By Lyonel Doherty
Rae-Lynn Hickerson has little opportunity to be bored working at B.C.’s largest correctional centre in Oliver.
The rookie officer says her job can be challenging at times, but is very rewarding once you see the difference you can make in people’s lives.
“My favourite part of my job is the fact that I get to take things that I learned in school and apply them,” Hickerson said.
She gets the opportunity to work with a lot of outside agencies such as the courts, sheriffs, and the police.
“Every day is a new day, and it is an ever- changing environment, which means there’s little opportunity to become bored.”
Hickerson said a career in corrections was never something she grew up dreaming she would do. While in college, she attended a networking day featuring law enforcement and security. But it was ultimately corrections that captured her interest.
“After my practicum, I saw a real opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives, and I was sold.”
Personally, Hickerson has experienced many positives since starting work at the Okanagan Correctional Centre.
“I was able to purchase my own home, which not many people at my age can say they have done on their own.”
She has also had assistance from the Pacific Leaders program with paying off her student loan.
Hickerson said she likes her workplace because staff pull together and support each other.
“We are successfully operating with mostly brand new staff, and we are constantly looking for ways to improve and be the best centre we can be.”
Hickerson said there is a real focus on recruitment.
“We are always looking for good people … people who truly want to make a difference and who are leaders to empower others.”
Hickerson said working with inmates is like working with anyone else; give them respect and you will get the same in return.
“We all have bad days and good days, and some are more difficult than other days.”
She noted if an inmate is having a bad day, it usually just takes some cooling off, and then a discussion. “And if anything that was said was negative, it will get cleared up with an apology.”
When asked if working in a correctional centre is anything like what you see in the movies, Hickerson said no.
“Practices and processes are much different in real life than in movies. Movies usually outdo themselves, as that is what people are looking to see, and that is what sells to the public.”
Hickerson said correctional officers work with inmates for long periods of time, noting it’s important to develop boundaries.
“Officers do get to know the inmates well, but I try to keep discussion focused on the inmate and how we can prepare them to succeed in the community.”
Her hope is to be a role model or tell stories so the inmates have some things to aspire and look forward to.
While drugs are a reality, Hickerson finds the fentanyl crisis particularly difficult on society.
“It can be hard to hear about a previous inmate (you had high hopes for) getting out and then passing away.”
She said a living unit officer can spend only so much of their time with inmates, extending all options available to prevent recidivism.
“Sometimes it’s not enough to overcome the fentanyl.”
Hickerson said one of the moments she enjoys most is releasing inmates.
“It is a pretty good feeling to watch some inmates be reunited with their family clean and sober, as well as ready to take on community life.”