My STEP Signature experience was an internship working with the state’s energy conservation and sustainability administrator at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction this past summer as a sustainability intern. Some of my duties and main activities I do include utility data tracking, scheduling, attend meetings with institutions and various vendors, and participate in site visits. My department is staffed by one person so I do all the odds and ends type of work she needs to be completed.
Working in corrections was a new experience for me, and I expected to feel challenged with my work and personal outlook. Before this summer, I have done some work with youth probate court and Children and Family Services. Being part of the corrections world first hand is a very new experience. Sustainability in prisons is relatively new, ever since my boss’s predecessor held the position around 2010. This experience has provided me with my first time going into a prison, interacting with correctional officers, interacting with inmates, and momentarily experiencing life on the inside.
Learning more about Ohio’s rehabilitation efforts as well as those nationwide has also been eye opening. My favorite thing that I have learned is that sustainability is being used as a means of rehabilitation and positive influence to help people turn their lives in a more positive direction. I became interested in sustainability because I believe in its positive impact on human and societal health; to see that in action and being applied statewide has been a phenomenal experience.
Another major part of my experience has been working for a state agency. ODRC has to comply with all rules of the state such as purchasing, chain of command, and various departments within DRC. Jumping through many hoops and following very specific rules makes it difficult to accomplish anything in a reasonable span of time. Though I have only been at ODRC for about 6 weeks, I have learned a tremendous amount making me excited for the future.
Many specific events, interactions, relationships, and activities during my STEP Project thus far have led me to the change and transformation. From my wonderful boss to the office environment, to the many outside contracting companies to guards and inmates, my time at ODRC so far has been full of rich experiences.
My first and main connection at ODRC is my boss, Leah Morgan. She is the only one in the sustainability department and leads with the title of energy conservation and sustainability administrator. Leah’s fearlessness, curiosity, and excitement and passion for learning has made her so successful thus far. From day one, she has pushed her hardest to give me the most valuable experience possible, and I am so very grateful for the opportunities she has given me.
In the office environment, I have met many different people. I never knew how many different people worked at ODRC. I’ve met financial, construction, technology, training officers, and chiefs of departments. By working around and with so many different individuals, I have learned what it takes to keep our state institutions running.
Inside the institutions, I have met many different correctional officers, captains, and specific inmates. So many of ODRC’s sustainability projects depend on an officer or institution employee to take on the project at their facility (i.e.: recycling). I have met many employees more than willing to dive in and make their program successful, making my boss’s job much easier and her goals more attainable. Meeting inmates has been the most unique experience so far this summer. I had no expectations going in but was given basic safety training. This experience has humanized inmates to me, even those with life sentences for very serious crimes. Working with inmates has proven to me even further the importance of rehabilitation and recidivism, and we are able to achieve that through using sustainability as a primary tool.
Working in the correctional system is not something I ever anticipated or dreamed of when I was younger. As my graduation and entrance to the “real world” approaches, I’ve been forced to think about what matters to me and how I can be a part of solving that problem. My passion for sustainability stems from the interactions that human/societal health and environmental health have with one another. Working with inmates directly has been the most transformational portion of this experience because I can now see where this work will pay off. Ohio has much lower recidivism rates than the national average which can be partially attributed to the sustainability efforts in our 27 institutions. This impacts my future plans because it has fully restored my confidence that sustainability is going to be a key to our future whether it is applied to correctional institutions, public schools, hospitals, or integrated into all aspects of everyday life.