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Comedienne Vicki Lawrence delivers fiery speech and lots of laughs at the general session.

As attendees of the American Correctional Association's General Session gradually filtered into the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center on Monday, Feb. 9, 2015, the humid temperature in the room was not the only thing on the rise. Prior to the presentation of the keynote speaker--comedienne, actress and singer Vicki Lawrence--Jeffrey Beard, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation addressed the attendees. While Beard commended ACA staff on their work in putting the conference together, he also discussed California's success in dramatically decreasing the inmate population by 20 percent, as well as the drop in violent crime by 6.7 percent--the lowest it has been since 1967.

Following a warm and welcoming introduction by Stacy Langin, vice president of correctional services at Aramark Correctional Services in Philadelphia, Lawrence was brought to the stage to discuss her career and advice about life. Currently a resident of Long Beach, Calif., Lawrence is best known for her role as Thelma Harper, also known as "Mama," on "The Carol Burnett Show," which she starred in as her first television role at 24 years old. Prior to earning her role as Harper, Lawrence earned the title Miss Fireball during a contest put on by a local firefighter's ball that required the girls participating to sing and dance. Since the local newspaper was doing an article about the contest, Lawrence and her mother decided to write a fan letter to Burnett and include a copy of the article. Much to Lawrence's amazement, not only did Burnett respond, but she also attended the contest, during which Lawrence attracted Burnett's attention enough for her to offer Lawerence a role on the show.

The same fall of her freshman year at University of California Los Angeles, Lawrence started on "The Carol Burnett Show," which she recalled fondly. "I wanted to look as much like Carol Burnett as I possibly could," Lawrence said. "To this day, I am a natural redhead," to which the audience responded with laughs and praises. Lawrence recounted how fortunate she was to be involved in the "golden age of television" while at CBS Broadcasting Inc. She recounted some of her memories of working in the same studio as stars such as Lucille Ball, Jimmy Stewart, Gloria Swanson, Bing Crosby, Sonny Bono and Cher, which was met with awe from the audience members at the nostalgia those happy memories expressed. Lawrence also recalled how she met her husband A1 Schultz during the second season of "The Carol Burnett Show;" Schultz was the head of makeup for the show. According to Lawrence's website, Schultz's big break came in 1968 when the Makeup Artist's Union sent him to CBS Television City, where Burnett noticed him walking by her dressing room. Lawrence told attendees that she and Schultz recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.

After the ending of "The Carol Burnett Show," as well as the spinoff series Lawrence starred in, "Mama's Family," she starred in her own talk show, which led to the darkest period in her life. Despite the fun she had on screen interviewing famous celebrities such as Garth Brooks and Bob Hope, cooking with Wolfgang Puck or singing a duet with Reba McEntire, "The problem was I did it for the wrong company," she explained. Contrary to her life motto, "Life is much too serious to be taken seriously," the executive producer she worked with thought show business was very stressful, and he took out his aggression on Lawrence in the form of verbal and eventually physical abuse. "I thought you were supposed to be having fun, and if you are not having fun, you are doing it wrong.... If you are not [having fun], you should go sell used cars in Idaho, or go be a correctional officer," which, fortunately, was something the attendees could laugh at. As a result, it became very stressful for Lawrence to continue during the second season, and after going to her bosses in New York for support, she was fired from the show instead of them taking action against her producer. As a result, this sent Lawrence in a tailspin, and, most dishearteningly, she lost her sense of humor.

Lawrence slipped into a depression brought on by anger against her former co-worker and executives for their inaction, as well as stress caused by her loss of income as the "primary breadwinner" of her family, which also put strain on her marriage. While on a vacation in Hawaii with her husband, Lawrence came across a book while walking on the beach titled, Your Body Believes Every Word You Say. This resonated with Lawrence so profoundly that she was inspired to take action before her mental and physical health deteriorated even worse. After receiving a black Labrador puppy as a Valentine's Day gift from Schultz, which she named Hannah, Lawrence was finally able to snap herself out of the depression that plagued her, allowing her to laugh again. Concluding her speech, Lawrence implored the attendees to find humor in everyday life, and to pass that along to staff in each state's department of corrections.

Immediately following Lawrence's speech, ACA Immediate Past President Michael Wade, sheriff of the Henrico County Sheriff's Office, swore ACA President Mary L. Livers, Ph.D., into office. Following Wade's swearing in of the new ACA President-Elect Lannette Linthicum and ACA Treasurer Gary C. Mohr, he also swore in the three primary leadership bodies as a group: the Board of Governors, the Delegate Assembly and the Commission on Accreditation for Corrections.

As the leadership groups took their seats, Livers took to the podium with natural grace and poise to deliver her overview speech of what she hopes to accomplish during her two-year term as ACA president. During her speech, she touched on her goals to improve the treatment standards of mentally ill offenders, as well as to reduce recidivism across every department of corrections within the scope of ACA-accredited facilities.
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Title Annotation:2015 Winter Conference: GENERAL SESSION
Author:Fitzpatrick, Joe
Publication:Corrections Today
Article Type:Conference notes
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:May 1, 2015
Words:985
Previous Article:Conference attendees convene in sunny Long Beach, Calif.
Next Article:2015 winter conference: host committee.
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