“I sort of fell into corrections,” Sara (Beard) Revell ’84 says. “Most people do—working in a prison is not something that folks aspire to as youngsters. Some people come into it generationally, but I just wanted to help people.”
Revell, who is on the executive staff of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), first came into contact with the profession as a social work major at Luther. She interned in her hometown of Rochester, Minn., supervising people on probation and parole in the Olmsted County Community Corrections Office. During graduate school in social work at the University of Kentucky–Lexington, she did a second internship at a state prison and a third at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Lexington, where she started in a paid role in 1986. “And as they say,” Revell says, “the rest is history.”
“All corrections jobs are an enormous responsibility. They are jobs not everybody wants, but thank goodness there are dedicated men and women willing to take them on.”
Revell started in the BOP as a case manager but has held many roles in 12 locations over the course of her career. “The agency values having a fresh set of eyes at our facilities,” Revell says, “so normally in order to move into positions of greater responsibility in the Bureau of Prisons, you move.” In 2005, she became warden at the FCI in Greenville, Ill., 45 minutes from St. Louis. She then became warden at the high-security United States Penitentiary at Florence, Colo., and then complex warden at the Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) in Butner, N.C., which includes five institutions and 5,000 inmates. “All corrections jobs are an enormous responsibility,” Revell says. “They are jobs not everybody wants, but thank goodness there are dedicated men and women willing to take them on.”
Revell can’t provide details but says that she’s been in more than a couple of dangerous situations on the job. “The goal every day you walk through that gate is to come home the same way you walked in. My job as a leader is to make the staff’s work environment the best it can be. Law enforcement is dangerous work, and as a leader, you do what you can to ensure your staff’s safety.”
After FCC Butner, Revell became the assistant director of the BOP Program Review Division, which oversees compliance for the agency. In October, she assumed her 14th assignment with the bureau, as regional director of the North Central Region, where she oversees 20 facilities as far west as Colorado, east to Michigan, south to Missouri, and north to the Canadian border. As regional director, her primary responsibilities are to oversee the operations for those facilities and to provide support to their wardens. As part of the bureau’s 19-member executive staff, she helps formulate policy, manages labor-management issues, and ensures compliance for the agency as a whole.
Revell says that the executive staff have addressed many emerging and complex issues in the corrections field, including restrictive housing (commonly known as solitary confinement), the treatment of mentally ill inmates, labor-management partnership, diversity and inclusion, and the reentry of released prisoners. “We want to make sure we do everything we can to prepare individuals,” Revell says. “We’re focusing on educational and vocational programming—furthering one’s education or acquiring a trade is paramount in the success of returning citizens.”
She continues, “Every position I’ve had in the bureau, I’ve always had an opportunity to make a difference. That’s the cool thing about being a correctional officer or a warden or a regional director—you’re always in a position to do two important things: one, make a difference in the lives of staff, and two, make a difference in the lives of the those in your custody.”