By the time Lysa Rutledge decided to go back to school, she already had an extensive career under her belt and was approaching retirement. But getting her master’s was the perfect gateway to her long-time dream: becoming a teacher.
Rutledge first attended Chaminade as an undergraduate student over 20 years ago. She was in the Army at the time, stationed at Schofield Barracks, and enrolled for Chaminade’s on-base program. She graduated in 2000 with a degree in psychology and a minor in criminal justice.
At the time, Rutledge wanted to become a probation officer. She has family members that work in corrections in her home state of California, and she wanted a career that would make a difference. Her first job after graduating was as a case manager with the Federal Bureau of Prisons in California. And from there, her passion grew.
“My initial motivation was to get case management experience,” says Rutledge. “I wanted to be a probation officer and in federal probation they want you to have at least three years of case management experience. I ended up really enjoying working for the Bureau so I stayed with it. I’ve had a great career.”
As a case manager, Rutledge felt like she could really have an impact on the lives of the individuals she worked with. Her job was to work with inmates, review their progress and help them prepare for release and reentry into society. Essentially, she was a social worker in a prison setting. She’s always had an interest in social work and being a case manager was a way for her to tap into that passion.
“I was a case manager for ten years,” says Rutledge. “All of my inmates were females…they are eventually going to get out and go into our communities, and it was just a sense of responsibility to help these women come out and be better citizens in society. I would come across these women who have never had opportunities, and it’s really rewarding. It’s just very rewarding.”
Rutledge worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in California for 16 years. But in 2016, when an opportunity to return to Hawaii presented itself, Rutledge jumped at the chance.
“I came here on a promotion,” says Rutledge. “When I had the opportunity to come back, I kind of jumped at it. I love living here.”
Rutledge now works at the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Hawaii. She’s a case management coordinator and is part of the management team. She oversees the receiving and discharge department and supervises all of the case managers.
It’s a hard time to work in federal law enforcement with so much divisiveness in communities across the country. But being in Hawaii and working in corrections, Rutledge has felt fairly removed from a lot of that.
“It does affect us, what happens on the streets every day with the police officers, but what affects us more are the policy changes,” says Rutledge. “Fortunately, in Hawaii, we don’t see as much of what goes on in the mainland. I have heard different things about what goes on with different parts of the country, some people feel they can’t wear their uniform to and from work. I haven’t found that here in Hawaii.”
If anything, Rutledge has encountered a more welcoming and supportive community in Hawaii. There’s also more support for those with a criminal past.
“I feel like there’s so much community support and so many resources for ex-offenders here,” she says. “It’s just part of the Hawaiian culture of helping out. All of the resources we can get in the community definitely help these inmates with reentry and make my job a lot easier.”
She’s also noticed a difference in the inmates she works with—they’re less aggressive in Hawaii than what she encountered on the mainland.
She enrolled in the Chaminade’s Master of Science in Criminal Justice Administration program in 2017, and will graduate in December. Her motivation was mostly one of self-improvement—after an extensive career, she wasn’t looking for job growth. She was looking to learn and to expand her knowledge so that she could one day teach criminal justice.
“I feel like I have so much experience in corrections that I would like to teach undergraduates,” says Rutledge. “That’s what motivated me to get my master’s degree.”
But the program also helped give her a better understanding of her role at the Bureau and the policies they abide by.
“It has helped me with my writing skills and just kind of opening my eyes to what’s out there in the new age of corrections and law enforcement,” describes Rutledge. “With a lot of things that we do at the Bureau, I really see how they come out from laws that have passed or grievances that have gone to the supreme court. It’s neat to see where the policies and the laws have come from. For me, that’s been really interesting.”
It hasn’t been easy to go back to school after 20 years in the workforce. She’s had to retrain herself to be a student and reestablish her study skills. But having a core group of supportive and knowledgeable professors has really helped. And even though most of her classmates are a lot younger and are just starting their careers, Rutledge has enjoyed hearing their perspectives.
“It was really nice to see and interact with that young perspective,” says Rutledge. “And I think they enjoyed picking my brain as well. There are actually two Chaminade students that just became corrections officers and joined the Bureau because I helped guide them. It’s nice to be able to recruit people in.”
Rutledge plans to retire from the Federal Bureau of Prisons in four years, and when she does, she’d love to come back to Chaminade—this time as a professor.