Career in corrections: Kathy Reker marks 30 years working in Nobles CountyWORTHINGTON — When Kathy Reker began her career in the corrections field more than 35 years ago, she had an idea of what to expect. Her dad, Al Reker, was a probation officer in Nobles County for many years, so she was familiar with what it entailed.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — When Kathy Reker began her career in the corrections field more than 35 years ago, she had an idea of what to expect. Her dad, Al Reker, was a probation officer in Nobles County for many years, so she was familiar with what it entailed.
“I knew probably more about that job than other people do, although he basically worked with juveniles, and I don’t,” explained Kathy.
Born in Luverne and raised in Worthington, Kathy was the second oldest of the nine children of Al and Marge Reker, now both deceased. When she graduated from Worthington High School in 1966, Kathy had no intention of following in her dad’s footsteps.
“I knew I wanted to do something with people,” she reflected. “But I more fell into it. I found a job, and that was it.”
With a bachelor’s degree in psychology from St. Cloud State University and no particular career in mind, Kathy first secured a job as a probation agent in Rochester, working with both juveniles and adults. When her dad was diagnosed with cancer, Kathy decided to move back to Worthington and became a probation agent in Nobles County, in the agency now known at Rock-Nobles Community Corrections through a joint powers agreement.
“I’ve got 30 years in Nobles County,” she said during an interview in her office at the Prairie Justice Center north of Worthington. “The next step is retirement — not too many years.”
Kathy’s caseload consists of adults who have committed felonies.
“With felonies, their punishment could be more than a year in prison,” Kathy detailed. “It’s drug offenses, thefts, burglaries, felony DWIs, serious criminal damage to property — a whole gamut of things.”
There doesn’t seem to be predominant felony offense in Nobles County, although Kathy noted there may be a trend toward more felony DWIs, probably resulting from a relatively new law that makes four DWI charges in 10 years a felony.
Television generally depicts a probation officer as a person with whom a criminal is required to check in on a regular basis. While that’s part of the job, there’s a lot more to it.
“We do reports for the court, background reports on clients. Usually, after they plead, we make recommendations on sentencing,” she described. “We supervise them while on probation, mostly here in the office, but we do sometimes go out and make sure they meet the recommendations the court has made for them. We work with community agencies, law enforcement, lawyers, employers.”
How often Kathy meets with each client is based upon a screening process. The maximum requirement is twice a month, medium requirement once a month, and those who fall into the minimum requirement usually go to group supervision.
There is no “typical” day on Kathy’s calendar. On this particular day, one of two court hearings she was to attend in the morning was cancelled. She ended up with three appointments in the morning, although only one was scheduled — two clients showed up unexpectedly. Monday and Tuesday are generally busy days due to court hearings, she explained.
Kathy definitely got her wish to work in a people-oriented profession, and being a probation agent, she deals with all types of people.
“You hear a lot of stories,” she said with a chuckle. “Some of them are real talkative and tell you everything. Some tell you nothing. Some lie to you. After 30 years, I know some people really well. You never know who you’re going to see and what’s going to happen with the day.”
As with any profession that deals with the public, working in corrections has its ups and downs, high points and low points, good days and bad days.
“There are a lot of things I like about it,” Kathy reflected about her profession. “We set our own schedule, meet a lot of interesting people, no day the same. But it can be very stressful.
The ugliest cases — those dealing with sex offenders — are assigned to specialized agents, so Kathy feels fortunate not to have to deal with such.
“We don’t have a lot of violent offenses here, but there are certainly some dangerous people out there, and you ever know how dangerous,” she said.
What’s the worst part of working in corrections?
“Watching people fail,” Kathy answered. “Sometimes you feel so hopeless, so helpless — what could I have done, what can they do? — but it comes down to the choices they make. All you can do is present to them how much better their life would be if they did make the change. They have to do it.
“The best part is when they do well,” Kathy added.
Thirty years has brought a lot of changes to Kathy’s profession. Technology has greatly simplified many processes, such as documenting a client’s progress or checking records in other parts of the state or country.
“The big change is who you are dealing with,” Kathy said. “Thirty years ago, 95 percent were probably people you knew or somebody in the system knew about them. Now that isn’t the case. There’s the language barrier and cultural differences. It’s hard to deal with people’s behaviors through an interpreter. There have been changes in laws, changes in sentencing practices.”
The corrections personnel also dealt with a big change when their department moved from its downtown Worthington to the rural Prairie Justice Center. Kathy enjoys the amenities of having a new office, but she also feels isolated — and it’s more difficult to get to work during bad weather.
“It’s a nice facility, but the only people who come out here have a specific court-related issue,” Kathy said, adding, “Out here, everybody’s behind locked doors,” referring to the security system that requires a code for entry into the corrections area.
When she’s not working, Kathy enjoys simple pleasures — reading a good book, spending time with family.
And when she’s at work, she enjoys what she does.
“I like it. I like the people, the people I work with,” she stressed. “The people are interesting, always interesting to talk to.”