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Marberry Secures Reputation as Warden

Helen J. Marberry runs a tight ship. Credited as being the first female warden at the federal correctional institution just outside of Ann Arbor, MI, Marberry has made a career of keeping the public safe and helping people who have been imprisoned to find a better life.

Helen Marberry
Helen Marberry '82, '83 is the first female warden of a federal correctional institution in Ann Arbor, MI.

The UCM alumna has worked in the field of criminal justice for more than 20 years as a case manager, social worker, associate warden, and warden of the Milan facility. Now overseer of more than 1,500 federal prisoners, Marberry said her desire to make a difference started even before she became a UCM criminal justice student in 1978.

Inspired by Her Mother


Inspired by stories her mother told as a cook in a St. Louis halfway house, Marberry said she knew early on her life would lead to a career in public service. "[Working in criminal justice] was a way for me to give back to the community," said Marberry. "I've always seen myself as somewhat of a public servant."


Two Degrees from UCM


Marberry earned a bachelor's degree at UCM in 1982 and her master's a year later. She worked with both police officials and the St. Louis-based community organization, Operation Safe Streets. Eventually, she became involved with the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice and found her calling in the Bureau of Prisons.

Marberry said she's faced a number of challenges as a woman in corrections but said the essential difference a female warden brings to the prison community is the approach.

"We talk," said Marberry. "We try to resolve issues. The punishment is that they are separated from their families and loved ones. It's not my goal to make every day of their life miserable."


Advocates Prison Programs


Marberry said she's a big believer in prison programs. Many of the programs at FCI Milan center around inmate education. Milan high school teachers come into the prison community so inmates can earn a high school diploma or GED. Inmates also can take part in vocational training programs to develop the skills they will need to succeed when they are released.

However, it's prevention that keeps people out of prison in the first place, Marberry noted.


Education Creates Opportunity


"I think education creates opportunity," she said. "If we invest and prepare for education on the front end, then we probably can avoid a lot of this on the back end, meaning incarceration."

Marberry said that at the Milan facility, inmates are offered opportunities to improve themselves beyond academics. Drug dependency programs, faith-based organizations and mentoring help to establish what Marberry calls a "support system" for returning to society.

Marberry was an active student during her time at UCM. A member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and the Association of Black Collegians, she participated in many community projects. One of the most memorable experiences she had as a student was visiting the federal prison in Leavenworth, KS. She said meeting the inmates and staff really prepared her for a career in the prison system.


UCM Experiences Shaped Her Career


Experiences like the ones she had at UCM shaped Marberry into the professional she is today.

She said the demands placed on prison officials are greater than that of other aspects in criminal justice. Marberry said she’s tried to surpass all expectations by leading by example.

“We’re held to a higher standard in the law enforcement field,” said Marberry. “We expect integrity and professionalism from our employees and I try to exemplify that.”

Marberry looks forward to being promoted in the near future to higher security prisons, adding that the Federal Bureau of Prisons promotes and transfers officials frequently. In fact, she has been “promoted” six times.

Marberry said she still keeps in contact with some of her UCM friends and said she has an excellent support base in her church and community.

By Michael Bradshaw '05