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Supporting Corrections Staff's Wellbeing through Mindfulness with Kelly Raths

Updated: Apr 16

Oregon Department of Corrections Administrator of Equity and Staff Wellness, Kelly Raths MDiv, discusses her work overseeing critical incident peer support teams, trauma-informed care initiatives, her agency’s progression towards diversity, equity, and inclusion and a culture that fosters wellbeing and resilience for its staff. The development of the Oregon Way approach to corrections in the Oregon DOC, which is based on genuinely recognizing and supporting the basic humanity of corrections staff and those who are in custody. What they have learned about scaling major health, wellness and resilience initiatives throughout their agency. The extreme challenges correctional staff have faced throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and how they are working through that with a dedicated and resilient workforce.

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Supporting Corrections Staff's Wellbeing through Mindfulness with Kelly Raths Transcript

Fleet Maull: 

Hi, welcome to another session on day five of the Global First Responder Resilience Summit.  Today we're focused on creating healthy agency cultures of resilience. I'm really thrilled to be here today with Kelly Raths from the Oregon Department of Corrections. Hi Kelly. 

Kelly Raths: 

Hey, Fleet. It's good to be here with you. 

Fleet Maull: 

Great to be with you. We've had the opportunity to work together over the years, so I really consider you a friend and a colleague. It's great to be able to do this interview together for the summit. I want to share some of your background, so our audience is familiar with you and your work.  

Kelly Raths is the Equity and Wellness Administrator for the Oregon Department of  Corrections. Kelly's first trip to prison was with a group of Quaker women in Massachusetts to teach The Alternatives to Violence Program. The experience was both fascinating and infuriating and set the course for a lifelong career, transforming the criminal justice system from within its ranks. 

Kelly has worked with the Oregon Department of Corrections for 15 years as a chaplain, community advocate, policy and business administrator, and in her current role as  Administrator of Equity and Staff Wellness. She oversees critical incident peer support teams,  trauma-informed care initiatives, and the agency's progression towards diversity, equity, and inclusion.  

Kelly is an industry leader in incorporating mindfulness and emotional intelligence skills into the Corrections profession with the aim of supporting thriving employees who are committed to the humanity of those in their care and custody. She earned her master's degree from Harvard Divinity School in 2005. She has two young children and a husband who grows wine grapes and six urban chickens. I don't know if you still have the same chickens, but I met one crop of chickens that you had one time, along with the rest of your family. 

Kelly Raths: 

We still have some, and some new as chickens do. So, yeah. We've gone through. 

Fleet Maull: 

Great. Well, I know the chickens were pretty exciting. At least your son, I know, was excited about the chickens when we were there. 

Kelly Raths: 

Yes. I just had my husband there out playing with the chickens right now, and there was a little bit of noise. So, I asked him to scoot onto a different spot. So yes, that's all still the same for us. 

Fleet Maull: 

That's great. Well, our neighbors have chickens right next door, and we hear the chickens a little bit.  

Kelly, you began your Corrections career as a chaplain. So, let's start with your  understanding of spiritual fitness and resilience and supporting Corrections staff in that  dimension of their lives.  

I know people often think prison chaplains are mostly ministering to the prisoners or  the inmates, but a big part of your role is also supporting staff. And so, I'm curious about how  you understand that spiritual dimension of the wellbeing for Corrections staff and other first  responders. 

Kelly Raths: 

For me, that was the perfect door to walk into the Corrections field in was the chaplaincy  world. One, naturally just my inclinations, but what I find in this world of criminal justice, and  certainly, I do think it is real for our staff is, it's all those rich questions that a religious and  spiritual practice asks about reconciliation, atonement, healing, what is the meaning of one's  life? All those kinds of things beholding that which is both beautiful and harmful and all those  kinds of things. 

That to say is that I think, even unbeknownst to probably a lot of folks that come into  our criminal justice field, especially Corrections, it has this weighty element that spiritual  inquiry or tradition lends itself too to help us process just the very work in and of itself. 

So, how that plays out, I think, for a lot of our staff in the work that you and I have done  together, Fleet, is there are those questions, and when we talk about wellness and workplace  wellness and the notion of, I can exercise, and I can create a healthy diet, and I can manage my  family finances and other things. But there's something about the fabric of humanity in those  very questions, the religious, the spiritual wellbeing, that gets pulled on in such a unique way  in this business.  

And so, it seems really directly tied to people's health and wellbeing. And often, we  don't have ready resources. It's like, "Oh, try the Mediterranean diet." Those ways to be able to  equip and support and surround folks in that dimension of their wellbeing, that they maybe  didn't even need to know needed tending to and care to, when they came into the work. 

