Debra Gilbert of East Providence, a Correctional Officer in the Dorothea Dix Women’s Minimum Security Facility of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, became the first Correctional Officer to be presented with a Heroes in the Fight award by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (Rhode Island) late last month. Heroes in the Fight is a recognition partnership program established and sponsored by Eli Lilly & Co. to celebrate dignity, courage, hope, and recovery in the ongoing treatment of persons with severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI) by recognizing “heroes” who provide exemplary care and dedication to those affected by severe and persistent mental illness.
CO Gilbert was received her award at a Heroes in the Fight dinner at the Westin in Providence on Wednesday, September 24th. There were five awards presented that night, and Debra’s was in the Community Supporter category. She was nominated by Carole Dwyer, Warden of the Women’s facilities, at the request of a long-time volunteer in the Women’s Mentoring Program who told Warden Dwyer that CO Gilbert showed great concern and compassion for one of her mentees, who has mental health-related issues, during her incarceration. In her nomination, Warden Dwyer wrote, “CO’s are the first point of contact for offenders. They are responsible for being firm, fair, and consistent with the inmate population and are generally viewed as a role model by all offenders.”
In 20007, RIDOC’s Director of Behavioral Health, Dr. Frederic Friedman, became the first corrections professional to receive a Heroes in the Fight Award. Sponsoring organizations in addition to NAMI include the Manic Depressive and Depressive Association of Rhode Island, the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island, the Mental Health Consumer Advocates of Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Council of Community Mental Health Organizations.
Normally a CO in the Dix Building, Debra is currently on temporary assignment as a Community Program Counselor with the Community Confinement Program. In that capacity, she has a caseload of offenders who have been placed on Home Confinement and wear an ankle bracelet which is plugged into the telephone jack and keeps track of their location. Home confinees must check in with Program Counselors regularly and must seek permission to be anywhere outside of a clearly defined radius outside their home.
When she is in the Dix Building, Officer Gilbert is assigned to the Spectrum Drug Treatment wing. She treats inmates with the same courtesy and respect she expects them to show to her and her passion for her work shows when she discusses it. When she was first told about her nomination, Debra was thrilled but says, “I never thought in a million years I would win.” She is flattered by the recognition but insists she was “just doing my job.”