WEC warden: Suspend disbelief to see potential
McCOOK, Neb. -- A crowd of more the 50 attended the Prairie Gold Homes inaugural graduation earlier this week and, while it was easy to get lost in the crowd, one person stood out from the rest.
Work Ethic Camp Warden Pam Morello provided heartwarming praise to the trio of graduates and gave an inspiring reception to those in attendance. The wisdom of her words seemed to shed light on why so many state and local leaders regularly praise her leadership at the McCook corrections facility.
"We have to suspend disbelief in order to make progress, particularly in this industry," said Morello, offering herself as an example of what might be accomplished.
"Who would have thought a 4 foot 8 inch individual would be running a corrections facility?" said Morello with a smile. Morello said it was common for others to say she made them feel like a giant, adding with an inspiring sincerity, "I hope so, in more ways than one."
"We have to be willing to suspend the roles we play, both staff and our guests. We can't see potential unless we're willing to suspend disbelief," said Morello, later telling the graduates to "suspend the past, learn from it, put on new clothes."
Morello said inmates must suspend disbelief when it comes to the person they want to become, but they aren't alone. Looking back on her own experience, she said she never would have guessed she would be part of something that would change what corrections is all about. "I'm excited to be a part of this program."
Many believe it takes a village to raise a child and Morello said it also takes system thinking for any program to be successful. She called for increased awareness at the middle school and high school level, doing a better job of recognizing and reacting to warning signs, and taking a system-wide approach to improving.
"We just can't give up," said Morello before turning her attention to the graduates. "Thank you for having the courage to step out, to suspend your vision of yourself. For finding your voices, speaking and standing tall," said Morello.
PGH instructor Joe Harrington praised the work ethic graduates and said they were some of the best he had worked with.
"Absolutely great guys in the program. They really wanted to work and were as hard a working crew as I've ever had work for me," said Harrington, a 40-year veteran of the construction business.
Harrington said the students completed two primary projects, a tool storage shed built with many of characteristics of a new home and a pergola to be raffled off as a fundraiser.
The shed project provided an opportunity for students to learn framing, insulation, drywalling, texture spraying and even some electrical and light fixture installation. Although the shed is located inside one of the Prairie Gold Home garage bays it was given a roof complete with shingles, primarily for the training experience. Harrington said it also included three types of siding, including vinyl, cement and pre-finished.
"It provided them hands-on experience with nearly every aspect of building a home, except plumbing and heating," said Harrington.
Each of the three graduates was presented a certificate and individually recognized in front of the crowd of more than 50, including family members, friends and an abundance of state and local community and business leaders.
Lt. Gov. Mike Foley commended the graduates for taking a very positive step forward and said the program was a positive part of Gov. Pete Ricketts' long- and short-term goals for Nebraska's Department of Corrections.
"Our citizens can be proud of this program," said Foley. He indicated a significant amount of work lay ahead for those tasked with improving the state's criminal justice system, including a close examination of criminal sentencing and Nebraska's good-time laws.
State Sen. Dan Hughes said Prairie Gold Home's McCook location was a "premier facility" which benefitted from the guidance of Work Ethic Camp Warden Pam Morello. He referred to the program as a one of many pieces to the puzzle and committed to do his part until Nebraska had a system that worked.
Sen. Hughes congratulated the graduates for their accomplishments and being proactive, adding "you will be better for it."