Fleet Maull: 

Yeah, it seems many of our religious and spiritual traditions and a whole dimension, in many ways, has arisen in response to human suffering. How do we make sense out of human suffering? How do we make sense out of the fact that we die sooner or later? How do we make sense of life and death and all the tremendous human suffering we see in the world and the personal suffering we go through? 

Of course, it's also that spirituality is very much connected to joy. Thank goodness. We don't want to lose track of that, but Corrections professionals are dealing with a lot of suffering. You're charged with housing and caring for and keeping secure prisoners who are in a lot of suffering just by nature of ending up in the criminal justice system. You're certainly going through a lot of trauma and suffering, but many of them come from tremendous lives of suffering. Some have created suffering through their actions for others. 

And so, there's a real, and I would think working as a corrections professional, there's almost a confrontation with human suffering. And then, how do you deal with that? It's got to challenge your own sense-making about your own life and the world and what you're doing.  And so, it just seems really important that people have some way to do that, and it seems like the spiritual dimension has a lot to do with that.

Kelly Raths: 

Yeah, it does. And the facing of the suffering, as you know and folks listening know, there's a level of, in a prison system or perhaps some people haven't been exposed to it, there's a level of intimacy in a prison setting between staff and people in custody.  

Intimacy that they just share the vulnerability of being seen. So your job is to walk a tier. Your job is to look into and be seen and see people in all their moments. So there's that proximity. And then, the job is to also touch. You're patting down people all the time. We're touching. So, this incredible intimacy that we have and as we've talked about and through the  work with you in training, there's also mirror neurons and secondary trauma exposure and all  that stuff that we try to equip people with to be like, "Oh, that's at play here." But yes, the  intimacy. 

And then for those staff who do, because we in Oregon and a lot of other places, we're  asking staff not just to walk and do the tier check and make sure that you have breathing  bodies, but we're asking them to please come to know who that person is and know who their  mom is and who visits them. And so, you come to know their story. And the number of staff  who will pause and the story of this person whose mother prostituted them. These things  weigh. They weigh heavy on our folks, and it does give the need to ask a question. 

And again, our spiritual traditions are so important. They're deeply rooted in the ability  to come to a question like that. But for some staff who don't have that deep-rooted ability to  grab at whatever popular culture will tell you about how I'm going to make meaning about this  work. And so, the more that we can even just encourage and acknowledge that there is a  profound, spiritual dimension to the work that you have chosen and find yourself in. And then  knowing that, how would we like to keep the tone and cultivate and grow that dimension of  your life in this work? 

Fleet Maull: 

Yeah, exactly. That seems to be the real starting point, is just acknowledging that this  dimension is an important dimension of our lives and honoring and acknowledging that and  giving space for that.  

Along with this confrontation with human suffering, it also triggers our own suffering.  When we're around other people who are suffering, it reminds us of our own suffering. And  then, for Corrections professionals, there's all this confusion and ambiguity based on the time, the ideology, the politics, philosophy is, "What is my job here? Am I here just confining? Am I  actually here to punish? Or am I here to rehabilitate and try to help reduce suffering?"  

That confusion about the demands, what society is saying your role is, and then you  have that confusion mixed with the fact that you're witnessing really, intimately, day in and  day out human beings who are suffering. It's got to present a lot of challenges and a lot of  potential confusion. 

Kelly Raths: 

Yeah. I think it is. And one of the pieces on your theme for this day is talking about creating that  healthy culture. And so, it's not apologetic for the path that we've chosen in Oregon, but one of  the things that are really important to us that we're verbalizing, and I think Corrections in  general, hopefully, is having this conversation, is how do we really behold and acknowledge  and support the humanity of those folks in our custody? Hence, this conference. In order to  behold the humanity of those in our custody, the necessities of then, what is my own humanity, and how am I keeping my own house in that way? 

But the challenge, again, and we've talked about this, is so complex because now we're  asking to give an example. We're asking a Corrections staff of any type of background, Food  Service Officer whatever it is, to behold the humanity of that person, see the potential there, to  be a change agent in that person's life. And then to hold incredible authority and power over  that person. And so, the complexities of that. Again, perhaps some folks like you and I and  maybe people in the audience know that's a really interesting thought, and I like to think a lot  about that. But for some folks, just not even realizing that that's the conflict that they're facing  is, "Hey, this person reminds me a lot of myself or my brother or my son, and I can rock their  world with this one decision." And how to do both of those things. It's a very perplexing place. 

