Warden Kirkman: 11 expectations for new officers

Warden Kirkman speaks from podium
PWCC Warden Jeff Kirkman

Pocatello Women's Correctional Center Warden Jeff Kirkman delivered the graduation address for Correctional Academy #51 on May 15 at the Peace Officers Standards Training Academy in Meridian.

In his remarks, he listed 11 expectations that the new officers wardens and colleagues will have for them on the job.  

Here is a transcript of Warden Kirkman's speech.

Honored guests, graduates, family, friends, and colleagues. It is a pleasure and an honor to speak to you today. I want to thank not just you graduates for making a potentially life-changing decision to become part of this organization but a huge thank you to your loved ones who sit behind you in this room and those who could not be here today, in support of your decision. You family and friends will be a great support as you journey down this road. Can we please recognize those family and friends who are here today with a round of applause? Please make sure you let them know continuously how much they are appreciated, they certainly have ours.

All of you come from different backgrounds, experiences and areas. You have lived your lives very different from each other up until a few weeks ago. At that point in time you came together as a class, a group, a symbiotic entity focused on the same goals. You were poked, prodded, pushed, hit, thrown to the ground, “arrested”, yelled at and quite possibly became very familiar with the Employee Assistance Program. You may have even considered calling it quits when somebody threw hot sauce mixed with molten lava in your eyes.

You were drilled with information pertaining to report writing, legal issues, and policies so much that you started dreaming about them. You were introduced to verbal judo and other communication techniques and learned how to do cell searches so well that your own kids cringe every time you walk in their room.

You were exposed to different aspects and areas of this Department by the Director and deputy director, chiefs and deputy chiefs, HR personnel, other correctional professionals and even a panel of wardens this morning.

Collectively, and with the expert assistance of some very skilled trainers, we have brought you to this point. From here, and as your training continues, you will begin to shoulder more and more of the responsibility of becoming a correctional professional. Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first 4 sharpening the ax.”

In order for you to be able to promote a safer Idaho by reducing recidivism you must be willing to endure the next step in this exciting career. You have been trained to protect yourself and others, to include the public which consists of those loved ones sitting behind you. You’ve been trained to deal with difficult people and situations that others who are not familiar with this environment will only marvel at. This training will continue every day and you will progress in these skills and attributes as time goes on.

We have dedicated and committed staff working together in the Department. When you take the oath of ethics that will be administered shortly, you are committing yourself to become a part of that team; a team of sisters and brothers. You also become part of a larger law enforcement family that encompasses all law enforcement agencies.

What does it mean to be a part of the team? It means that you show up for work each day with a smile; you show up each day leaving your personal problems and issues outside the gate; you show up each day with the knowledge that there will be someone during the time you are there that will benefit from what you bring to the table.

We have a departmental vision that every single staff member will transform lives. We see that happening one person, one family and one community at a time. Here’s the secret I have learned and what I have witnessed in others. The first person that will change and be transformed will be you. You can’t help it – this job, this career will change you. What you can help and effect is how it changes you. Will it be for the better so that those you come into contact with are better because of their association with you? Or will the change be one where you turn negative and it’s always somebody else’s fault. Be wary of the dreaded PLOM disease. Poor Little Ole’ Me.

Be positive about what you are doing. Understand how critical you are to the team because this is certainly nothing you can do on your own. Grab hold quickly to the mission and understand it; live the values every day; and expound those values within yourself and others that you deal with. It is crucial that you find out where and how you and the valuable contributions you bring to the Department will fit in with our mission of reducing recidivism.  

I encourage you to be patient in this career. Being patient will ensure longevity and less stress. I see some who come in this, right out of the gate, with dreams of being the fastest officer promoted to sgt.  or the youngest one to make Lt. or the first in your class to become warden. That is not what this is about. You will burn yourself out trying to run faster than you can. Your frustration levels will peak quickly and your thoughts and actions will trend towards the negative. That is poison in an environment like this and can put others at risk – offenders, staff, the public and yourself.

There is nothing wrong with having ambition. We seek out people with ambition but we are also looking for those who have learned the skills – both hard and soft– that will ensure an individual is successful and ready to move. Be patient, settle in to your responsibilities and learn the job. Then you can blow by everyone else on your way to reaching your goals.

