Donna Morrin’s summer job as a clerk with Correctional Service Canada evolved into a successful career spanning 38 years, including five-and-a-half years as warden at Kingston Penitentiary. Donna returned to Kingston Penitentiary this summer to lead tours through the 178-year-old landmark.
How did your career with Correctional Service Canada change over the years?
I started in the government’s lowest paid clerical position, a summer job I took after my undergrad at Queen’s University and before attending McArthur College to go into teaching. I was offered a permanent job with the National Parole Board, so I decided to defer for a year to earn some money. Then I was offered a position with the National Parole Service, so I deferred my education for another year. Eventually I became a Parole Officer, t Deputy Warden, then Warden of several institutions.
After time at National Headquarters I returned to Kingston as the Assistant Deputy Commissioner. I also worked on the Institutional Infrastructure Task Force that designed and built new units in existing institutions to manage inmate population increases and replace old units.
Simply put, I retired in 2013 after taking that “one” year off – 38 times.
What did you enjoy the most about working with Correctional Service Canada?
I stayed with corrections because of the people. I enjoyed my co-workers, I found the inmates and parolees fascinating and I found management a challenge – one I enjoyed being part of. I enjoyed the flexibility of being able to work in many areas such as administration, parole, security and programs. I enjoyed the front line work, but eventually moved into supervisory and management roles which I found challenging and fun.
What is special about Kingston Penitentiary?
KP was my favourite jail. I was transferred to KP during very difficult times, so I said to myself “fasten your seat belt and hope your survive the next three or so years.”
What I found was an architecturally stunning facility (although antiquated for modern corrections), a staff that was dedicated, smart, well-trained and capable of handling anything thrown their way. I was also very fortunate to be able to bring in some of the best supervisors and managers in corrections and build a highly successful team.
During the tours I am often asked about the reaction by men to having a female warden. It is actually easy, as much as running a big correctional facility can be. The inmates soften somewhat in the presence of women on the front line. Staff can challenge you and you have to prove to them that you are capable of listening to them.
Do you have a favourite memory from your time at Kingston Penitentiary?
It is hard to choose. One is certainly the multicultural event held the first summer that I was warden. The inmate cultural groups had booths in the yard to show their ethnic and cultural history, including food. Families of eligible inmates attended, as did many local community people. The inmate groups sold t-shirts to raise money for the Children's Wish Foundation and to cover costs of the event. The shirts had a KP insignia on the front and a license plate with the year 2002 on the back (even though we never made license plates at KP!). The staff union pitched-in as well, and a huge cheque was presented to the Wish Foundation.
Why did you return to help with Kingston Penitentiary tours?
I help with the tours at KP because I believe in keeping this piece of history alive, maintaining the beautiful buildings that are part of the facility and ensuring that the stories behind the walls are shared with the public and not lost to modernization. I am a firm believer in the value of museums in preserving history, particularly the fascinating history of corrections in Kingston. I am optimistic that the KP property will emerge as an integral part of the Portsmouth complex that includes room for tourism, museums and history.