Prison Warden Brings Excellence and Respect to Prisons

Rich Gansheimer is an unusual prison warden. He actually makes prisons a place of learning, development and progress for the prisoners incarcerated. I first met him in Ohio. There he had been the warden of the Lake Erie Correctional Prison, of Ohio and with 24 years of prison experience he immediately stood out as an exceptional person. 

Rich Gansheimer, Former WardenI was there inspecting prisons in Ohio, evaluating their effectiveness, and financial worth. Often management impacts a prison's financial value, so we observe management style and quality. Our firm http://www.benboothe.comspends a lot of time inspecting prisons and reviewing procedures. We do the environmental reports, appraisals and financial consulting that often is critical to progress. Because of this, I probably have spent more time in prisons than 99.9% of people. My wife often jokes, after a prison evaluation "Oh they let you out?". But when our team saw Lake Erie Prison, of Ohio, it was evident that the warden, Rich Gansheimer, had some good ideas. Ideas that make for an exceptional prison.

At the Lake Erie Prison of Ohio, the 1500 + prisoners spend more time in courses actually learning job skills and in other learning situations than other prisons. Inmates seem motivated to use this time to improve themselves. They have more self respect, are easier to deal with and this aids in the smooth operation of the prison. Our company has observed, typical behavior of inmates as officials walk across the prison campus yard. Typically prisoners lower their eyes as "managers" pass them on the sidewalk. They often appear "beaten down" psychologically. Not at Warden Gansheimer's prison. They walk erect, they make eye contact. That day, when we visited, many spoke to the warden. A few even stopped and made a suggestion or a comment. I was impressed that Rich Gansheimer gave them respectful attention and often provided suggestions as to follow up. "Something is different here." I wrote in my notes.

A prison is a building, What makes one exceptional? Management.

As we went through the prison the campus spirit was indeed different. Employees seemed happy. Working for a prison can often become a long monotonous job and yet the staff at this prison was helpful and very positive.

But the attitudes of the prisoners was exceptionally positive and upbeat. This was my biggest surprise. There is an old adage that says that attitudes start at the top, in an organization.

Not guns and bars, but education and improvement.

Attitudes and the philosophy of management are important keys to success to every organization, including business, prisons and even hospitals.

This prison was managed with a philosophy that encouraged "personal improvement" instead of guns and bars. It was frankly a refreshing and inspiring example of how effective a prison can be in helping people improve themselves. "A HUMAN MIND IS NOT TO BE WASTED" said the Buddha. 

I asked Warden Rich Gansheimer about his philosophy of management. He projected enthusiasm, good communication skills and general good will to people as he spoke.

He said: "Well, I don't have a secret formula, but over the years have developed some ideas that work." I wrote them down and called them:

"Rich Gansheimer 6 Canons of Prison Management". I think every prison (and for that matter, every business manager) should read these and commit them to memory.

1. TEAM NOT A KING: "I believe in team management which basically means I seek a lot of input from those most affected by decisions before finalizing operational decisions. Of course it is clear to everyone in the organization I will make the final decision that I believe is best for the institution, company and/or customer. I have found decisions are much more supported if the ones most affected by them have some input even if the decision isn't a popular one. I don’t mind telling anyone why decisions were made or why we do what we do. I guess I’m saying I’m pretty transparent when it comes to leading others. I had many great mentors who managed much in the same way and it always worked.

2. THE POWER OF ASKING FOR IDEAS: "Most if not all great innovative ideas are the result of just asking people for their opinion & ideas versus waiting for someone to just submit something in a suggestion box. Leaders have to be willing to embrace innovative ideas and take a chance on them in order to affect positive change in the organization.

3. EMBRACE CHANGE! "I hate the status quo. This doesn't mean I don’t like things to be consistent because I do, but change is good most of the time. You witnessed the most successful innovative project we experienced at Lake Erie and that was the “Ever Green” initiative where we implemented several green practices to accomplish a $127,000 cost savings in our operational budget in 2009. This initiative idea led the way for us saving the Ever Green recycling shop which was slated to close in 2010 and saved 65 inmate jobs & 2 staff jobs.

4. CORE VALUES, HAVE THEM, COMMUNICATE THEM: "Leaders have to establish core values for themselves from which everything evolves. For me these core values include integrity & honesty above all else and everyone who knows me understands this what I expect not only from me but them as well."

5. RESPECT, GIVE IT, ONLY THEN WILL YOU GET IT: "Respect is also a important core value as it’s hard to earn it if you don’t give it. I respect everyone as being the most important team member in the organization because it takes everyone in the organization for it too work. I don’t think my position or anyone else’s is more important than anyone else in the organization. Staff knows when a leader thinks he more important than others, and that impacts the respect factor. (ie. We noticed this in the prison population. The warden gave each prisoner attention and respect, and before long they respected themselves, and him!)

6. MOTIVATION OF PEOPLE: "Motivating staff is always an ongoing challenge because it’s based on emotion and the emotion wears off pretty quickly these days. Specifically, for me I use new initiatives as a motivating tool for employees. I realized pretty early on after becoming warden that our staff worked much better as a team when we had a specific focus and the accomplishment could be felt once the initiative was completed. If you don’t keep things fresh human nature is to become complacent and complacency in corrections will kill you or someone else!!!"

As we were going through this prison, we saw one section of a prison dormitory ward, and Rich said: "Go check those people out, I'd like your input." As we went in there were dogs.

Marvelous therapy and growth

Beautiful, clean, trained dogs, by each bed. We were surrounded by prisoners, smiling saying: "Let me show you what my dog Hank has learned!" or "See, her scars have healed up, and now she obeys every wish and command." or "They just want love and affection, dogs really try to please." The dogs had been captured and were to be executed if not adopted. Warden Rich said: "Let them pick a dog, and care for it." What has happened is a transformation of these inmates. They care for something other than themselves. "It has been a powerful tool of emotional growth and development. This is our happiest ward." said the Warden.

Rich Gansheimer is now the Texas Regional Vice President for MTC. This means he has the opportunity to observe and share ideas to improve prison operations in several prisons state-wide. His approach is to re-define the time in prison, as a time for self improvement, a time for substantial growth in spirit, pride and preparation. His philosophy blends well with that espoused by MTC, and is impacting concepts of incarceration and lives of people. With more prisons than ever, more people behind bars than at any time in our nation's history, it is fortunate that exceptional and humble people like Rich Gansheimer emerge. We need to take note, and learn.

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