By John McGreevy, TJJD Communications
Don Finley has learned many things in over 25 years serving Texas youth, but when asked what the most important part of the job is, he gave an uncomplicated answer.
“First, you have to be friendly,” he said.
He tells this to the parole officers he supervises to help them be effective at their job and give their best to the youth.
“Show yourself as someone who is caring about them and their situation. You don’t have to overdo it, they’ll think ‘this guy is too much’ but genuinely show concern and have some empathy for their situation and be a good listener. A lot of our kids have already been told what they are and what they’re not.”
Finley, a Regional Manager for Parole Services for the East Region at TJJD, describes his job as “one that’s ever-changing. We’re here to provide information and updates to facilities, families, and our community partners,” he said. “I make sure we’re doing our jobs, interacting with the youth and their families. I make sure we’re being an asset to them and not a negative component.”
He began his career working in prisons and then in adult parole before joining TJJD when it was still the Texas Youth Commission. He found working in adult parole to be frustrating.
“We had caseloads of over 100 people, and we were doing superficial contact and not really being able to help these adults,” he said.
One day, he saw an ad for TYC and became curious. “As I started to research it, I felt I could better help with kids before they got to the point of where I’d seen them as adults,” he said. “Being an adult parole officer, interacting with their families, I could see some of their kids headed down the same road. Sometimes the parolees would call me over to talk to their kids to let them know what that road looked like. Some of those kids I would talk to and provide some preventive services for them before they got into trouble.”
Over two decades later, he’s still working to help the young people of Texas shape better lives for themselves.
Finley is called upon for advice often, from not only the youth and families he’s served, but the parole officers he supervises, especially from those who are new to the job. He stresses the importance of preparation. “Be cognizant of what you’re doing in this position,” he said. “We have a lot of influence with many of these people, these families. Try to know what your job entails so you’ll be able to help the families that we serve. It’s a lot of policy and procedure, and new people are apprehensive, but you can’t help people if you don’t know your job. You’ve got to know the rules. We’ve got people with great ideas, and they’ve got good hearts, they want to help, but it only works if they really know their jobs. And be positive.”
In his downtime he likes to spend time with his five children, he likes to fish, and he’s also a candlemaker.
“I picked up the hobby of making candles. People used to laugh at me when I’d tell them that. They’d think I was playing. But it gives me a lot of relaxation, the aromas are very soothing. It worked out to my advantage – I get to make some things that smell really good, and it relaxes me at the same time.”
“As you go through life, you’ll pick up different things. You’ve got to stay open to picking up new things and don’t be scared to change. If someone gives you the opportunity to learn something, try to learn it.”
When asked about how the job has changed him, Finley says it’s not so much how he’s changed but that things he believed about people, both within TJJD and the community they serve, still hold true. “Even though it may sound old and corny sometimes, we’re all connected, and we need each other, we really do,” he said.
“Let’s try to help each other. There’s a lot going on with people who are right next to us, our next-door neighbors. Not that you have to be nosy but pay attention and try to help if you can.”