California Department of Corrections, Female Offenders, Juvenile Justice

What I Learned in Prison: Women in Front and Behind Bars #6

GA Daily News

For the past few weeks, I’ve written about my past career with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Division of Juvenile Justice. It’s a state agency that oversees more than 162,821 prisoners within institutions with an additional 91, 700 more offenders on parole.

My intent is to give a very small view of the world that is foreign to most and share some lessons learned from my experiences from life inside youth correctional facilities from 1980-2008. 
In past posts, I talked about female offenders as the fastest growing prison demographic in the U.S and gave some of my career backstories.
My training  involved several stages with the main value gained by on-the-job training. Listening to staff and  female offenders was helpful too. My college degree was the least helpful except when it was time to write case reports.

There are three photos here. All look like the typical teenagers that I worked with in prison. Can you tell which one committed murder, assault with a deadly weapon, drug trafficking? 

AP Photo
CA Dept. Corrections

Sorry, no points given for correct answers as you may recognize two of these young women from recent newspaper articles. The point is that many female offenders looked like these girls but were in for some heinous crimes. As a staff member, a woman, and not too distant from their ages at the time, it could be easy to forget that the offenders were some very troubled people. 

                                                            You can’t judge a book (person) by its’ cover

After I returned from the Academy I was assigned another young woman to my caseload. She had to be reassigned from her Youth Correctional Counselor who transferred. The caseworker pointed to a girl in the dayroom. She looked older than the rest and with her long dark hair, pretty face, and eager smile she looked like a college sorority girl. The caseworker said the girl was enrolled in the community college program within the facility. “Sure, no problem,” I said.  

“Glad it wasn’t me,” one of the older staff women said when I told her I had the girl assigned to me. “I had her four years ago.” 

I didn’t have time to read the girl’s case file. It was time for weekly small group and I assembled my caseload of gangbangers, drug offenders, and thieves. One girl moved her chair away from the college looking ingenue when she sat down. Throughout the group time, I caught the drift that the college girl wasn’t disliked but feared in some way. She seemed intelligent, minded her own business, and paid attention although she didn’t interact with anyone. 

After group, I walked my girls to their rooms, unlocked their doors, and locked them back in. The ingenue had the room closest to the top of the hallway and I locked her in first. When I locked in the last girl, she turned to me and said she didn’t want to be on my caseload anymore if the ‘satan-worshipping murdering’ so and so remained on the caseload. 

“As long as she doesn’t do that in group, she’s staying,” I said. “But you don’t have to sit next to her next time.” The girl looked relieved. 

I made a beeline to the staff desk and asked the other staff about the comment. “Yeah, didn’t you read her file? She’s famous, you know the girl from up north who….” Not only was she famous, her crime was infamous and the subject of books. A television movie came out after her release to parole. 

The lesson about not judging a book by its cover never had so much meaning. 

Have you ever come across a difficult situation where you learn a lesson? 



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