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  • Writer's pictureAlison Monette

Catherine - Roadmap to Warden

What do you do for a living? First let me make this statement: nothing I say is a direct reflection of IDOC. My responses are based on my own views and experiences. I am the Warden of Joliet and Elgin Treatment Centers - Illinois Department of Corrections. The populations we serve are designated as seriously mentally ill offenders/residents. There are over 200 residents between the two facilities. I’m also a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the State of Illinois.

What does a day at your job look like?

No two days have ever been the same, it’s a busy, taxing and rewarding job. Typically, though, I arrive in the morning, enter the facility and conduct daily check-ins. This includes checking in with the inmates (residents) and/or staff. I also drive the perimeter of the building, checking the integrity of front entrance and observing staff entering and leaving the facility. It’s important for me to check emails early to review what transpired overnight as we run a 24 hour/day operation. I also look for emails from my boss/the deputy for any updates or critical information …much of the daily communication is conducted electronically . The rest of the day will include meetings with my executive secretary to address paperwork, deadlines, needs for upcoming meetings, and any grievances or letters from the resident population, etc. I touch base with my Assistant Wardens as needed to determine if there are any urgent issues to address and discuss matters that may impact operations/programming within the facilities.  I typically check camera footage if something serious has happened in the facility. I also check in with our internal affairs to determine and discuss any security threats or ongoing cases that require follow-up. I communicate with the Mental Health Department as needed as they are an integral part of our mission. I have been deposed and have had to testify during my time with the department. This experience drives me to make sound decisions in the event that these decisions and practices are challenged in the future. My day consists of managing, problem solving, and providing guidance and direction and laying the framework for transformational leadership. 

What path did you take to get here? >Finished High School – I went through a period of rebellion … I think I’m drawn to this population for a reason. I finished high school early because I didn’t want to be there.  >Went to Southern Illinois University to major in Psychology. After 3.5 years while approaching graduation, I took Criminal Justice 101 as an elective and got hooked on law enforcement and the criminal justice system. I had a hair business to help supplement finances while I attended college. >Completed my Bachelor’s in Psychology but stayed on to complete a Bachelor’s in Administration of Justice as well. >Worked internships through the Chicago Police Department and Cook County Juvenile Court. >Attended Northern Illinois University to get my Master’s in Education with an emphasis on community counseling.   >Enrolled at the IL School of Professional Psychology (now Argosy University) to complete a Master’s of Science in Clinical Psychology while working part- time.  Then continued on to get my Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.   >I had a Doctoral Internship at Stateville Correctional Center during that time. I also worked at Cook County Juvenile Detention Center on the front line as an officer for 10 months, which was a great experience but extremely challenging. >Applied to and got a job with a contractual company for a position located at a supermax prison as a psychologist, providing services to inmates.  I went back to Stateville Correctional Center as a front line mental health professional working with men in maximum security facility through the same contractual employer.   >Then worked as a manager in mental health department at Stateville, which led to a phone call inquiring as to my interest in becoming an assistant warden at Stateville Northern Reception and Classification Center. I was still with the contractual company, but I was committed to the job and loyal so I was recommended for the role. I was in the right place at the right time and I was doing the right things. >Then I was approached regarding becoming the Assistant Warden at Elgin Treatment Center (new inpatient facility). The facility was built on the mission of providing intensive treatment to those offenders/patients who are mentally ill and required intervention that aided in stabilization. I was able to take part in the opening of that facility. At times, when I was the only employee, I found myself mopping floors, washing windows, helping write policy, testing fences and gates, communicating with contractors…whatever needed to be done I was available to do it. >After about 2.5 years in that role I was promoted to warden of both facilities. I’m proud to be part of an all female administration, all of our wardens/assistant wardens are women at this facility. 

What are the Challenges of your job? No day is predictable, it’s very unpredictable. Yesterday we put out a fire. It was a demanding task and took a lot of good collaboration between staff and outside resources. Today I was reading an email thread going between staff about the location of cheese slices, which made me laugh until I cried. These are examples of two very different work days. Anything can happen, you can’t predict what a day will bring. What are the blessings of your job? 1. Being able to work with a marginalized population that has been counted out and seen as less than. I’m able to have a corrective relationship with them, learn from them, and support them. I am expressing my calling, exactly what I set out to do. 2. The Staff. I’m working with so many talented people who I get to influence and be influenced by. I take something away from work every day that makes me look at myself differently, and that’s a blessing. They are my heroes. I have a supportive boss who serve as a leader and a mentor, this relationship allows me to strive to provide the same to my staff.

What 3 characteristics do you have to possess or develop to do your job well? 1. Humility. It pays to be humble when you’re taking this path. I have 5 degrees, but I’m not always the smartest person in the room. I work with some people who don’t have a degree but have a wealth of valuable experience and knowledge. Be humble, it makes people receive you better.  2. Be open to learning new things even if you don’t want to. 3. Respect. Respect the offender and their family, respect your supervisors, your staff, your colleagues and yourself.

What are 3 concrete things you’d tell someone on their journey to doing your job? 1. Enroll in criminal justice classes ASAP; psychology and/or mental health classes are helpful buy not as critical for entry level positions. Criminal justice classes will help with an entry level position that leads into this role. 2. Identify if your personality is a good match for this environment. Ask yourself...Would this be a good fit for me? How do you feel about inmates? Figure out your perspective on this population and if you have a compassion for them, or you run the risk of not being effective in the new treatment philosophy.   3. Look at positions as a gateway into the system. We are hiring! You don’t need to wait until you have an advanced degree, start looking now.

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