The trainees in the room studiously took notes, as Sergeant Danielle Reynolds demonstrated the pat search procedures that the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women (NCCW) uses on inmate visitors. When Sergeant Reynolds finished her demonstration, the trainees peppered her with questions and shared stories of their own searches. One had a particularly hair-raising tale:
"In my facility, we decided to start searching children who were visiting. We patted down an infant and found two hand grenades in his diaper!"
Sergeant Reynolds' audience was not a typical class of cadets. Nine women corrections professionals from prisons across Afghanistan traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, from October 8-22, to participate in a training program at the NCCW. They came to observe a U.S. women's prison, to study the practices of the NCCW staff, and to receive instruction in areas of particular need such as classification, cell searches, prison industries, education and reintegration programs, and nursery care. In the process, the Afghan and Nebraska officers engaged in countless conversations like the one above, swapping stories about inmates and learning from each others' experiences.
I, along with my Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) colleague, Andrea King-Wessels, had the honor of helping to plan the training and coordinating the Afghans' stay in Lincoln. Our job was made easier by a fantastic demonstration of good-will from an unexpected source. While dining at an airport McDonald' en route to Lincoln, the group accidentally overpaid for their meal. The diligent cashier, realizing the mistake when she cashed out her register an hour later, walked through the terminal until she found the groups' interpreter to return the money. It was a truly remarkable display of honesty, and the Afghan trainees were shocked that the cashier would make the effort to return their money.
Throughout the training, we were impressed by the adventurous spirit and sense of humor of this group of women as they navigated lost luggage, strange food, and the bewildering array of items on sale at superstores. Most importantly, though, we appreciated their obvious eagerness to grow professionally and bring the lessons of their training home to Afghanistan.
Women corrections professionals play a vital role in providing security and humane care for inmates in Afghanistan. They search female visitors at provincial prisons, help run the women's prisons in Herat and Kabul, and work in the women's wing of prisons in Afghanistan's other provinces. Many prisons in Afghanistan suffer from overcrowding, and crumbling infrastructure makes providing sophisticated programming for inmates difficult. The Nebraska training was part of INL's larger commitment to support the Afghan government's efforts to improve conditions at women's prisons.
The program was the product of collaboration between INL and the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDOCS). INL has developed partnerships with state departments of correction as a way to provide hands-on, cost effective training for its corrections support programs. In Nebraska, NCCW Warden John Dahm and Staff Training Specialist Habib Olomi worked closely with INL representatives to develop a curriculum, identify mosques and dining options in the area, and prepare staff to host the training.
At a graduation ceremony on October 20, Warden Dahm and NDOCS Director Robert Houston presented the Afghans with diplomas certifying their completion of the training program. NCCW staff and the Afghans shook hands, embraced, and thanked each other for lessons learned and friendships made in the previous two weeks.