Career path grounded by motherhood

Corporal Regina Powell, a guard at Community Corrections in Lexington, Ky.

Photo by Joseph Rey Au
Corporal Regina Powell, a guard at Community Corrections in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Joseph Rey Au

Regina Powell once dreamed of becoming a flight attendant, but single motherhood grounded her career path.

In November, she will mark her 20th year as a corrections officer for the Fayette County Detention Center. Regina, 50, plans to retire her position as Corporal of Community Corrections in August 2016.

"I wouldn't take anything back," she said.

Raised by her grandparents, Regina lived in Bourbon County before moving to Lexington as a teenager. She graduated from Henry Clay High School and attended college for a couple of semesters before becoming pregnant with daughter Cierra.

Regina was working part time in the dietary department at the Veterans Administration Medical Center when a colleague got a job at the detention center and encouraged her to apply. She got the full-time job at the jail, but continued working part time at the VA for eight years, until she married. She remembers many nights when she got only four hours' sleep.

Early on, Regina worked at a juvenile detention center on Cisco Road for seven years. After she was promoted to sergeant, she moved to the Fayette County Detention Center in 2002. She worked second shift as a supervisor in the Master Control department, which is the reception area where visitors check in and out of the building.

Regina later voluntarily took a demotion so she could work first shift. She spent a few years in the medical unit and several years in the laundry department (where trustee inmates work) before she moved to the custody unit, where she works today. Her superiors want to promote her again, but that would require her working second or third shift, which she has declined.

That's because she is a single parent again. Daughter Tameara Powell is a sixth grader in the Spanish Immersion program at Bryan Station Middle School. Daughter Cierra Henderson, now 29, works at the Lexington Diagnostic Center.

Judgment free

Regina works with both men and women who are in custody. Unless an inmate is housed in a unit reserved for prisoners who are accused of or have been convicted of sexual abuse charges, Regina doesn't know what charges or convictions have brought the inmates into the detention center.

"I never look up their charges," Regina said. "I don't want to know. I treat everybody the same. I don't care what their charges are. I try to do my job the best I can."

Her days are busy and often include overtime. Regina's duties include making cell checks to search for contraband and preparing inmates for their transportation to and from their court appearances. Inmates have access to a range of services, including telephone calls, medical care and mental health care. Friends and family can visit them on weeknights and weekends.

After lunch, inmates have two to three hours of recreation in a day room or a program area. At 3 p.m., they return to lockdown, so the corrections officers can prepare their paperwork for the second-shift staff.

Regina sees many repeat offenders, but there are success stories.

"One day I saw a girl in Kroger, who had been in juvenile detention. She started crying and said I had inspired her. She wanted me to know that she had gotten her life together, had married, has a little girl and is taking care of an ill parent. She said I kept telling her ‘You can do better.'"

Joining Consolidated Baptist Church, where she serves as an usher and a security officer, has helped Regina remember that there are many law-abiding people in the community.

When she leaves work each day, Regina seeks a quiet, peaceful home environment.

"I focus on my daughter Tameara's day," she said. "I cook dinner or we eat out. She dances and has activities. Cooking is an escape and I watch a little TV. I love the quiet. That's how I escape."