Forty-four men and twelve women graduated from the Rhode Island Department of Corrections' Correctional Officer Training Academy Class 79 on Friday, April 20th, at 2 p.m. in Rhode Island College's Gaige Hall. Those receiving special awards include: Class Valedictorian – Danielle M. Gelinas; Physical Fitness Award (presented to the individual who obtained the highest score at the end of the Physical Fitness run) – Sarah K. Helldoerfer; and Firearms Award (presented to the individual who obtained the highest overall score when qualifying with three departmental weapons) – Stephen L.Tomasetti. Those graduates all went online effective Sunday, April 22nd, shadowing more senior officers for a two-week period, after which they were assigned to posts in one of the Department's six prisons or one jail.
Family and friends of the graduates and RIDOC staff attended the ceremony where U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha was the invited keynote speaker. Attorney Neronha welcomed the graduates to the "law enforcement family" and spoke of the opportunity they will have to be role models the prisoners they will watch over never had. He called prisoner reentry "the greatest challenge we face today."
Corrections Director A.T. Wall also spoke, noting that while the Academy staff had taught them a great deal, "the most important qualities needed to be a successful Correctional Officer are qualities you already have." He advised the graduates "don't let anybody take them away. They will see you through a lot, including difficult and highly satisfying times."
Class valedictorian Danielle Gelinas gave brief remarks in which she stated that members of the class had forged "lifelong friendships and connections" and that "our lives have forever changed."
During the arduous nine-week training schedule, participants undergo physical fitness and weapons training and have classroom instruction in defensive tactics, communication skills, and the law as it relates to correctional officers. They also have intensive on-the-job training, working in each of the RIDOC's seven facilities.