Today we're spotlighting Michelle Hawkins of the Gainesville State School, in our continuing shout out to TJJD staff during National Correctional Officers Week 2021.
Supervisor IIP Dorm, Gainesville State School
As the Supervisor of the Intensive Intervention Program (IIP) dorm at Gainesville State School, Michelle Hawkins works with youth who are having the most difficulty getting along with others.
And she loves it.
That’s because Hawkins sees these kids who’ve been acting out toward others as simply needing extra care and close attention, and after 16 years working in juvenile corrections she feels well equipped to help.
“I have a good way with kids and I can talk them down sometimes,” she said. “You can say I’m the mediator.”
Hawkins, a native of Mexia who attended East Texas Baptist University and has four kids of her own, believes there’s a teachable moment in almost any situation and she finds it tremendously rewarding to help young people see it.
Every day at the IIP dorm, Hawkins works closely with staff and youth, collaborating on concrete steps the young men can take to regulate their emotions, stay cool and think through challenges. The coaches continuously engage with the youth, creating activities to teach coping skills and practice positive behaviors. For example, they recently play-acted appropriate dating behaviors, such as pulling out a chair for a date and asking about that person’s needs.
All this is possible because reforms underway at TJJD have created a kinder, calmer, trauma-informed environment, Hawkins said. She considers the reforms, collectively called the Texas Model, to be the best thing to happen at the agency since she joined the Texas Youth Commission in 2005 as a Juvenile Correctional Officer (JCO).
“It’s a great change, it’s more about seeing the problem behind the behavior. It makes you look at situations and incidents totally differently,” she said. “Whereas when I first started it was all about enforcement. We didn’t say to youth, ‘Why are you feeling this way?’”
Asking that key question – and following the Model’s guidance to “See the Need Behind the Behavior” – makes a world of sense to Hawkins. With these concepts front of mind, staff are considering a young person’s background and motivations, enabling them to better assist that child as they strive to improve their behavior.
“It’s less of a battle over who’s right and who’s wrong,” Hawkins said. “It’s more about compromising and problem solving . . . and it works!” She and her colleagues can see it working bit by bit, day by day, and their greatest joy is when youth complete their individual plans at the IIP dorm and return to their regular dorms more emotionally resilient and able to deal with life’s ups and downs.
“I think I’m doing a good deed for the world, and also for that kid who’s benefiting from it.”
- Barbara Kessler, Communications