PAINESVILLE, Ohio — Captain Cynthia Brooks’ path to a career in the corrections field started in a shoe department, when she found herself correcting a deputy who would come to her job and make a mess.
"He would come in the store and start throwing stuff everywhere, and one day I got tired of it and I approached him. I let him have it, pretty much,” said Brooks.
Brooks said the deputy told her to go apply at the Lake County Sheriff’s Office as a corrections officer. She didn’t even know there was a jail in Painesville, but she applied and got hired.
While she enjoyed her work, she knew early on that she wanted to implement change.
"The one thing that I wanted to do is inmate programming,” she said.
Now she is the jail administrator of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office Adult Detention Facility. It houses an average of 385 people per day.
With a desire to implement change, she created a program called Women in Transition Through Support.
“We try to start working with women while they're incarcerated, at least 60 days before their release date," she said. “Things like — a Social Security card is sometimes hard to get for people who are incarcerated."
The program helps women prepare to get their children back.
“You see women when they come to jail, they lose everything. They usually lose their children, their housing, any support that they're getting from the state," she said. "I thought it would be nice to start a program so that we can help women re-enter society in a positive way.”
Because of her leadership and the positive changes she has implemented in the jail, Brooks is being recognized nationally as one of the top jail administrators in the country. This spring she will receive the Ray Coleman Administrator of The Year for the American Jail Association.
"It's amazing. It feels great. I love where I am and I love what I do and you have to have a passion to work in corrections. You have to be reliable, you have to be a good listener, you have to be able to speak up and take control of things and not let the inmates control you," she said.
Brooks is involved in her community, serving as president of the Local Housing Commission. She is also active in the Northeast Ohio Girl Scouts. She will receive her award at the American Jail Association Conference in Long Beach, California in May.
This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.