Behind the Walls with an Occupational Therapist

Occupational_therapist_salaries_01 Name: Dave King
Job Title: Job Development Specialist - Occupational Therapist
Where: Wichita, Kansas
Employer: Kansas State Department of Corrections, Sedgwick County Re-Entry Program
Education: Offender Workforce Development Specialist training program from the National Institute of Corrections, and a B. S. in Human Services/Psychology from Friends University.
Annual Salary: See PayScale's Research Center for the median Job Development Specialist salary, Occupational Therapist salary, and related career info on Correctional Officers' salaries and Recruiter income.

What's it like to work in a prison? For some people, just the thought of working in a prison would make them nervous. But for Job Development Specialist Dave King, life behind the walls is simply another day at work. As a Job Development Specialist trained in offender workforce development, King trains and prepares inmates for a life and career once they exit the prison gates. If you're up for a challenge, and enjoy psychology, read on. Also, find out more about an Occupational Therapist's salary and the roles of Correctional Officers to see if this is the right career for you.

Job Development Specialist Duties:
Plan, facilitate and teach job skills to maximum-security inmates inside a correctional facility. Assist with the release planning of inmates through a re-entry program that assures success in living and working in a community after being incarcerated. Also, teach classes on money management, release and reintegration, and intensive employment classes.

PayScale: How did you get started as a Job Development Specialist?
Dave: I have been an employment specialist since 1989 and began working with the disabled. I then taught a program/class called “Welfare to Work” for 16 years. I now use those same skills to teach inside a prison environment. Many of those skills can be transfered from one type of group to another. However, each group or person has their own unique set of issues to deal with to find success.

PayScale: What do you like best about being a Job Development Specialist?
Dave: I love that I get to see people change their lives for the better. I encourage, equip and empower them to take ownership of their actions. I assist people in learning to live by their choices, and help them understand the consequences for those choices. It’s great when I’m assisting someone and I see that "light" go on. I also get to be very creative in my classes and make it as much like real life as possible, so that when they are released, life outside the walls is not a big scary thing. I find it very fascinating that I can work in a prison, and not be a correctional officer. I give the offender hope for a better life outside the walls.

PayScale: What are the biggest challenges you face as an Job Development Specialist?
Dave: The lack of attitude or desire to change, the manipulation and con games, or when I know that they have skills but they just choose not to be productive. There’s a mindset that comes with incarceration and if I am working with someone who is over 20 years down, I know what kind of hopeless feelings they must have. Even trying the best I can, I can’t always change that thinking process. It does happen, but it takes time.

PayScale: What advice would you give to someone trying to break into this field?
Dave: Know that you cannot change someone to be what you want. To gain respect, you must give it. It’s also important to have consistent behavior so clients see you as genuine. Take your time to make the client a part of the process, and empower them to get involved in change. Praise the small steps and don’t worry how long it will take to reach a goal; everyone responds in different ways, at different times. Do not be afraid to be vulnerable with folks to show that you’re human as well, and not better than them. Come to their level without belittling. Don’t judge! Find the person's strengths and build on that to help them overcome their weaknesses. Find out what they have to offer to society and see how they can fit into the world. Look at their skills and gifts and apply those to where they’ll do the most good. Practice makes perfect and it takes time. You have to get into the "trenches," roll up your sleeves and get into the muck with the person. Try to be empathetic, but not sympathetic. It’s important to be a good listener and give suggestions and opinions. But, never tell anyone what they have to do.

PayScale: What's the most rewarding thing that's happened to you while working as a Job Development Specialist?
Dave: Seeing the participants from my class in public, working and doing well, and thanking me for getting them the job. They got the job, I just gave them the tools to get it. The hardest thing about this is trying to remember the names of everyone, since I see so many people.

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