Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

Remarks by Commissioner Brian Fischer
Division of Parole Service Awards Luncheon
Hall of Springs, Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga
Sept. 18, 2008

(Division of Parole Executive Director) Felix Rosa told me that (Division) Chairman (George B.) Alexander looked to book a nationally known, dynamic and entertaining speaker for today’s event. When he found out that no one would do it for nothing, he asked me to speak instead and offered me a free lunch. How could I refuse?

While it may seem unusual for the Commissioner of Correctional Services to be speaking at an award ceremony for Parole staff and community groups, many of us have a lot in common, and all of us have worked over the years offering services to others.

Forty years ago, I worked the streets as many of you do today. My area was Manhattan, from 96th Street north, river to river. The clients at the time were mostly heroin addicts with 3-year court-ordered treatment sentences. The program was called by many names, but generally known as the Rockefeller Program.

Like many of you, I went into homes, talked to family members, helped clients get jobs, and, when necessary, returned them to incarcerated treatment. Like all of you, sometimes I helped, many other times I didn’t, and I took some of the failures personally.

When you think about it, offering treatment and help inside a prison, or while a person is out on Parole, or as part of a non-profit community resource center, is all the same. We all work in the area of human services.

As workers in this arena, we often get to experience great highs when things work out and we see real positive results. We also experience lows when we see someone relapse, get re-arrested, or worse, simply give up on themselves.

I’m sure there are times when we each ask ourselves the question, “Is it all worth the effort?” The fact that we’re all here today underscores the fact that the answer is “yes,” it is worth the effort. Just because we encounter problems and frustrations doesn’t mean we give up the fight.

The fact that we’re here to honor award recipients speaks to the effort each has demonstrated over time – effort that can be defined as a willingness to engage others, a willingness to listen to others and most important, a willingness to help others. It’s their commitment to service that makes each recipient and organization special.

Experience tells me that most people outside our fields of work rarely understand what we do. It’s not that they don’t care; it’s that they don’t understand. Maybe that’s why it’s so important that we come together from time to time and acknowledge the good work that we do. Who better to say “good job” than those of us who know how hard we work at helping others?

Every day, hundreds of us go out and do our very best to accomplish our agency’s goals, our community goals and our personal goals. While only a few will be given their well earned awards today, I’m sure Chairman Alexander would agree that there are many others within his organization, and many other community groups, that deserve recognition. It is my belief that while events like today’s single out some, they are also meant to acknowledge everyone we work with who goes out of their way to help others.

The others that I speak of are, of course, offenders and ex-offenders. They are our clients, our responsibility. Some need more help than others. Some need help but refuse it. Still others need help but don’t always recognize their need. It’s our job to provide for all of them, and based on what I’ve seen regarding the honorees, you do that very well. You are to be congratulated.

A few years ago, most people outside of us didn’t know what the words Re-entry or Transitional Services meant. Today, everyone thinks they know what we mean when we use those phrases and other buzzwords like “one stop shop” or “seamless handoff”.

Whatever you call it, what we really do, and what is really important, is that we make a difference in the lives of those we assist. Everyone needs help from time to time, and I’m glad that we’re there to provide that help.

Not every client says thanks, but we don’t do it for their thanks. We help because it’s the right thing to do and the awards to be given out today are meant to say it for them.

Walter Reuther, an American union organizer in the automotive industry, correctly stated;

“There is no greater calling than to serve your fellow men. There is no greater contribution than to help the weak. There is no greater satisfaction than to have done it well.”

I congratulate all the award recipients and say, well done.

Thank you.