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Officer Vernon Herrst, Gunnison

Officer Vernon Herrst was nominated by Scott Gollaher, a current inmate in the Utah State Prison, who writes:

“From prison I frequently listen to KSL and enjoy the feature Beyond the Badge. I know being an inmate that may seem to be an oxymoron. Nevertheless, your family directions to love all of us in our community and beyond reaches even here and is valued.

I write asking you to consider featuring a corrections officer who was tenacious in getting classes within the Oquirrh 5 complex entitled “Thinking for a Change” started. He has since been transferred to the State’s Gunnison facility as he works to obtain the rank of Sergeant.

Candidly, Officer Herrst is but one of the many great officers in the Utah correctional system who believe that in the absence of knowledge and the tools necessary to traverse the challenges of life the inmates’ time behind bars will occur again in the absence of essential knowledge and necessary tools. So it is he made the extra effort to get the classes going.

I thought for many months about drawing your attention to the reality that Officer Herrst’s efforts cost the system nothing and was facilitated while he was working at Oquirrh 5. The courses were prepared and taught by inmates under his direction all done at no cost to the system. Regrettably, those classes were then discontinued upon his transfer to Gunnison. The reasons why are at best mere speculation. What isn’t speculation is the extreme shortage of correctional officers, mandatory overtime and low morale. Because of that, some officers question the sense of making an extra effort that provides no tangible incentive. This negative mindset needs some positive reinforcement what when given is most valued. I believe the desire to be of service is in all of us, but in negative environments with little recognition that effort loses its momentum.

That message, like the pebble tossed into the still mountain pond, will ripple until it reaches staff in the correctional system and beyond to the community as a reminder of the impact one person’s effort to go above and beyond. We need the best that is within each of us to be foremost where the need is great. This is my effort to share these thoughts.