I survived thirty years as a female prison doctor in a male prison , controlled by a male militaristic hierarchy. I watched how the leadership impacted male prisoners and staff. In my career I had nine different prison directors and only one of them was a female, Jackie Crawford. She was the first female prison director in Nevada, and her leadership stood out.
She brought with her curiosity, compassion and a flexible mindset, which was opposite the mindset and actions I saw in the male prison directors before and after her. She was not naive or inexperienced, as she had served as a warden in two different states. She knew security and reduction of violence in a prison was paramount, but she approached it differently. Her solution was not to increase punishment and restrictions which the male directors did, she instead put in place programs to encourage the traits she wanted to see.
Those programs included the Puppies on Parole Program, the Mustang Program and the Structured Senior Living Program known as True Grit. The inmates could also earn meritorious credits for good behavior in those programs and others, which would reduce the time they would serve.
Taking care of dogs that the SPCA considered unadoptable, gentling mustangs and auctioning them off that otherwise would have been killed, and helping the elderly in the True Grit program changed the way the inmates looked at themselves and others. I could see the positive impact on their mental and physical health, and the decrease in violence, because I took care of them. I could also see that they would be less of a risk to society than when they entered, and isn’t that what society wants? Jackie was a true leader, because she could see beyond the prison walls and had the courage to lead the way.
About Your Columnist
Karen Gedney MD is a featured columnist for Women Lead, the official blog of Connected Women of Influence where she examines the art of leadership. Karen is the author of ’30 Years Behind Bars,’ Trials of a Prison Doctor. Additionally, she is a speaker, mentor and prison reform activist.