Student Spotlight

Advanced degree gives community corrections officer the tools to help offenders deal with change

May 31, 2016 by Margo Myers
Richmond Zapp

Richmond Zapp

Richmond Zapp calls his job exciting, frustrating, and rewarding … all at the same time.

The community corrections officer for the Department of Corrections in Bremerton works with offenders to make sure they’re complying with court rules so they don’t end up back behind bars.

“It’s unpredictable,” said Zapp. “Things come up and you never know what’s going to happen on any given day.” On this day, Zapp had just returned from conducting warrant sweeps on three offenders who failed to report. Zapp and his team arrested one of the three that day.

Zapp retired from the U.S. Navy after serving 23 years as a Navy corpsman. He traveled the world, serving all around the U.S., as well as in Japan and Italy. He enjoyed taking care of his young sailors and helping them be successful in their careers. When it came time to transition to civilian life, he knew he wanted to continue to help people.

“When I retired from the Navy, I had a friend who worked in juvenile probation and I thought I might be interested in that,” said Zapp. “I did an internship and realized I really wanted to make a difference with adults. This is the perfect job for me.”

As a parole and probation officer, Zapp walks into his office excited every day to work with a variety of people, from jailers to prosecutors, defense attorneys, drug and mental health counselors to offenders’ family members. “I learn something every day,” Zapp said. “Some of the stuff we see, you can’t make up. You have to be a people person, and if I approached it any other way, I wouldn’t be successful.”

Zapp earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Brandman University in 2006. In May, he graduated with his master’s in organizational leadership from Brandman’s Bangor campus. It helps him put names and theories to processes he’s long used as a leader. “In the Navy, I had one leadership style, and that was old school,” said Zapp. “What I’ve learned in civilian life is that you can use different leadership styles for different situations. Getting my master’s degree has allowed me to see how to deal with people and help them cope with change.”

The next chapter in Zapp’s life isn’t far off. He’s getting ready to retire from the Department of Corrections in the next year or so. His goal is to move back to Texas and teach criminal justice at the college level. He encourages others to pursue their education. “You are never too old to do it,” said Zapp. “Don’t tell yourself you can’t do it, because you can. Your education is something no one can take from you once you have it.”

In the meantime, Zapp deals with the challenges faced by his caseload of offenders, including drug use. Heroin using is skyrocketing, replacing methamphetamine as the drug of choice and making his job more difficult. But he doesn’t give up hope. His best day on the job is when he can see someone get off supervision, and turn their life around to never return to his office.

“It’s rare,” he said. “But when the light bulb goes off for someone and they’ve learned that they can stay out of jail or prison, it’s icing on the cake.”

This story first appeared in the May edition of FTE magazine.

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