Making a difference at the County Jail : "Along the Way"

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN)- Out of sight, out of mind.
Unless you've been to the Pennington County Jail, you may never even think about it.

"It's this world that exists that the public really doesn't know about. They know that someone keeps them safe. They know that someone keeps people who have made bad choices out of the community. But they don't necessarily know what that takes," says Correctional Officer Brooke Haga.

It takes about 100 Correctional Officers. It's a male dominated field. Their task is to keep inmates and the facility both safe and secure. And they've got a lot of folks to keep track of. She says they're ranging about in the 600's for folks currently incarcerated.

"It's a 60 to 1 ratio in most locations, some areas a little lower than that, which I know often times seems overwhelming but it works. It has worked. It's stood the test of time," she says.

About 20 of the roughly 100 Correctional Officers here are females. That includes, Brooke Haga who started here about 2 decades ago at the age of 22. She's now one of only 2 Captains here, just one step beneath Jail commander Rob Yantis. And he relies on Captain Haga to play a key role.

"I oversee medical, mental health, food service, maintenance, electronic monitoring, work release and programming our volunteers," Captain Haga explains.

There are both male and female inmates here. Many are accused, but not yet convicted. The charges can range anywhere from violent crimes to petty crimes.

Reporter Steve Long asks "Is there a risk to being in there?
Captain Haga answers "Absolutely, I think I would be ignorant to think that there wasn't. I think that what makes it safe is , is just the fact that I'm gonna treat people with respect. and they know that, they know how you feel about them."

Behind the locked doors of the jail, not everyone is always kind.

"You cannot hold on to the things that happen. I mean I've been bit. I've been kicked. I've been spit on. Ya know, all of those things. Do I remember who did it? No, I mean it's part of, I knew that when I signed on. I knew that was a possibility and I know that almost 100 percent of the time, it's not personal," Haga says.

Male or Female, you don't survive and thrive for 20 years, surrounded daily by hundreds of inmates, without being tough. Haga says she's never felt any different or been made to feel any different than her male co-workers.

"I've been pregnant twice here so, and I worked full term in the same capacity I work in now. I mean not as a Captain. I was a correctional officer. I was a Sergeant. I was responding to incidents, probably not the smartest move of my career, but I just didn't consider it," Captain Haga says.

When you talk to Captain Haga, you can tell she wants to make a positive tangible difference here, and she is.

"I always said I'm not leaving this place till I have a GED program established again," she says.

That program ended in 2005 when they lost funding. But Captain Haga was determined. About a dozen years later, after hitting some roadblocks, Haga got state approval to provide a GED test prep program for inmates at the jail.

That program started this June. It's a self study style program and she estimates about 150 inmates are actively participating.

"The GED program for me is something that I feel like we can really say we gave someone an opportunity to be a better person, to have better opportunities in the community than they did when they came in," Haga says.

In here she's Captain Haga, treating inmates with respect, and no regrets about her career path.

"It's a fit. I just, there's not been a single day in 20 years, there's been some stressful ones, but there's never been a single day that I said I don't want to go to work," Haga explains.

Still, she says she really tries to keep her jail life, separate from her outside life.

"I'm someone different when I leave here. I'm Mom. I'm wife. I'm sister. I'm daughter. I'm not Captain Haga," she says.

She could technically retire in about 6 years, but says she hopes to put in more than twice that.

She modeled the GED program after the one being used at the Juvenile Services Center.

If you've met someone cool "Along the Way" please call us or e-mail me at stevel@blackhillsfox.com to let us know.