Fleet Maull: 

Yeah. And I want to talk further about the agency-wide work you've been doing in Oregon and  things like the Oregon Way and all the work you've been doing around wellness. But first, I  want to stay with this spiritual dimension just a little bit longer. With all these challenges that  Corrections professionals are faced with, we've been describing and all this potential role  conflict and ambiguity, and confrontation with suffering. It can certainly lead us into distress.  

And often in the clinical literature, with the spiritual dimension, we talk about a sense  of connectedness within ourselves, with ourselves, with others, and with some greater  dimension that gives our life meaning and purpose, perhaps the God of our understanding. And then also, just that sense of meaning and purpose, that life feels meaningful. We're you're  able to engage in activities that give our life meaning and purpose. 

When we lose that, and often the unfortunate consequence of the confrontation with suffering and ongoing psychological distress and trauma exposure, and even symptomology, so things like PTSD, that sense of connectedness can erode with ourselves and with others.  And that sense of meaning and purpose can erode, and we start sensing a sense of alienation and meaninglessness. That is really in a psychosocial, in the medical literature, psychological literature is what's called spiritual distress.  

I think that's really a part of the pathway towards the real risk of suicidality. And unfortunately, that's been a real risk and tragic consequences in Corrections work and even there in Oregon. That's why I just think it's so important to talk about the spiritual dimension because I think the issue of suicidality, in many ways, is an issue of spiritual distress. So I'm just curious about your thoughts there. 

Kelly Raths: 

Yeah. For us, our story of wellness, my connection to, specifically, my job as a chaplain to work specifically with those in custody and then, not instantly but just so quickly than seeing the larger, that we're all in this water together, that our story of commitment to staff wellness and my work with you and the mindfulness program that we've brought in Oregon really did start with the tragic loss of a number of our staff to suicide.  

And so, that is real. We know those statistics and other sorts of things, but I share with you the root cause piece of that, the spirituality and the distress aspect of that. So, yes. I think that element of it is true. 

One of the things I'm thinking, and I wish I had it, it's just very fore on my mind, and we  have a vibrant woman who worked for us, who just recently sent a letter of deep apology to her staff, but that she doesn't recognize herself anymore and that she's needing to resign. She's describing exactly what you had said. In the seven years that she has been with us, with the Department of Corrections, just the loss of her sense of purpose in work, the loss of her  brightness in her role as a mother. And just the despair that she's come to in knowing who she was when she started and who she is in this space now. And just a heartbreaking tale to see those emails and communications.

And pause, as from an agency standpoint, and think, we talk about suicide and we talk about wellness, but making that connection for folks to see. Recently I've been talking about like, "You don't know you're far gone until you're far gone." Right? Until you get to that point.  

It's heavy on my heart right now recently because we've got a lot of staff who are at that point of burnout. We are, admittedly, in the employee services level that I'm in right now and peer resource to staff across the agency and our executive staff. It is a regular part of our  conversations is, "What is this person's safety plan?" That we are truly worried about our staff,  especially in these exacerbated times of spending almost two years in a COVID pandemic. It's  fore on our mind when we have the staff going out at the rate that they are is, "What's their safety plan?" So it's real. 

Fleet Maull: 

Yeah. And it seems like when push comes to shove in life and when we have lots of ways to cope and our social resources, but when we really get to that worst spot, it's often our spiritual resources that carry us through, whatever connection, faith, sense of being. That's our ultimate backup plan somehow. And when we lose a connection to that, I think that's when we can really start to get in trouble. 

So, you have been spearheading really agency-wide efforts to shift your agency's culture toward a culture of wellness and resilience. Our topic today is about how to do that at an agency-wide level, whether it's small police or Sheriff's department or probation and parole agency, or a very large State Department of Corrections like you're working in. I think you have around 4,700 employees, something like that roughly. That gives people a sense of size. 

And so, I remember that when you all began this journey, you realized one of the things you did at the beginning, you did it to me, you invited a couple of universities in to do research.  And even though Oregon has always been seen as a pretty progressive, I think, system, what you saw was, it was some pretty compelling data that showed that there was a lot of PTSD symptomology in your staff and a lot of stress and a lot of issues. And so, I know that your  agency made a real commitment at that point, "We're going to stay focused on wellness until  we change this data." 

And then, you're doing that work, and the pandemic hits just exacerbating everything,  all the stress and trauma exposure that was already there. On top of that, you have this, right?  And so, I wonder if you could just talk about that journey a little bit? What has been up until now, and what you see happening in terms of really trying to see a difference agency-wide  and see your culture shift?  

