N.C. Department of Correction--Correction News--July 1998

Professionalism key to officer's success

LEXINGTON — Becky Connor leads a double life. In the evenings and on weekends, she is a loving mother and wife, spending time caring for her husband and her two daughters. Just like most females, she likes to look nice and spends extra time fixing her hair and putting on makeup. Sometimes she even wears perfume.

But when it comes time for Connor to report to work as a correctional officer at Davidson Correctional Center, a minimum security prison for adult males, all that changes. Gone are the makeup, perfume and perfectly styled hair. While at work, Connor abandons her role as mother, wife and female and becomes, strictly, a professional correctional officer.

"I come to work looking very professional," she said. "I don’t wear makeup or nail polish. I wear starched uniforms with military creases. This causes the inmates to have respect for me. They see me as an officer, not as a female."

Connor even goes so far as to wear uniforms a size larger than her normal size to ensure that she does not come to work wearing clothes that are too tight. She feels that her professional demeanor has helped her be successful in a field where women are in the minority.

"I have been here (at Davidson) coming on five years, and during that time, I have seen 17 females come and leave," she said.

"Some of these female officers would come in here wearing tight uniforms, lots of makeup and perfume which would lead to problems with the inmates. To me, to work here, you have to have a positive attitude, but you also must have a very professional demeanor."

A graduate of Central Piedmont Community College, Connor received her degree in law enforcement, focusing on both law enforcement and corrections. She initially went to work for the Salisbury City Police Department, but eventually made the switch to corrections, because she thought it would be more fulfilling, and so far, she says it has been.

"As a police officer, you arrest someone, and you’re with them for an hour, max," she said. "As a correctional officer, everyday that I’m here for eight hours and no one goes over the fence, I feel like I helped to keep the community safe."

Connor said her goal as a correctional officer is to help protect the community, but it is also to help the inmates by setting a positive example.

"I’m non-biased, and inmates who cannot read or write know that they can come to me to read their letters or write for them, and I won’t look down on them," she said. "But they also know how firmly I believe that if you commit a crime, you should serve your time. I’m strict, but I’m also fair and consistent."

Connor takes her job very seriously and is always looking for ways to improve herself. She has taken and passed the sergeant’s exam and also became one of the first women in the North Piedmont Area to be selected as a member of the P.E.R.T. team.

Once a month, members of the P.E.R.T. team get together and do rope training, unarmed self-defense training and practice mock escapes, hostage situations and riot control.

"I really enjoy it," she said. "One of the reasons that I went into it is that it’s all advanced training. Everything I learn helps me do my job better. I feel like you can never have enough training."

Connor’s love for extra training led her to become the only female firearms instructor and the first female general instructor for the North Piedmont Area. She said she enjoys using her experiences to teach others, so they don’t make the same mistakes that she has made.

In addition to all her other activities, Connor has also taken on an additional job as a certified extradition officer, spending many hours on the road away from home and her family. As an extradition officer, Connor travels all over the United States picking up federal, state, county and city fugitives and returning them to the western half of North Carolina. On the long drives back to North Carolina, Connor said the fugitives often break down and cry and tell her all about what they did wrong. Connor said she listens, but tries to avoid counseling the fugitives.

"A lot of times, all they need is someone to listen," she said. "When you’re out on the road, hundreds of miles away from home with a fugitive in your car, the main thing you want to do is keep them calm. I’ve found a little respect goes a long way."

Wendell Hargrave, assistant superintendent at Davidson, said Connor has definitely won the respect of her co-workers at Davidson.

"Officer Connor is an asset to the department and to her co-workers," he said. "She is an exceptional officer in every aspect and strives to better herself on the job and at home."

However, Connor gives all the credit for her success to her husband, Chuck, who is a correctional officer at North Piedmont Correctional Center for Women, and Captain David Murphy.

"I couldn’t do all this without the trust and support given to me by my husband and Capt. Murphy," she said. "Professionally, Capt. Murphy trusts me enough to allow me to do all these things, and my husband supports me, because he knows that I can handle myself and that I have the ability to do these things. I couldn’t do it without them." u