After the Webinar: Helping Hidden Heroes. Q&A with Linda Ahrens

Webinar presenter Linda Ahrens answered a number of your questions after her webinar, Helping Hidden Heroes: Chaplains for Correctional Staff Emotions, Health, and Retention. Here are just a few of her responses.

 

Audience Question: Is it possible to get a copy of the leaflets that you have for the staff? Is that what’s at this QR code? 

Linda Ahrens: Thanks, Kimberly. The QR code takes you to a 6-step Action Plan to Sell the Concept of a chaplain just for staff, and the steps to find, appoint, and launch a volunteer, roving chaplain. The 6-step Action Plan includes articles and templates. It covers details of the points I covered. It’s a checklist for you and your administration.

Separate from the QR code’s location, all the leaflets are at AJA.org – Wellness – Publications at AJA.org. However, they are currently in portrait, PDF format, which is handy for two things:

  1. if your agency wants to display the leaflets on a staff intranet, then staff can easily read the leaflets online.
  2. Secondly, if a chaplain discusses a matter with correctional staff and wants to send them a leaflet, the PDF format works well with email. But….

COMING SOON: By mid-August, the American Jail Association plans to upload tri-fold versions of all the leaflets in the nine categories, as well as portrait versions – both in Word.

These each have my name and contact information on them. Any agency is asked to replace that field with its logo, agency name, chaplain name, etc. (I left my name, etc., in so that you can easily see to pop in your information.) Those leaflets in tri-fold and portrait form will all be available at the same location: AJA.org – wellness – publications.

 

Audience Question: How do you manage to serve the officers on so many different shifts? Do you deliberately plan to go to each of the different shifts? How do you structure that so that you reach everybody in the agency? 

Linda Ahrens: Yes, I wasn’t sure either when I first started. I just started walking, I kept track of a list of what shift did I go to, what division, and what day of the week. If I went to one building, second shift, on a Tuesday, the next time I came to that building, I’d come on a Thursday or a Saturday to see the staff who had their “weekends” on the other days… So, I keep a list to track when and where I’ve gone. In my first four months, I roved the 7 AM to 3 PM shift. The next four months, I roved the 3 to 11 night shift, and then for the third set of four months, I roved the 11 pm – 7 am shift. That way, I was able to meet all the staff at least one time,  or multiple times I wasn’t in five days a week I would alternate days because I was coming in, usually, 10 hours daily my first year just trying to meet everybody and then my second day, I’d be recovering, writing material such as the leaflets.

Host: So, did you just keep that on a spreadsheet or a checklist? Or how did you track that?

Linda Ahrens:  I made a sheet that lists all the different areas –t 20 areas with three shifts each. I would write the date next to each slot I rove. That way, I could look and see, “Okay, when was I last? In that division and this shift? Okay, it’s time to go back there.” This is needed because ours is a big facility, but a smaller facility. may have no problem roving the entire or most of the facility on any given shift. It’s fun to go in on different shifts and meet with the staff, and important to serve them all. Sometimes, I’ll leave a display of materials for the next shift, if I can’t be coming back soon.

Host: I can only imagine.  You’d have to have some kind of checklist to be able to keep track of it all since Cook County has to be such a large organization.

Linda Ahrens:  Now that there are several volunteer chaplains for staff,  I don’t have to personally rove all areas or shifts, because another chaplain covers that area/shift. So,  it depends on the size of your facility. One chaplain could do a small one very easily, I would think –if they’re willing to come in and have the freedom. I’m retired,  so, have that available time and freedom. But if your volunteer chaplain has other commitments, maybe he or she can only come in a certain shift, you can seek somebody who could come in the other shifts.

 

Audience Question: Who pays for the roving chaplain for staff? 

Linda Ahrens: Oh, thank you, Monica. There’s really very little expense, I just have my gas getting to and from the jail and writing up the leaflets and so forth, and my carts and bags, and my church subsidizes a lot of it. You do want to have a sending faith body, such as a church to have oversight over the chaplain too. You want somebody who’s accredited by and nominated by a sending faith body.  I print all my materials at our church; we have a great color photocopier. And I print up you, usually, a few hundred every week and bring them in to replenish. My church covers the gasoline, and my attendance at jail conferences, and so forth. The things it doesn’t cover, I do. So, it works out great. You know, there’s really not much expense.