I think, as far as I know, you would probably say your culture has shifted over the last  six, seven, or eight years, but I'm just curious if you could describe that journey for us? 

Kelly Raths: 

Yeah. Happy to tell that story in a little more detail. You have captured some of it. When we  started, one of the things you talk about is if an agency or an organization is going to  implement something and really make it stick, one piece in that process is having a clear  commitment from the top of the agency, from the director.  

And so, our wellness story really coincides a lot with the entrance of Director Colette  Peters into our agency. And then, as we talked about 2011, 2012, just a number of challenges,  loss of employees to self-inflicted gunshot wounds, deaths, other sorts of things, employees that were proudly wearing our uniform, who came into our custody due to life choices and other sorts of things. And so, it was just a level of crisis at that time. 

We are a people business. That's what we do. Our budget is to fund people to tend to  and care for the safety and wellbeing of people in our custody. So, our story kind of started there. But then, the question was, "Well, what is it? What is this that we're looking at?"  

We can speak anecdotally, other sorts of things about our staff, but the importance of us bringing in research partners and having some willing folks. So, we had Oregon Health  Sciences University who is still, ten years later, doing research partnerships with us. Portland State University and a number of other folks came in.  

And as you had said, that baseline data that we found, one in three of our staff indicated significant levels of PTSD symptomology, the psychosocial stressors on family,  divorce, use of addictive behaviors to cope and manage. All of that stuff. And then Dr. Keogh was able to come in and start to take a look at blood work and brain scans and other sorts of  things like that. And so, we've got this really rich collection of data on the physical and the neurological wellbeing of our staff. 

Unfortunately, it's all just a sad story. It's sad as far as the data. The data is tough. It's  sobering for us. One of the things that I know that I wrestle with as a wellness person is we know this to be true, but have we moved the dial for staff? And, of course, the pandemic.

There were a number of studies we were going to rerun. We, as an agency, don't even have the bandwidth to rerun those studies at this point. So, there's a real nervousness, given what we know about just public health generally has exacerbated. The ability to turn the dial on staff wellness, we're not able to measure, and we're not confident that we have.  

I'll tell you, Fleet. This is not a time, the last two years, where we would have wanted to be entering as an agency of what does staff wellness mean for us? We have eight years under our belt. You can ask an employee what the director's number one priority is. What's the agency's number one priority? And they will tell you it's staff wellness. They might do so with a snarky, "But if it really was then X, Y, Z," but so grateful that we have almost a decade of foundation commitment to staff wellness under our belt. So that then, when this pandemic has hit us, it truly is at the fore of our managers' minds almost in a painful way when you feel somewhat helpless. 

That gets to what we talked about before. But it is at the fore of our minds, the heroic  efforts that management has taken in the last two years of incredible overtime to make sure, "Did that employee get three days off?" So, the ability to manage through a crisis. It's hard to appreciate. Are we changing indicators? Are people's blood pressures dropping? Probably not, but what position did it put us in? We could not anticipate the storm that we would have needed to weather without solid foundations. 

Fleet Maull: 

Yeah, it's a really tough time to even ask you to be self-reflective or think about where you are and measure progress because the pandemic has just skewed everything so extremely, I'm  sure. But I would certainly hope that you're weathering it much better than you would have if you hadn't done all the work you've done.  

I'm curious. Part of what you brought in was a program we collaborated in around bringing in mindfulness-based wellness and resiliency training, mindfulness-based emotional intelligence training, which isn't just "sitting mindfulness meditation," although that's a good thing if people are able to do it—just integrating mindfulness and awareness skills into lots of human activities and lots of things that increase resilience and wellness. And so, I'm curious  about that component of it, how you see the importance of that, and how you embraced that in  your life at one point. You became a certified mindfulness teacher. So, I'm just curious about  your pathway with mindfulness and your agency's pathway with mindfulness, and how you see that as a component of the overall picture of developing a healthier agency, a more  resilient agency? 

Kelly Raths: 

Yeah. Maybe just start with just the connection for me in doing this work. And then how I think it's impacted the agency.  

When we brought mindfulness work in with staff, for me, the question was, "What ails  you, and how do you find an intervention for what is ailing you?" And so, the conversation that we'd had about the spiritual, moral, the mind fabric, the impact that this work has on a human being. If that is what ails us, then how do we find what we bring in to serve that ailment to strengthen us in those areas of need?  

