As lead warden, alumnus helps inmates become productive citizens
It was a conversation Benjamin Wright '97, M.S.'07, had years ago with a former correctional center offender that motivates him every day.
"Years after his release, a former offender called to thank me for assisting him in his journey to becoming a productive citizen," said Wright, who is the lead warden at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Va. "I was able to connect him with educational and vocational programs that ultimately enabled him to get a job immediately upon release. His call made me realize the influence that I could have on the lives of others."
Having started his career with the Department of Corrections after receiving his bachelor's degree in psychology from Longwood University, Wright returned to the university to earn a master of science degree in sociology with a concentration in criminal justice. He also earned a certificate in public administration from the university in 2007.
Wright has worked at four different facilities and has been promoted to increasingly responsible positions throughout his career. The Greensville Correctional Center houses approximately 3,000 medium-level security offenders from across Virginia, with sentences ranging from less than a year to multiple life terms.
Under Wright's direction, the center offers a variety of programs aimed at helping rehabilitate offenders and prepare them to successfully re-enter society.
The "Campus within Walls" program allows offenders to earn certificates and associate's degrees from Southside Virginia Community College. Those enrolled in the program are housed together so that they can support each other in their educational endeavors.
Therapy dogs that are specially trained to reduce tension also make regular visits. This program has proven to help build morale and promote good behavior among the inmates.
For offenders approaching their release dates, the center offers a cognitive community program designed to change criminal thinking, introduce offenders to community resources and reunify them with family members.
"Being separated from society is the punishment," Wright said. "We aim to rehabilitate offenders while they are incarcerated, not punish them further. Rehabilitation starts with the individual, and it's my job to put programming in place to motivate them to change."
In addition to giving Wright the opportunity to assist inmates in becoming productive citizens, his position allows him to help others' careers blossom.
"I enjoy sharing the success of my staff and seeing colleagues grow personally and professionally," he said. "No two days are alike, but I try to always make sure I'm involved with my staff and visible around the facility."
The compassion and leadership Wright demonstrates in his position are directly tied to his graduate studies at Longwood. He remembers learning about effective leadership in his Administration and Leadership in Organizations course.
"The course taught me a lot about the importance of communication, networking, leadership and evaluation," he said. "I was also able to understand the importance of inspiring a shared vision for those you work with. My Longwood education greatly enhanced my career and prepared me to be a leader in a very challenging profession."
Wright continues to stay involved with the university by helping current students explore their career options.
"I have given presentations to classes about the field of corrections and invited students to tour our facility," he said. "I will always make room on my schedule for Longwood University. The faculty, staff and students are my extended family."