 

Audience Question: I know there’s confidentiality with priests, but what about with civilian chaplains? Is there the same level of understanding about confidentiality and expectations of confidentiality, that kind of thing? 

Linda Ahrens:  Oh, thank you. I’d say certainly, yes. That is the key factor. Staff repeatedly say that they feel comfortable sharing with me because confidentiality has been stressed from the beginning. And that wasn’t my idea. It was the director who said, “Look, if you’re going to do this, you must do three things, you’ve got to be consistent, you got to be confidential, and you’ve got to care.” Those three things. Confidentiality was always emphasized. Every time I meet a staff member for the first time, I say that everything shared with me is confidential, unless — there is one caveat — unless there’s the possibility that someone may commit suicide or harm someone else. I tell the staff that, and they understand.

 

Audience Question: Does the correctional officer or deputy need to be religious to benefit from talking with a chaplain? Or how do you deal with that person when you know, they’re not particularly religious? 

Linda Ahrens:  I’d say the vast majority of conversations have nothing to do with faith of any sort. And I thought it was so interesting: t two people that contacted me the most over the years and had me contact their family, were both self-acclaimed atheists. You’re there as a listening resource, a loving ear, hearing, and can offer resources. If they want something, it’s available. I would say over, I think the 4000 staff over the six years, maybe 10 have said to me, “Go away.” And I was just amazed right away, as I said earlier, that people are hungry just to have somebody to talk to. So, they’re not asking me theological questions, I get those, that’s rare. Mostly, people just want to talk about the pain in their life or share something good that’s happened and somebody who’s going to cheer with them.

 

Audience Question: How long does it actually take to start a chaplaincy program for staff? I know you said the program can be done at no additional budgetary cost, but are there additional types of resources that we should keep in mind? 

Linda Ahrens:  It took about eight weeks to start this, only because I wanted to finish working with inmates for the last month or so. It’s very easy to start this quickly if you just ask somebody and they agree that they can do it, physically. There are a number of free resources available, some cited in the 6-step Action Plan. One of the chaplain’s churches brought in a buffet during National Correctional Officer Week. There are opportunities for the chaplains’ churches to provide resources, once they’ve been educated about the need to support the hard-working, hidden heroes in corrections.  I’d love to hear from and connect with the agencies whose attendees said in responding to the QuickPoll that they have chaplains solely for staff – because I want to learn of other methods or resources that we can make available. I do not have all the answers, I just care, and I believe that we can provide even more. A wonderful thing about the American Jail Association is as I develop or identify more resources, it can place them on their website, to be available. So, if you’ve got ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear those. Together, we can provide them, not just for your own agency, but make them available nationwide.

 

Audience Question: What additional training or preparation did you receive so that you can understand the culture of law enforcement or corrections? Or if you already had a baseline understanding about the profession, what would you recommend to others just to get started before turning brand new people on the floor? 

Linda Ahrens:  I always had a love for law enforcement because I had two cousins that served as police officers, one who was killed in the line of duty.

And then I worked through our church with mission agencies who went into military bases out in 29 Palms in California to serve the military there. It’s been good to be around law enforcement, but one of the main things is, I took courses on critical incident training, suicide prevention, and grief. There are wonderful, free courses, listed in my action plan in Tips and resources, Number five. There are chaplains who come from the military. I don’t have that background. And right after I took one on a critical incident, one of our officers had just returned from that terrible Las Vegas shooting where dozens were killed. He’d voluntarily jumped into action for 24 hours, and was in trauma from it, after his return. I had at my fingertips what I’d just learned and was able to support him and it’s just wonderful training for civilian chaplains.

 

Click Here to Watch a Recording of Helping Hidden Heroes: Chaplains for Correctional Staff Emotions, Health, and Retention

 

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