BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Genie Powers smiled broadly has she held a plaque bearing her name as one of the newest members of the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame.
Powers received the award at a Baton Rouge banquet on Friday, October 28. The banquet is a fundraiser for Angola Prison's Museum and is always well attended by law enforcement and corrections agencies from all over the state.
As Powers stood at the podium to accept the award, she spoke of the time more than 40 years ago when she began her work in a male-dominated Louisiana Department of Corrections.
"There weren't that many women that worked in corrections," Powers said. "There were probably some at Angola, but we didn't know each other and there might've been one or two other women who were correctional officers and they kind of left. It was kind of tough because it was way a man's profession."
The men at the Louisiana Training Institute, the present Jetson Youth Center, were not accustomed to a female face among their ranks and could be verbally crass and rude in regard to her status in the workplace.
"I had things said to me that would be sexual harassment today. I think that was just the way people talked back then, but there was the sense you were not one of the guys. I didn't really think about it, because I got along with everybody. I was pretty young. I was 19 years old and I was just naive," Powers explained.
Powers said she started work for corrections when she was 19 at LTI, a juvenile facility on Old Scenic Highway (at US Hwy 61) in Baker. At the time, she was also studying criminal justice at LSU.
"At the time, I was dating someone and it turned out to be a future father-in-law with probation and parole. He didn't get his son into it, but when I went to look in too, I said I kind of liked it and worked there as a student," Powers added.
Powers said the department did not have uniforms for women employees at the time. So, Powers was issued a second-hand state trooper uniform to wear. When the pants were hopelessly too big, she used a pair of jean overalls she had. It didn't seem to matter, because they simply had no official uniform in 1974.
Powers said her co-workers, all men, didn't like it when she was promoted to lieutenant two years after working there. She said she had not lobbied for it. So, it wasn't like she had to push for the promotion as a woman.
"They kept wanting to promote people. Turnover was pretty heavy back then. I didn't want a promotion. I didn't want to be in a supervisory position. I was going to college and I had juggled all of that. But they said, 'You've got to get the promotion!' and finally I said, 'Yes,'" Powers said.
Powers spent the majority of her corrections career in probation and parole. As decades passed, changes became apparent.
"I felt I was contributing to improving their lives, especially when I started and I had a lower caseload. You could really get involved with them. You could do so much good," Powers added.
Powers said she would have 70 to 90 cases to manage back then. But in those days, they were required to see every parolee every month. Now, there are so many more inmates and the requirements had to change.
"Now, we base it on the risk of the inmate. You did not have to visit someone who was doing well. Back then, the offenders who were really violent and bad went to prison for a long time and they didn't get sent to parole. I never saw them. But I think the prisoners themselves have changed and drugs are such a big influence now. Some of the sentences are mandatory and so those serious prisoners are sent to parole," Powers explained.
Years passed and Powers stayed in her job. As she grew up, she remained a Department of Corrections employee.
"Somewhere along the way, I was divorced, I had a daughter. Somewhere a bit further down the road, I get remarried and had a stepson in addition to my daughter. My husband died about seven years ago," Powers said.
When her husband, John Powers, died, she saw first-hand the community, the brotherhood that is the Department of Corrections.
"That's one of the things being in corrections for so long and co-workers were so supportive. They were very kind. He had been sick for some time and they were patient and supportive," Powers said.
Then last April, as she moved to retire, those colleagues were again supportive.
"I worked until the last day, didn't take leave or anything like that. I started packing over time. Sometime around the end of March, I started taking stuff out of my office. Wow, 42 years! I did not want a party. It would've been too hard (emotionally). But we all went to lunch and had ice cream that night," Powers explained.
As she said her final goodbyes, Powers' eyes teared up but she didn't cry.
"I didn't cry. I felt good about leaving. It was a good point in my life to do that. They said, 'You can't go. You can't go!' But I said, 'Why? It's time'," Powers added.
She had worked her last years in the office with Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc.
"Hey, they are such good people. They're so dedicated and they always try do the right things," she said.
April 22nd was her last day at work.
"I just think they're so underappreciated and people just don't know anything about them, but they work really, really hard," Powers said.
Now what Genie Powers?
"I've always wanted to do volunteer work. I may do something else in the business. I don't know, I'll just have to see," Powers said.