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A Day in the Life of a Warden
By Timothy Jason Cronin
Published: 03/17/2014

Warden As Correctional Professionals we are often asked the same question from our network of family and friends; "what's your job like?” The general public seems fascinated by our occupation and work environment. Much of this curiosity is spawned from media coverage and Hollywood's romanticizing of a very serious and dangerous occupational choice. Depending on your own experience, position and facility, it's an effortless response that captivates the curious with a noteworthy experience. As Lieutenant at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center, I wondered what the upper echelon experienced. What's it like to be the Warden of a level 4 facility, the man whose name is on the building, and that is responsible for every aspect of our facility? I asked Warden Scott Erfe for the opportunity to shadow him for a day and really experience the challenges facing him daily. He was quick to grant my request and agreed to a full access, no holds barred experience.

The shadow day started with a brief greeting and it was right to business. Warden Erfe enters his office and is given a brief rundown of today's meetings and agenda. Every day starts with what's called The Morning Meeting. It's a conference room filled with managers from all departments of the facility each with their own area of expertise and responsibility. The room is near silent, anticipating the moment the Warden enters the room. All rise as Warden Erfe enters the room, a quick "good morning" is rendered, and everyone is asked to be seated. Each manager gives a brief update on the current status of their units, concerns and resolutions. The Warden is well informed of the current status of his facility. I observe his ever present "all business" persona and realize that he is seldom surprised by his management team’s updates. Being a Warden requires gathering information around the clock. Constant updates by his trusted shift commanders, creates a fluid strategy that is ever evolving. Everyone must add value to the meeting, this ensures all management and supervisors are on the same page with the facility's current status and objectives. The Warden received many emails and alerts, on his ever present Blackberry device throughout the day. None of which changed his demeanor, or attention to the present staff. Information is constantly being exchanged, throughout the day, from various sources to ensure the execution of the proper decisions. The Morning Meeting ends and the managers are off to their respective units to share the plan of the day with the line officers who will actuate today's objectives.

"This is my baby.” Warden Erfe whispers to me speaking of the room we just entered. The War Room, as it's called, is filled with executive staff members with established rolls and duties. The room is intentionally quiet for the disciplined staff members to operate calmly and communicate clearly. Computers, phones and dry erase boards filled with staffing and inmate information are strategically positioned. Live cameras are displayed on flat screen monitors allowing visualization to any area of the facility that may be affected. The drill commander announces the situation to the executive team. The room is immediately activated and protocols are followed. Local town officials are notified, as well as local and State Police. Keeping them informed of the facilities current activity will ensure that constant training is underway to keep our community safe. Warden Erfe is hands off during these drills, letting his two Deputy Wardens take command and create as many interchangeable trained staff to execute the facility protocols. The Warden whispers to me “I always try to build a great team. My job is to train them to take my job. To know what I know and make them the best they can be." I watch this well-oiled machine navigate through the facility drill with confidence and decisiveness. Looking over at the Warden, I see a man at ease. His training and teaching is coming to life. Like a composer listening to talented orchestra play his song. He leans in and says “It’s great to watch your staff succeed.". Indeed, it's amazing to see a well trained staff execute flawlessly in a high stress scenario. The drill concludes with a debriefing, and the pros and cons are discussed. A constant pursuit for readiness and proficiency are the driving force. Warden Erfe seems pleased with his staff but you can see the boss never stops thinking of what's next. Anticipatory logic is apparent with his emphasis on staff development.

When Warden Erfe tours the facility he goes cell to cell, block by block. There's no talking through cell doors with him. He uses his key, opens the cell door, and is face to face with the inmates. He speaks to them like men but only uses plain language. It's usually not what the inmate wants to hear, but it's always the truth. If an inmate has a legitimate grievance or concern, Warden Erfe resolves the situation on the spot. He utilizes his well-trained correction officers and unit managers to remedy most issues. Each unit tour ends at the officer's station where he exchanges courtesies, engaging with the officers, sharing information and they soon realize how crucial their role is for overall success. Many of the officers have a long history with the Warden. They've bled and sweat together so the mutual respect is obvious. He knows his staff and trusts them to follow his lead. It's quite impressive, and is a bond that takes years to achieve.

With nearly 1600 inmates and 400 plus staff members under his charge, the Warden has many responsibilities. His primary responsibility is to keep the community and his staff safe, from the offenders. Rehabilitating these offenders and preparing them for reintegration back into society is another big responsibility. Warden Erfe takes our position in the community very seriously. In the spring and summer months our compound is covered with vegetable gardens that the lower risk inmates tend to. Last year, 10,000-12,000 lbs of fresh vegetables were harvested from our grounds. Half of these vegetables went to local food banks to help those in need. The other half were sent to the facility kitchen to reduce budget demands and increase nutritional value to the inmates’ meals. A bicycle program was initiated where inmates refurbish bicycles. 80 bicycles were distributed to local children in need. 80 cords of wood were split by inmates, and distributed to local families requiring energy assistance. A greyhound adoption program has been created where inmates learn to train former racetrack dogs and prepare them for adoption by local families. 17 greyhounds have been placed in good homes instead of being euthanized. The list is seemingly endless. A Warden has to have a broad vision. A great Warden has to always be thinking of what's next; by preparing his staff to be more effective with constant training, makes this a daily reality. This is the day in the life of a Warden.

Author Timothy Jason Cronin is a Lieutenant at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center.


Comments:

  1. Redbird21 on 05/17/2014:

    As a restorative practitioner who is advocating for restorative prisons, I am impressed with this account of a warden who implemented a restorative perspective by empowering his staff, respecting inmates enough to meet with them in person, and implementing productive programs for the prisoners to engage in. I wonder if Warden Erfe is aware of restorative justice and what he would say about the possibilities for restorative prisons?


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