And so the mindfulness, the emotional intelligence work, the things that we've done,  for me, really scratches that itch for our staff. And so, just to speak a little bit for what does  that mean for me. One is I straw breathe through every meeting that I have on these video  platforms. The covert way in which I can purse my lips and straw breathe through most of  these meetings just to manage the storm.  

Just yesterday, we've had a number of some top-level staff that had some tragedies in  their lives and had to head home or be duty station at home and other things. And so, for me to  show up and when you have a week where it's like, "Oh, so-and-so just went out, and so-and so just went out," and, "Hey, there's this crisis, and there's this crisis too." So, as the wellness person for the agency, and I'm certainly not alone, but I'm the one person who wears the title  in the peer support of that work, I call upon it every day.  

For me personally, to just manage some resilience to continue to lean in and the  techniques that we use when we talk about safety for people. So, one of the techniques that  you have taught us and we learned together is Safe-Resource-Connected. So, had a staff  person that we were worried about their potential safety plan, and we were getting some folks to show up around them. But being able in a nuanced form to be able to ask them, "Are you  safe right now?" And have them describe like, "Well, I'm sitting in my car."  

So using those techniques without it being a guided meditation, but, "Is this person  safe?" And am I rooting and grounding in my own safety right now, as I'm talking to them?  Does this person have what they need? So checking in, "When was the last time you drank  some water? What's your temperature like?" So the resource quality of that person. And then the connected piece. Like, "I know you've got kids. I know you got two dogs. Let's pull out your  phone and let's look at some of those images. Tell me a little bit about what they're doing  today." 

It is the way that sustains me to show up and connect to folks. And then, it just gives me a method of connecting to people, again, who are sometimes in some pretty significant crises. So, that's powerful.  

How it works for our staff in our agency. One of the things, and it's part of why I've so  appreciated working with you and your philosophy. And I can see the book behind your shoulder there, The Radical Responsibility, the notion that we work in a field, criminal justice,  that is just rooted philosophically, its ethos in this notion of responsibility, individual responsibility. And for better or worse, yes, we know there is communal and structural and institutional things, but there's this rootedness that we have. And so many of our folks come to and are deeply committed to this idea that if harm is created, we're responsible for the other side. 

And so, the work that we've done with you in the program is calling people to have  leadership over their individual selves. So, one of the things, just working with a group of  managers, and this is how it shows up in our culture and how we use it, one of the ways that  we use the techniques and the learning is having a conversation with managers about, "Is your  house in order? Is your house in order? What are you doing around your own self-care?" We  talk about eight dimensions of wellness. "Can you pop down into this seat right now? What  are you feeling? What are you noticing?"  

So, we do those conversations with managers, and then we say, "And then how does that show up for you in your role in supporting the staff that is in crisis to get through that  time?" So, it really equips us to be able to take this philosophy that we have rooted into us, this idea of, I'm responsible for myself, you're responsible for yourself, and say, "Okay, you're responsible for yourself. Here are all these skills that you can have around your own wellbeing to be your own leader over your physiology." And equip them to then show back up into the really hard work. So, that's some of the ways, lots of ways. I think it's been profoundly impactful for us. 

Fleet Maull: 

That's wonderful. It's very gratifying to hear it actually being used at the leadership level like  that because leaders have such an impact in any system, obviously. And obviously, the commitment from your director, Director Colette Peters, towards wellness has been huge,  obviously that commitment from the top. 

As part of that, the Oregon Department of Corrections has obviously been on this pathway, really embracing wellness and really trying to develop a culture that really honors wellness and resiliency and takes good care of its staff. You've also been developing something called the Oregon Way. And I think you've embraced some tenants of the Norway model in terms of corrections and criminal justice, some of the Scandinavian influence. And so, there are these parallel paths here about, and you've mentioned it several times, about seeing the people in custody as human beings and trying to have a more humane approach to criminal justice and corrections.  

And so, do you see a connection between those two things in terms of our approach to the people in custody, as well as our approach to ourselves, to the staff, and how those can reinforce each other, perhaps to sustain culture change and get healthier outcomes for everybody in the system? 

Kelly Raths: 

Yeah, absolutely. One of the phrases for me is, 'Humanity begets, humanity begets, humanity begets humanity.' So really, the ways that I've started to talk about this as a wellness person and representative of, what's our approach in Oregon? How are we trying to connect staff wellness to the humanizing of people in custody and our mission and that work of creating rehabilitation? The theory of change is that if our staff are well, then our people in custody can  be well.  

