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Family in Prison Led Parole Agent into Corrections

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KaeShawn Stewart remembers being a teenager sitting on a bus stop bench at 2 a.m. in South Baltimore worrying about the whereabouts of her drug addicted mother.

A car pulled up to the corner spotting the high schooler and a correctional officer stepped out to comfort her. Captain Jamie Wright told Stewart her mom was in prison on drug charges.

“I started crying,” Stewart recalled. “I wasn’t crying because she was incarcerated, I was happy she was alive and not dead.”

The exchange changed Stewart’s life, giving her hope that she did not have to head down the same path as her mother and two of her brothers, who were also in prison.

Wright made Stewart promise to make good choices and follow admirable church and community people.

“I remember looking in his face and how passionate he was in encouraging me to follow good example,” she said.

Today, Stewart is a stellar state Parole and Probation Officer with 16 years in the correctional system. She spent four years as a front line supervisor in a correctional facility fulfilling a dream.

“When I told people I wanted to be a correctional officer, they were shocked,” she said. “But I saw that they cared about people.”

Stewart monitored inmates and fellow officers.

“Initially, I was intimidated,” she said. “There were a lot of people in there I saw growing up in the projects who I knew.”

Stewart quickly learned the importance of connecting inmates to good resources and organizing group therapy sessions.

“We have to understand cognitively how inmates think,” Stewart said. “They may think that they’re thinking is good.”

The mother of two saw her own mom doing well thanks to the work of a parole agent who steered her toward drug treatment, assisted her in getting her education and linked her with support services.

“Her parole agent helped keep her on track even when she wasn’t doing well,” Stewart said.

To become an agent, Stewart had to earn a bachelor’s degree, attending Coppin State University on nights and weekends to graduate at the top of her class in criminal justice and rehabilitation counseling.

“We have a very sensitive job,” said Stewart, who has now been an agent 7 years. “Community engagement and partnership is an essential tool to help reposition our clients’ lives. However we feel goes back into the community.”

“Helping one person, one teenager or one child who is confused to create a better path makes it all worthwhile,” she said.

Stewart was eventually assigned to monitor sex offenders, a job she balked at given the sexual abuse she suffered as a teenager, including by drug dealers visiting her childhood home, which was often raided by police in drug busts.

“I noticed most of them were victims themselves,” Stewart said of the sex offenders she began monitoring. “They were doing the same thing to other people that was done to them.”

The key to their rehabilitation, she said, was steering them toward resources.

“I wanted to be equipped to know where to go,” she said. “I wanted to build a rapport and let them know I was invested in their future.”

One of the futures she invested in was Ronald Alston, who grew up on the rough streets of West Baltimore before serving seven years in prison on drug charges. Stewart told Alston that as long as he followed the rules, she would help him get back on his feet.

Alston at one point was holding two jobs, making it difficult to report to the probation office. Stewart travelled to meet him at work.

“She truly went above and beyond the call of duty,” said Alston, who now works for the City of Baltimore. “She worked with me and I appreciate all the help she gave me.”

Wright, who retired from the correctional system with 24 years in December, looks back on the fateful night.

“I think it’s amazing that a little bit of encouragement can go a long way,” he said. “I am extremely proud of her.”

Stewart recently attained her master’s degree from the University of Baltimore in family therapy and earned the President’s Award for graduating at the top of her class. She is currently working on a doctorate in dance therapy.

Dancing, which she now teaches, was critical to her recovery from sexual abuse, she said.

“It gives people who suffer trauma an avenue to express themselves,” she said. “I couldn’t talk about it but I could dance and feel better.”

The bond with Stewart and her rehabilitated mother is strong today. And despite her hellish childhood, Stewart has developed an effervescent personality, vibrant spirit and positive outlook on life that makes her a natural on several department morale committees.

“Dedicated and excellent agents like KaeShawn make the job easier,” said Lucy Noel-Bailey, a field supervisor. ”She spearheads everything.”

Stewart received her award from University of Baltimore President Kurt L. Schmoke, who served as Baltimore mayor when Stewart was a child. Schmoke’s motto for Baltimore was “The City That Reads” and Stewart remembered his words.

“He said ‘If you don’t like the story, change the ending,’” she said.


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