Division of Prisons Director James French presents plaque to Carol Caldwell.

Caldwell Ends Career at NCCIW

By Pamela Walker

One sentiment heard repeatedly about Carol Caldwell, former warden of the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women, at her retirement luncheon April 28 was that she is definitely someone many look up to and not just because of her height.

Nearly 200 people attended the event at The Warehouse in downtown Raleigh where speakers including Deputy Secretary Dan Steineke and former DOC Secretary Franklin Freeman. Caldwell’s staff echoed high praise for her career and shared quite a few funny stories.

"Carol has moved through the ranks of the department and into one of the most difficult positions as superintendent," said Freeman. "She did it with integrity and an incredible work ethic."

"I remember the first time I ever saw her, she was just a red flash of energy that blew by my office," said Steineke. He went on to say the more he got to work with Caldwell he saw even more of her qualities. "She always has a smile on her face and was always positive, even in a lonely position."

During the event, about a dozen people stepped to the podium to share a funny experience they had with Caldwell. "Is it true that Carol chained herself to several trees during the construction (of NCCIW)?" asked Special Assistant Jane Garvey. Those who know her said they wouldn’t be surprised and Caldwell doesn’t deny it. "When they were preparing the land for construction, they mistakenly cut down 19 trees. That killed me. Someone planted those trees and I made sure we planted two times as many as were cut down," said Caldwell.

Friends and staff also presented Caldwell with a number of gifts including a big package of tissue. Many say that was appropriate because she loved her job so much she often got emotional about it and would cry any time she had to make a change she thought might not be too popular.

Caldwell retired May 1, after 28 years with the department. Her career began in 1972 when she was hired as a teacher at what was Western Correctional Center in Morganton. She worked her way up holding many different positions including program director, superintendent and correctional administrator. In 1996, she made history at NCCIW by becoming the first female warden in the state.

"It was the luck of the draw, I was just in the right place at the right time," said Caldwell. At the time, there was only one warden in the prison system and that was at Central Prison. The Division of Prisons conducted a study and found the complexity at the women’s prison was comparable and therefore upgraded Caldwell’s position to warden.

Looking back, Caldwell says she hopes she helped make a trail for women working in criminal justice as well as those who have been incarcerated. "The journey was going to be made, I just feel like I helped it on a path of excellence," Caldwell said. She helped implement countless programs, but is most proud of "Motheread," an international literacy program started at NCCIW and MATCH (Mothers and their children), a program designed to help mothers in prison with parenting.

Many of Caldwell’s colleagues say she’ll be missed at NCCIW. "She was a visionary, she demonstrated bold positive leadership on behalf of staff and inmates, she was very loyal and supportive, and never lost that energy," said Jennie Lancaster, Division of Prisons Central Region director. "She oversaw the most professionally operated women’s institution in the country, a model for many."

Caldwell hopes to continue working with the department through the retiree utilization program. In her spare time she enjoys playing bridge, reading mysteries, gardening and cooking.

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