If my managers and employees and foodservice and recreation staff, and other folks are  happy, they're thriving; they have a deep-rooted understanding of what their spirituality is.  They understand what their relational connections are. This notion is that they are well at their  core because, again, we are contagious as human beings.  

We know that from a negative inverse standpoint of secondary trauma and other sorts  of things, but can we take this contagion of the theory of change that if our folks are radically  well, then our people in custody can be well too? They're just going to show up. That food  service coordinator is going to show up and be a change agent. That mental health person or  the person who's checking them in is going to show up in a way that they're bright, and they're  telling a story, they're setting an example, they're tuned in empathically to the person that's  coming upstairs. 

So, when they are well, then the ability of that influence to carry the water. Then, the  folks in our custody becoming well. That's really our radical theory of change is, we're going to  pour into those staff, we're going to equip them in all the ways that we can, and then the  business is kind of going to take care of itself if we've established our vision, our mission, our  goals, our core values, those kinds of things. That's the connection. That's the theory of  connection for us in Oregon around wellness. 

Fleet Maull: 

That's really powerful. There's a lot of social sciences research that supports that in criminal  justice, that really points to, let's see, when people enter into the criminal justice system in  whatever means, the actual interactions they have with criminal justice staff with probation  and parole officers, with case managers, with correctional officers, the people they literally  interact with on a day-to-day basis, the quality of those interactions create more change than  anything else. The literature really points to that. 

I know there's been some talk. We've had discussions. They're starting to talk about an  idea of trauma-informed corrections or trauma-informed correctional practice. What would  that be like? What would trauma-informed prison, trauma-informed rehabilitative programs be  like?  

I think I brought up before, "Well, you're never going to be able to deliver trauma informed corrections with a traumatized staff." Right? So, again, it points to you're going to  pour your resources into helping your staff heal and deepen their reservoir of resilience. I  wonder if you could maybe talk about that notion of whether that's gaining any footing, of the  idea of trauma-informed corrections, or what it would really take to get there? 

Kelly Raths: 

Yeah. Speaking for myself, I really wrestle with the idea of trauma-informed corrections  because, in and of itself, the process of being in custody and the way that our facilities are  built, and other sorts of things. They're so traumatizing. So, I try to add a healthy bit of  skepticism when folks talk about that. Not that it's not possible, but in my work with trauma informed care, and I have the opportunity to sit on an advisory board for a group called  Trauma-Informed Oregon.  

That connection, again, is that staff person who is running that unit, is that staff person  who's the treatment group or the other things. Are they fully in their own wellbeing? Are they taking account for their own selves? How are they vibrating? How are they showing up? Is  their blood pressure dropped? Are they self-aware? Are they connected to their bodies? 

That a lot of responsibility to ask for a person to do. And so, as an agency, again, it's  what excites me. We're not there yet, but it excites me in this notion that if we can just equip  you to do your work, to be tenderhearted, to understand your own trauma and where it begins  and where it ends with the folks that you're working at. Again, the real notion is that the rest  will kind of fall into place.  

So, yeah. We talked. Right now, we have just basic conversations going on about when  the officer yells to shout line movement, whatever they may shout. What does that do to  people's nervous systems when you go in to wake folks up? At many times you'll see they're  glassed over until there's some little moment, and it's like, "Oh, now I know what you're talking  about." So, yeah. We're talking a lot about it.  

Can we become a trauma-informed corrections environment? I don't know. So long as  the door clangs, and there's still keys and sort of things like that. Maybe not, but again, what a  great time to be doing this work in corrections with all this language and resources to start  pondering about. 

Fleet Maull: 

Yeah. We have a lot more science and a lot more really good clinical experience on some of  these things. But I think what you're talking about is really important because if we don't  proactively do otherwise, a correctional environment can basically become an environment  where you have both the people in custody and the staff continually retraumatizing each other.  

The people in custody have a lot of historical trauma, the trauma of being in prison.  They've often grown up in trauma. The staff brings their own. None of us come through life  unscathed, so staff brings their own trauma to the situation. And then, the constant stress and  trauma exposure and vicarious trauma so that can build up. 

And then, if you don't practically do otherwise, you end up with these two very  polarized groups, but living in close intimacy with each other, as you said, and people spending  eight, 10, 12 hours of their day in that environment and the two sides can just be a cycle of re traumatization unless we're doing proactive things to have it be otherwise. 

And then, there are actually possibilities of actually transformation of it being a healing  and transformational environment. I hope we never lose sight of those. It may seem almost  unrealistic, but I think reaching for those high bars, and I appreciate that Oregon seems to have  that impulse and interest to reach for that next bar. 

