Christine Bootsma had a lot to learn when she started work as a BC correctional officer at the young age of 24. The first lesson? Don’t believe everything you see on TV.
“When people think of correctional facilities, what does everyone go to? ‘Oh, is it like Orange is the New Black?’” Bootsma says, laughing. “It’s nothing like TV.”
Instead, what Bootsma found after beginning her career as a correctional officer, was work where she could connect and build trust with inmates, and in the process help them be successful in their post-incarceration lives. Ten years later, she has moved up the ranks to a position as an Assistant Deputy Warden at the Nanaimo Correctional Centre.
“There’s so much growth and opportunity to advance yourself if you put in the work and you are passionate about changing lives,” says Bootsma.
New officers welcome
That opportunity is something BC Corrections’ Adult Custody Division is hoping to provide to more people over the coming months, as it doubles the number of new officers it typically hires – offering meaningful careers for men and women with the skills and personal qualities needed in today’s peace officers.
“Being a correctional officer with BC Corrections is not about being aggressive or showing tough behaviour. It’s about emotional maturity, being fair and having great communication skills,” says Stephanie Macpherson, Provincial Director, BC Corrections.
“Many women and men who have raised kids have effectively developed these transferrable skills. We have many excellent female and male officers who previously worked in the service industry and are now some of our most effective officers because they interact very well with inmates,” Macpherson says. “If someone can handle impatient and frustrated customers at a bar or a coffee shop, those same skills will help them manage an inmate in a living unit.
“Our staff truly cares about helping those who have found themselves in custody. They want to make a difference and have a positive influence on these men and women. We firmly believe our officers are so successful because they are such strong role models.”
Bootsma says that women in particular should consider applying for the positions available, because they have played such an integral mentorship role in her own time as an officer. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the women in my life who helped me when I first started,” she says.
Personal and professional rewards
There are personal rewards, too. In particular, the success of the Storybook Dads program, spearheaded by Bootsma and the John Howard Society of British Columbia, has been a source of pride. The program allows inmates to read a children’s story book and have it recorded; the story book and recording is then mailed to their child, who gets to hear their dad read to them.
“It was really cool reading the letters from the inmates and seeing the gratitude from their families,” Bootsma says. “Even though they’re far away, they’re still with them.”
Working with BC Corrections has allowed Bootsma to further her education through the BC Government Pacific Leaders Scholarships for Public Servants. “It allowed me to go back to school and finish my degree, which was pretty awesome.”