Terre Haute, Indiana has housed the state’s one federal prison for close to seven decades now. In that time, it has been home to tens of thousands of prisoners, including Timothy McVeigh who was executed at the prison for his role in Oklahoma City bombings. Recently, the facility underwent a leadership change, hiring the first African-American female warden in the state’s history.
Warden Helen Marberry says she has to run a tight ship, with more than 3,300 inmates and more than 700 employees looking to her for direction. The prison is spread over 1,100 acres, with three facilities broken down into minimum, medium and maximum security. Marberry says she’s proud of the job she’s done in her first years on the job.
“Emphasis is always on being the first. Whether it is the first female or first African American, and although you are proud of those things you really want to be remembered for how effectively you completed the task at hand, because it’s really about how well we do the job and if it’s done effectively and efficiently.”
Marberry says after 25 years in corrections, she has come up with a motto. “In order to impact the system you have to be a part of the system, and become and agent of change.”
“Women in non-traditional roles may have to deal with certain adjustments when the majority of the staff is predominantly male, especially at the current facility.” Though times like this occur, Marberry says females don’t lack leadership ability and normally once they are in the position for a while, this quickly dissipates.
The City of Terre Haute has recently lobbied the federal government to expand the prison in the next decade, saying the move could supply the city with jobs and additional federal funding. Marberry joined U.S. Penitentiary in January 2008.