This month was an eye opening and humbling experience at both the Kenosha County Detention Center (KCDC) and the Kenosha Correctional Center. We began our day with Amber Engel, Karly Kattenbraker and Magan Perez explaining our book chapters “You Can’t Do It Alone” and “Trust Rules.” We had an interactive session where we wrote on puzzle piece sticky notes where what you do to motivate others and then on a second note what others do to motivate you. As we worked in groups, we realized we had similar motivations on both accounts and that we need others to inspire, motivate and trust. The summation of the presentation is that for others to trust us we need to trust others first.

Jevon Claussen, Program Manager at KCDC, spoke about the facility and programs being instituted throughout the facility and in preparation for inmate release. The facility opened in 1998 as the House of Correction by the County Board and now is governed by the Sheriff’s office as KCDC.

Jevon toured us throughout the facility being able to see what the living quarters are like for the inmates, where we realized there is no sense of personal space – the beds lined up side by side, the open shower and toilets with a guard always on duty in the unit. While January is a cold month, we never felt more of a chilly environment walking through the gray walls of the KCDC. Learning the reality of the depersonalization and restrictive environment was not only an eye opener but a true realization of the freedoms we sometimes may take for granted. Our walk began with an identity verification then running through a metal detector. We progressed into a transition room between the outside world and the jail, hearing the door clank behind us in a sense of entrapment and finality. There were times we had to fall in as officers walked inmates through the halls for safety. While there is a recreation area, we are told this is more of a free time walking within the red line perimeter. The basketball hoop now stands there as a decoration since the inmate’s shoes are Crocs, it has become unsafe for them to play without injury. There is no sense of the outdoors as the windows are minimal in the inmate’s general areas. As many of us commented, we felt a sense of hopelessness and despair.

After our tour of the KCDC, we were welcomed back with a warm smile from Mary Waid as she discussed Conflict Management Styles. She defined what conflict was either 1) A battle to be won or 2) a garden – having to be careful of what is seeded, removed or harvested. According to Thomas Kilmann, there are 5 conflict personalities: Competing, Collaborating, Compromising, Avoiding and Accommodating. We took the Conflict Mode Instrument assessment rating our reactions to a score card. After scores were calculated, we discussed the positives and negatives of each. We also learned depending on the situation or environment the score may deviate as we adapt our conflict styles. Mary recommended reading “Interpersonal Conflict” by Dr. William Wilmot and Joyce Hocker to learn more about conflict styles. Mary concluded her presentation with a quote from Winston Churchill “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

We migrated over to the Kenosha Correctional Center, where bringing in the bare minimum is not only suggested by enforced. No cell phones were permitted, which did cause a bit of twitch as we all tried to reach for our phones during breaks. No access to our cell phones was eye opening however it was nice to be disconnected to keep our focus. We were verified by id then went through a highly sensitive metal detector as many of us had to take off shoes, belts, earrings, watches etc. Once we were fully put back together, we migrated in a large meeting room attached to the kitchen. We were served a large portion of delicious spaghetti, salad, bread and choice of water or lemonade. My kudos to the inmates who prepared this meal, all the group commented how fantastic the food was and were well fed.

After lunch we were introduced to the Judicial and Law Enforcement Panel. On our panel we met Judge Mary Kay Wagner, District Attorney Michael Gravely, Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth, Kenosha County Public Defender Carl Johnson and the City of Kenosha Deputy Police Chief Eric Larsen. The biggest theme the panel presented us with is that the departments, while independent of each other, have strong ties and collaboration. Collaboration comes in physical space where the City Police and Sherriff Office share the same building and dispatch. The collaboration among departments allows greater access to grants being able to pool together. Collaboration also comes in the form of their universal passion about the community they live in to make it a better place for current and future residents of Kenosha County. Michael Gravely, who was also noted from several of our teammates as their professor, mentioned there is a huge drive to help drug addicts get the help they so desperately need, rather than putting in jail. The DA office, Public Defender office and judges would agree to place a select number of offenders through a detox program where they would be placed in an inpatient institution without charging for a crime then after 18 months would be released to an outpatient facility to reenter the community. The question about challenges of the job came up and most uniformly stated recruiting new hires. There are several recognized disadvantages such as unconventional hours (not being a 9-5 job), the pay while being reasonable isn’t incentivizing, hard stressors physically and mentally as well as having to deal with the perils of human indignity. When asked how to help or donate we were directed to reach out to the Union representative or look on their FaceBook page for charity drives. There is also the City Policy & Fire Department Dance along with the polar club.

After eating a delicious chocolate chip cookie made by the inmates on our break, Michelle Hoffman, Facility Superintendent spoke about the Kenosha Correctional Center. She explained this is not a jail, but an employment earned release program. Inmates are coming in from Prisons to be able to reintegrate into the community with success. While some of the rules they are given, like no cell phones, no fraternizing with the opposite sex may seem harsh, it is a way for simple rules to be successful followed without harsh repercussions. The consequences to each violation are direct cause and effect where the inmate can reflect, accept and learn how to better react to rules and boundaries.

We toured around the common area, where there was a rec room, open facilities however their sleeping quarters were separate rooms in 2 different wings. From the staff to the inmates there was a sense of hope, personal pride and drive. Every area of the facility there was the ability to see outdoors to know about the day. There were no guards or overseers in living quarters and common areas.

After we finished the tour we were introduced to a panel of inmates. The inmates were refreshingly open, candid and honest with their answers. Their release date was anywhere from months to years. We were also presented with one of the inmate’s portfolio where through the program he realized he had a talent for cake decorating. The portfolio was impressive showing previous work, awards and accommodations. Though our conversations the panel reverberated that learning to accept personal responsibility through this program has not only been challenging but rewarding along with pride in their personal growth. Several of our team members have been active volunteers and vocalized the same sentiment and added their hunger for personal growth and learning is immense.

Concluding the inmate panel, it was asked what their greatest fear or biggest obstacle is they will face once back into the community. There were comments of regret of what had been missed being gone for so long and how the future looks; not finding mentorship; worrying about connecting with the same social groups and places; being accepted by their family and community.

As we concluded the heavily emotional day, I applaud our community and the civil servants for keeping Kenosha safe from the perils of humanity and actively seeing and engaging in ways to safely and effectively reintegrate inmates back into our community successfully.

-Kathy Bennett

Leadership Kenosha — January 2020