Another part of your portfolio as a manager is staff peer support in your peer support  program. I wonder if you could talk about the importance of that and how do you train up and  build and implement and manage effective peer support programs? Because there can be a lot  of challenges to actually get the peer support to the people who need it, I know. 

Kelly Raths: 

Yes. I've had just for over a year now, again, a real honor. I've known about peer support. I've  been on the peer support teams, but then I think, coming in and having the opportunity to lead  it, to lead a vision to support folks, and really stepping in. Again, the time that we've had the  last couple of years together, the need for our peer support is huge. It's just never been higher.  

So, I do. I have the great pleasure of overseeing peer support. And every day, I think it  becomes more apparent to me that this model and doing this well and equipping and investing  in this is really one of our key tickets to staff wellbeing. Especially, unfortunately, when we are still in a reactive, somewhat crisis phase, right? So, what we're building and trying to, all the  preventative, the structural, the training, the philosophy, the other sort of things, there's just  the fact that there's a river of people in pain that are flowing out. And so, these peer support  teams, every day all day, are in interaction with those they work with. 

One of the things I think for us on peer support is, I like to, and sometimes people tease  me, it's my inferiority complex, but I use it as my opposing example. So, we have a SWAT  team, right? And so, one of the things that I point out is like, "Hey, the SWAT team has  uniforms. Hey, the SWAT team gets 36 hours of training. Hey, the SWAT team has..." And I'm  like, "When was the last time the SWAT team was deployed?" And people laugh and, "What?" I'm like, "Here's your peer support team." So, part of it is just saying, "This team gets  deployed every day, every shift across the state." 

And so, one of the things that I've spent a lot of time trying to do, and with some really  great payoff is, just lift the value of that team. That may be shifting our understanding that yes,  guns and vests and tactical masks and repelling off walls are really exciting, but the group that  is really saving your butts every day is this peer support team. 

And so, we've just tried to lift them up in acknowledgment, and then with that has  come a lot more investment. So, I'm getting prepared. It's a new biennium for us. I'm getting  prepared to put a lot of money, comparatively, into the little chump change. Put a lot of money  into training our peer support teams. It's one of the things that, at some point, I'm going to  have a conversation with you about maybe some retreats and some resourcing of our folks. 

But to elevate them, to equip them, and then one of the conversations we're having  right now is, "Is their house in order? Are they keeping their glass full or at least half full, given  the level of crisis that we're seeing?" And so, we're really talking a lot about self-care. We're  talking a lot about external resources, psychologists, chaplains, other sorts of things. But these  are the eyes and ears on those staff who are having, as we started with, those crises of, "I'm  not who I recognize I used to be." And they're right there on the line. So, yeah. That's a  resource I'm excited to just get even more and more into and equip them and support them. 

Fleet Maull: 

It's great. And that's good to hear, and what I hear you saying again, and again, talking about  investing in people. The public safety and corrections, this is a people business, right? Nothing  wrong with factories that make widgets, but you're not producing widgets. It's people. It's your  staff, your professional staff, and it's the people in custody, and it's a people business. And  what I hear you saying, again and again, is trusting that if you keep investing in your people, it's  going to pay off in good results. 

We're at the end of our time here, Kelly. It's been really rich. I know it'll be really rich  and helpful for our audience. The last question. So, tomorrow is the final day of the summit. It's  about leading healthy change in public safety. I wonder if you could just imagine for a moment  that you have the opportunity to be up there at the podium, maybe at a big conference, and the  audience is full of public safety leaders, both the policy-makers and the operational leaders.  

What would you want to call them toward or call them to? In terms of just the highest  sense of either priority or meaning or values. What would you, in terms of where we are as a  society today, all of our challenges, the pandemic, and everything else in the background, what  do we call to take public safety to the next level? So, we really are enhancing public safety and  increasing social cohesion.

Kelly Raths: 

Yeah. That's a fun question. Thanks, Fleet. A little nervousness about being at a podium and an imagined state. But for me, and I want to bring the diversity equity inclusion conversation in here. 

Fleet Maull: 

Oh, I'm so sorry. I meant to ask you about that part of your job, because it's a very important part of the culture work you're doing. Absolutely. 

Kelly Raths: 

Yeah. Let's connect that now because it is so important. One of the phrases I've been working with a consultant around diversity equity inclusion and one of the phrases she uses that have just stuck with me. Hopefully, I'll capture it correctly is, "We can't dismantle the master's house  with the master's tools." 

