"I developed leadership skills that allow me to manage treatment programs, supervise counselors and ensure inmate needs are being met. You don't have to be a caseworker to be an inspiration."
“I don't set rigid career goals for myself. I'm open to all opportunities that come my way. I never thought I'd advance this far in the system by the age of 33. It's been a fun ride and I can't wait to see what the future holds."
Tracy Dietsch has been interested in corrections since she was a teenager. At 19, she became a correctional officer at Iowa State Penitentiary. After graduating from Buena Vista University with a degree in psychology and human services, she became a correctional counselor for substance abuse counseling and then a treatment services director at Anamosa State Penitentiary.
Tracy enrolled in the St. Ambrose MCJ program in Cedar Rapids to move even farther up the ranks. After earning her Master of Criminal Justice Degree, Tracy was promoted to associate warden of treatment, where she oversees a staff of 40, including caseworkers and counselors.
"I’m so grateful that St. Ambrose offers this program in a convenient location," she said. "Otherwise, non-traditional students like me might never have the opportunity to pursue this degree at a reputable institution."
I supervise the treatment programs at a maximum-security prison. I work with correction counselors, teachers and activity specialists to manage programming needs, from religion to psychology and other social services—basically everything except security. I'm also out in the institution, talking with inmates to make sure their needs are being met.
I started working in the criminal system when I was 19, but I wasn't exposed to the social justice aspect until I started the Master of Criminal Justice program. One of the main things I did is come back into the department of corrections and really look at racial disparity. I am working on developing a counseling group for African-American inmates that will help them get back into the community. Volunteers from the African-American museum in Cedar Rapids come in and teach the inmates to be proud of their heritage. Prison doesn't have to be the end of their lives.
We spent a whole year doing a racial profiling study on Iowa City police officers at traffic stops. We did everything from start to finish. We filed the application with the university to get permission to do the project. We went to Iowa City about 20 times for field work, documenting the race of drivers and the speed of the cars, surveying the police department, logging results and analyzing statistics. It was the Statistics, Research and Methods, Senior Seminar and Ethics classes all connected in one project.
Each day we hope to support the inmates—many serving life sentences without parole—in walking a path toward a more meaningful life. Recently, the department trained 26 inmates to provide hospice for their fellow incarcerated. For many of them, it is the first time they've ever had to face the reality of death and aging. These volunteers are doing something for someone else, and at the same time are getting something in return. It's turning their lives around, offering a new perspective many may not have had before. I'd like to think that it's giving them a better life.