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Intern enjoys challenge of working in prison

May 07, 1997

By JENNYLYNN BROWN

Staff Writer

During her senior year at Hood College in Frederick, Md., Rebecca Starkey-Highbarger spent time in a correctional facility, gaining the kind of experience she could put on a resume.

She accepted an internship at the Maryland Correctional Training Center, Starkey-Highbarger said, because she earlier had worked at Hagerstown Reproductive Health Services and Brook Lane Psychiatric Center, and wanted to branch out.

"My work has primarily been with women. I took this as an opportunity to get used to an all-male population," said Starkey-Highbarger, 26, a social work major.

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"I definitely wanted a place where I was exposed to something I had not been before. I also wanted training in something marketable."

"Social work in the prisons is kind of new - it started in the mid-1980s," said Dorothy Strawsburg, regional supervisor of the Hagerstown correctional complex. "We recruit students to do field placements here. We offer a variety of experiences."

"Social work is an exciting and challenging field, due to the many different people you're in contact with and the issues they're dealing with," Starkey-Highbarger said.

Starkey-Highbarger lives on Beverly Drive in Hagerstown with her husband, Charles, 26. She began training in June 1996 for her September assignment.

She said the training helped her get used to the prison environment - the guards, the bars and the automatic doors.

During the first week, she reviewed prison policies.

Then she began helping with inmate release planning, HIV counseling and group sessions.

"There is a misconception about what the typical prisoner is," she said. "Once you get in here, you find they are just like everyone else - they've just made some bad decisions."

She said she overcame her reluctance to speak in front of groups and began directing her own decision-making sessions with inmates.

"We talk about making better decisions in life, taking responsibility for decisions and their response to authority," she said.

"They get homework so they will take responsibility for something once they get back to their cells."

"I've come a long way since my first week," she said of her internship, which ended April 30.

Starkey-Highbarger, who plans to graduate this month, said she would consider a career in corrections.

"I have more confidence to deal with whatever comes my way - and with social work, it could be anything."

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