One of the things that for me, has always just had a gravity around why the criminal justice field is where I put my time, passion, and energy is, it is a unique public policy decision rooted in some beliefs and some values that we as a society, as America, whatever that we  have. So, this uniqueness is something that we do in the United States. We build these  prisons. We have this criminal justice machine and other sorts of things. And so, there's an  element of choice there, right? And we talked a little bit about the element of personal  accountability. That people do harm, and we have this whole system that's built on the  individual.  

One of the things for me that's important around criminal justice reform and is  important about thinking that this is the master's house. I think there's some general consensus  right now that this is not the path forward. We have to find a different way. So, for me, that  piece is that I can continue to work around staff wellness, around staff wellbeing, which is part  of the cost of the choices that we've made in public policy that we have public servants who  come at incredible cost to their health, wellbeing, and spirituality. Also, incredible ability to  thrive and make transitioning, as we've talked about. But that this is part of the cost of this  choice that we've collectively made of how we're going to address individual harm. 

And so, for me, the piece looking at what's next is, well, I'd like to think I'm a fairly  imaginative person. It is only going to be those folks who are in the borders of this historical  conversation, the people who are most disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system, the work that we do. And that's certainly people of color, but just people with different  abilities and other sorts of things. 

How do we front, center, and give space where they create the next path? What is that  voice that my imagination couldn't even probably conceive to say, "How does this baby turn  one more time? And what does that evolution, in turn, look like?" And letting people who've  lived and been impacted and experienced the systems, certainly you and many that we love  that have gone through these systems and been incredible people, to let them lead in some  way. That's what I'm hopeful for. 

Fleet Maull: 

I had a wonderful conversation with Steven Nelson on day three of this summit, I think, who's a  gay Black American man, and he's a paramedic. He's done a lot of writing. He's a paramedic in  Houston, Texas. 

In our conversation, he really shared about the experience of being a Black man in  America. We all know what's going on with our reckoning with race in this country. But also,  going into the Navy, where he actually found the military to be very colorblind in the most  positive sense of that. But then, when he got out and went to school, he found himself the only  Black student studying to be a paramedic.  

And then, he found himself in an agency where it wasn't friendly around diversity. He's  found himself into an agency now that really supports that. He has a wonderful home. He's  really happy and proud about the agency he works in but really talked about that journey. 

I know Oregon, just for whatever historical geographic reasons, is not the most racially  diverse state in our country. I'm wondering what diversity and inclusion look like in Oregon in  the Oregon crisis. Certainly, it can be across gender. I know there are more women in  corrections than ever before. I'm sure making it safe for a GLBTQ staff. And you mentioned  even, as we reinvent public safety over the decades, can the people who've been through the  system have a voice, as you were mentioning?  

So, I'm just curious about how that actually looks on the ground? Do you have some  initiatives? What's the focus there in Oregon in trying to create a culture that has greater  equity and is more diverse, and really honors people of all backgrounds?

Kelly Raths: 

In Oregon, as some of us are learning all the time, there's a lot to just give you pause, historical  context as to why Oregon is not as diverse as other places. And so, from a racial-ethnic  standpoint, that particular story.  

But I think for me, with the criminal justice story, it is those who have been impacted  and those who have been touched in some way, their child, they themselves went through. They will have the best insight into the solution of what we're looking for right now. It's some  pharmacy policies, and how do we provide an equity lens to pharmacy policies. So, the  conversation is, "Well, let's ask the people in custody who experience the pharma."  

How do we bring that lens in? And then truly, we're so habituated to the amount of  power that we have. How do we learn how to share power in a conversation? Frankly, in some  ways, based on my portfolio of staff wellness issues in the last week and month and year, it's  like, "Something is not going well, right? This is not working." And so, to be able to then  engage and see a new way of thinking. Again, tools, not the master's tools that built the house,  but something else to say, "Please, you tell us." 

And how do we learn graciously and kindly with breathing and mindfulness to show up  in a room and say, "Wow, I want to share some power, and you're going to tell me some things  that probably are going to rub on me a little bit." And so, that type of conversation, I think, is  one of the ways that, again, hopefully, we have some healing and some reconciliation and find  some solutions to help us out of a system. Boy, we know how to react and respond to it, but I'd  like to not be doing that anymore. 

Fleet Maull: 

Well, talking about the radical approach, you know what I mean. Just the way you just said,  "Well, let's ask the folks in safety what they think." That's a pretty radical development right  there. But it's brave work. It is really brave and courageous work that you're doing and so  needed. I really appreciate your leadership, so thank you so much.


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