ACA's 133rd Congress of Correction: a first-time attendee's perspective.
Throughout my time spent working the units, I have seen the benefit of just a few employees taking the time to perform their duties to the best of their ability. The standard is raised, and a friendly competition often begins to encourage others to keep up. An entire facility can improve its overall operations and morale when a few employees are determined to make a personal commitment to excellence. That is one of the reasons that I was attracted to the American Correctional Association and its dual focus on personal and agency development standards that challenge and reward all who make the effort to improve.
A Great Opportunity
I cannot say enough about the value of the scholarship program that ACA's Membership Services Department has been providing for the past 12 years. I was not even aware of its existence until I received a phone call from the membership director, stating that I was selected as one of this year's recipients. I was both shocked and excited as the nature of the scholarship program and what I was being offered was explained to me. Col. Robert Loveridge, president of the ACA affiliate New York Corrections and Youth Services Association (CAYSA), had submitted my name along with four others as candidates for this year's program, which gives chapter/affiliate members the opportunity to attend their first Congress of Correction for free. When I think about the years those I serve with have spent supporting ACA, I was by far the least deserving of any one of them to be given this opportunity. However, by the Lord's blessing, I was. And I am now one of the strongest advocates of encouraging others to attend ACA's national events.
During ACA's 133rd Congress of Correction in Nashville, Tenn., in August, I was completely amazed by the level of professionalism among the nation's correctional leaders. The quality of the workshop presenters that covered a wide range of training topics was truly impressive.
When I decided to go to Nashville, I thought of my father, who retired from corrections after 37 years. I hoped to convince him to join me. He agreed and, within minutes of our arrival, he assured me that he was glad that he had decided to attend. Since we have been home, he has talked about the trip day after day to all our family and friends, and the pictures we took are nearly worn out from his handling them while showing them to numerous people.
As chairman of CAYSA's newsletter, the CAYSA Chronicles, I am able to meet regularly with some of the very best people in corrections. I see both ACA and CAYSA conferences as an opportunity to meet with "seasoned" veterans and glean every bit of knowledge and experience that I can. I have taken back to my home facility so much from the Nashville Congress. For example, I was able to speak with a workshop presenter, Cindy Weinbaum, M.D., MPH, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, about HIV and the soon to be released 10-year study on the hepatitis B vaccine. She directed me to resources that CDC provides free of charge and, within nine days of returning home, I received three boxes of informative materials, which will benefit staff during our infectious disease training sessions.
In addition, I have already begun working on a proposal to my regional CAYSA representatives to financially help others in our region attend their first ACA conference. After that, I plan to start a similar initiative at the state level. The hurdle of getting to that first conference needs to be lowered. I believe that the reasons to not attend subsequent events will quickly melt away after most people experience their first ACA conference.
Meeting ACA President Charles Kehoe was truly inspiring. I heard him speak of his priorities of faith, family, friends and work, and thought, "Here is a man who has given so much to the corrections community and, at the same time, he kept his priorities in the correct order." I respect that very much and admire him for it. At the Congress Orientation and Reception, Kehoe's speech made it clear that his "ACA family" had played a huge role in his life over many years. And I took to heart his encouragement to make new friends at the conference. He was like so many others who I met, willing to sit and talk. They truly cared that I was there and they made me feel welcome.
Within two days of returnng home from the Congress, my wife and I were checking the travel route to Chicago in the event we decided to drive to the 134th Congress of Correction next summer. Whatever way I travel, I plan to see my new friends there in 2004.
ACA and CAYSA, along with the New York State DOCS, continue to offer me opportunities to share the knowledge that I have accumulated during my 20 years in the corrections field, and to continue to learn as well. Whether it is talking with a new officer about a subject that he or she is not familiar with or listening to senior staff and learning from their wealth of experience, I love this job. And I love what ACA has done for me and corrections. I only hope that in my remaining years of service, I can give back to ACA and the DOCS.
Todd F. Rabideau is a recipient of the 12th annual American Correctional Association, Membership Services Department's Scholarship, for which nominated ACA chapter/affiliate members are given the opportunity to attend their first Congress of Correction.