Here are a few things that we, as wardens, and your fellow staff expect and want from you when you hit the facilities:


  1. Show up for work and be engaged. There are lives that depend on you – including your own – and rely on you not just “being” at work but actually being engaged in what you are doing.
  2. Be positive. I promise you that your attitude will carry you further in this career than how well you do a pat search or watch the chow line. Those skills are quickly taught and learned and, with practice will become second nature. A positive attitude – not so much. There is more required for an individual to obtain and develop a positive attitude themselves.
  3. Ask questions. We learn by asking questions – even those you think or someone else might think are ridiculous. We have been told throughout our life that there is no such thing as a bad question. To be honest with you, I truly believe that but how do you know it’s a bad question unless you ask it? That’s how you learn – ask questions.
  4. Listen. It’s not a design flaw that we have 2 ears and one mouth. There will be so many times in your career when the only thing an offender wants from you is the ability to vent. You will flourish as a correctional professional if you can develop the skill of just listening.
  5. Laugh. This is a serious business but laughter is healthy and will help alleviate stress among a host of other things. If you don’t know what to laugh at start with yourself. You’re not perfect and taking yourself too seriously will have negative consequences with offenders and other staff. Relax and enjoy what you’re doing.
  6. Acknowledge your mistakes before they acknowledge you. If you make a mistake, no matter how serious, get on top of it. The last thing you want to happen is to be found out by the mistake. At some point you may find yourself in a position where you will need to suck it up and approach your supervisor so just do it. If not dealt with immediately, it very well could jeopardize your safety and the safety of others.
  7. Be a professional; be professional and become professional. This means you are one so act like it and continue to increase and become a better professional in your career – both at and away from work. People tend to tie the term “professional” to money. It is so much more. A professional is one who is competent, a skilled practitioner, an expert, one who conforms to the standards of a certain profession, and who is an authority in a given field. Well, you are now in a “certain profession” so strive to be that kind of a professional.
  8. Don’t let your responsibilities as an officer overwhelm your responsibilities as a father, mother, husband, wife, son or daughter. Maintain a balance and remember that there is a parallel universe where you do have a life that doesn’t have the terms “cell up” or “where’s you ID” in it. [SIDE NOTE] Guys, do not try this at home… your wife will not be amused if they ask you to do something at home and your response is, “I can’t because policy won’t allow it.”  If you find yourself tipping one way or another consider it as serious as a 9-1-1 emergency.
  9. Remember that you are not alone. There is always someone who has been through the same things you might be going through at any given time during your career. Reach out and find someone that will assist you.
  10. Seek guidance. If you want to know the best path to take to get to the goals you have set for yourself, don’t ask the disgruntled officer who has been at the same post for the last 15 years and wonders why their luck hasn’t changed yet. Talk to your supervisor, your chain-of-command and yes, even with your warden. Ask them what it will take to go where you want to go and achieve what you want to achieve in this Department. They will give you good advice and help you see the bigger picture. I was at a point in my career where I was trying to decide if I should make a particular move. The Chief of Prisons at the time gave me some advice I will never forget. After some discussion he looked at me across the table and said, and I paraphrase, “Jeff, you come and ask me for career advice.” What he was telling me was not that I couldn’t choose for myself what I thought was best but from where I was at I couldn’t see or know how to navigate the path that would lead me to where I wanted to go.
  11. Treat offenders as people SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY ARE. Put yourself in their situation – how would you want you to be treated? How would you want one of your loved ones to be treated if they were in the same situation? I learned something early on in my career from a Deputy Attorney General who said we are only a quick mistake away from being in the same situation from those with whom we are charged

We appreciate the continued support and strength you will provide for these fine correctional professionals.

You are all going to be great officers and I am so excited to watch you excel and grow throughout your career. On behalf of all of IDOC and with open arms, we welcome you to the sisterhood and brotherhood of IDOC. Thank you.

Story published: 05/18/2015

Class president's remarks

Good morning and a special thank you to all our friends and family who came to support us.

As many of you know, I am Nora Parisi, and I was honored to be voted class president by my peers.

When I started, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I was nervous, excited, and I found myself questioning my choice often. But here we all are, six long weeks later.   ·

It has been challenging, a lot of fun at times, and a great learning experience for us all.

Many of us have had some setbacks throughout this process in one form or another. And while at the academy, we have had to learn how to deal with our own disappointments.

While we were faced with these struggles, we were able to take something from each experience we encountered -- whether it was taking criticism from an instructor, asking for help because we just couldn't understand something, or really relying on each other.

We quickly learned that we really needed one another to succeed in this profession. We all need to remember this and take this mentality with us for our future.

It’s hard to believe, but yes, these inmates might have made a few mistakes to get them were they are today. Many are going to admit that they need help, while others won't.

They are going to need people to invest in them and model the life skills they need to be able to make a change, and they will be looking at us.

This is being human.  So go out there and be strong but not rude, be kind but not weak, be bold but not a bully, be humble but not timid, be proud but not arrogant. Failure is proof that you've tried. Now go try again.
Over this past month and a half we have gotten to know each other, and there are so many great people sitting in this room.  

Best wishes for a safe and strong future.

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