Ronette Burkes, head of the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, has been named Ohio's Warden of the Year. It's a long way from when Burkes started volunteering for the prison system nearly 20 years ago.
Ohio’s prisons director Gary Mohr says Burkes has a passion for people that's evident in her interactions with employees, offenders and crime victims.
Burkes oversees about 500 employees and about 2,600 inmates at the Ohio Reformatory for Women.
“Every day sitting in this seat, I’m serving victims, I’m serving crime victims, I’m serving survivors, because if I’m helping the people who commit the crimes, how better can I serve?" Burkes says. "I’ve worked on the other side with crime victims and I loved it. I’ve known the harm that comes; I’ve known the trauma; I’ve known what it looks like when people are harmed by crime.
"So why not help the very people who are committing the crimes?”
Burkes says many of those incarcerated at Marysville are low-level drug offenders. She and her staff provide a myriad of programs to educate and rehabilitate them.
“We work hard to make sure that women are employable upon their release," Burkes says. "We want to give them opportunities to change a life because what we know is this: If we have people employed, they’re less likely to be out there doing things that they shouldn’t be doing."
Burkes started working with the prisons system as a volunteer almost 20 years ago. She was hired on three years later and was named warden of Marysville in 2013.
Maintaining a secure, safe environment for both inmates and employees at the reformatory is one of her priorities, she says.
“I want my staff to come to work, be safe, and go home safe to their families," Burkes says. "But equal to that, the women who are incarcerated here have a right to be safe and go home safely to their families when it’s time. And we both have the right to be safe here."
Burkes says her work is simply guided by her faith.
“I truly believe that I was placed on this earth to do the work that I do, and I don’t mean a warden. Warden is really just a title," Burkes says. "I really mean serving people. I’m a Christian and I believe that your purpose is to serve. And so I believe that God placed me here to serve."