shared a lot with my counterparts. And the opportunity has just been an amazing adventure. And so I’m just very thankful and honored to have been able to participate.

Mark: Very cool. Well thank you for doing what you do. It’s probably one of those thankless jobs, but you just show up every day with a smile on your face and help those ladies. So I honor that, and I know we all do.

Shelith: Thank you.

Mark: And good luck with everything.

Shelith: Thank you very much.

Mark: You’re welcome. All right folks, that was fascinating, and Shelith, thank you very much for your time, and enjoy your vacation. Maybe I’ll connect with you again someday through Pedro and the Prison Fellowship. In the meantime, folks who are listening, there you have it. What a fascinating peak into a different world. May we wish them all the best. And for you, just see what you learn from this, and take it on board. Keep your training up, stay focused, keep forging that Unbeatable Mind. And we’ll see you next time.

Hooyah!

Coach Divine out.