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A Big Heart in Corrections

Posted on Wednesday, July 6th, 2011.

StoryCorps Door-to-Door traveled to the Land of a Thousand Lakes to record stories of the staff and patrons of the Hennepin County Library System, which includes the Minneapolis Central Library, Edina, Plymouth and Sumner Libraries. Over twelve recording days, the team recorded stories as diverse as Minnesota’s landscape. However, we wanted to share one story from our time in Minnesota about a group of people who are often invisible: the men and women of the Hennepin County Adult Corrections Facility. Cheryl D. Tigue and her coworker, Kathleen Hannan, came to the Plymouth Library to talk about Kathleen’s thirty-year career in corrections.

Kathleen Hannan (L) and Cheryl D. Tigue (R)

Kathleen earned her graduate degree in Public Health and in 1979 and began working for Hennepin County Adult Corrections’ female division. At the time, there were about forty female residents. Her first day on the job, Kathleen remembers, “I was so excited to have a job. I felt like I belonged there.”

After seven years in the women’s section of the campus, Kathleen was picked to be one of the first female officers to integrate the men’s section of the correctional facility. At first, Kathleen was hesitant. She would be leaving the familiar surroundings of forty women to work in a section with four hundred men. “I wasn’t naive enough to think that the male officers would think ‘Oh great, the women are here.'” However, when Kathleen walked into the men’s section, she realized that she and the male officers were not so different; many were even helpful in her transition.

After thirty years on the job, Kathleen has returned to the women’s section of the Hennepin County Adult Corrections Facility campus. When asked why she dedicates her life to this work, Kathleen feels privileged to know and serve the women she does:

It’s hard to describe for a non-corrections person why working in a jail would be at all rewarding and I think it’s because of the privilege of meeting the women who come through our doors. They all have a story and we are privileged to be allowed to know their stories. We learn everything about a resident. I think it was important to not have that “us” and “them” but to say that I identify with them as women.

Thank you to Kathleen, Cheryl, and the Hennepin County residents and library staff who helped make our time in Minnesota so pleasant.

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