Women Who Make a Difference: Kathleen Glennon

When Department of Corrections classification counselor, Kathleen Glennon is not improving the lives of incarcerated individuals, she’s improving the lives of people in the community in the Dockyard Derby Dames Roller Derby team in Tacoma. Part of the money raised from bouts goes to charity.  Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on the Washington State Department of Corrections’ website.

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SHELTON – Kathleen Glennon leads a double-life.

By day, she keeps correctional facilities safe by determining custody levels for incarcerated individuals and matching them with rehabilitative programs. By night, she becomes a roller derby star zooming around the rink in a sparkly, striped helmet and skates with neon green wheels.

The Washington Corrections Center classification counselor is also a member of the Dockyard Derby Dames, Tacoma’s roller derby league.

“When I go to work and I hear the gate shut behind me, I know where I’m at and I focus on that,” Glennon said. “When I come here (the roller derby), this is my enjoyment. I love to get out; I’m not a couch potato. It’s the movement and the sweating and overcoming things.”

Skating Past Fear

Glennon, 56, had to overcome a learning curve when she first tried out for roller derby. She learned to speed skate when she was 14 and continued until she was 27.

When her child was born, she took a break from the sport. Raising a child and advancing her correctional career didn’t leave much spare time for skating. In 2008, after her grown son graduated high school, Glennon decided to revisit her passion.

The 18-year gap left her scared, at first.

“I had to re-learn (how to skate),” Glennon said. “In my mind, I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah. I can do that.’ Then when I started rolling around I’m thinking ‘Oh, no, I can’t do that!’ But if you do fall, you get back up, brush yourself off and keep on going.”

Glennon says it took about six weeks of practice as a “new bruiser,” before she became eligible to get drafted on one of the league’s three teams. Glennon is currently a member of the Femme Fianna team.

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Keeping Safe

Training for roller derby takes a lot more than just being able to skate forwards and backwards. There are lots of fancy maneuvers that require agility. There’s also several contact-heavy parts of the sport, like blocking and taking hits and shoving through a pack of skaters.

“It’s a contact sport,” Glennon acknowledges. “Yes, people can get broken bones and yes, people can get hurt, but that’s the nature of the game.”

The International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion surveyed 1,395 roller derby skaters in 2017. It found nearly half of respondents (48.7 percent) reported getting injured at least once in the preceding year. The most common injuries were those to the ankles and knees. About three-quarters of player-reported head injuries were concussions.

Data seems to suggest you’re more likely to get hurt skating a roller derby than working in a prison. A 2011 study in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health estimates correctional officers experience about 254 work-related injuries per 10,000 full-time employees due to assaults or violent acts.

Since joining the roller derby league 11 years ago, Glennon’s had her fair share of bumps and bruises. The only major injury she’s gotten on the track was a torn meniscus that kept her from practice for two months. By comparison, Glennon has never been hurt on the job during her 19 years with the Department of Corrections.

She says that’s because the department takes steps to ensure employee safety. For example, all facility staff receive training in defense tactics, prison safety, emergency management, and verbal communication.

Glennon has a caseload of 60 incarcerated individuals. Her job involves getting to know the people on her caseload. She listens to what they say. She also observes their non-verbal cues so she can sense when something is amiss.

“You learn what makes everyone tick, so to speak,” Glennon said. “It’s beneficial because if you know that someone is off their baseline, you can talk with them and see what’s going on and usually that will work. If not, you can refer them to a program that will, hopefully, alleviate unhealthy behaviors.”

Impacting People and Communities

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Glennon says she enjoys the positive impact she has on people and communities in both her work and roller derby life.

She says the derby league often backs charitable causes. Part of the ticket sales at some of the bouts go to local non-profit organizations. The league has raised money or donated items to groups that support breast cancer awareness and disabled veterans. The league has donated to the Forgotten Youth Foundation Team of Tacoma, which gives backpacks filled with school supplies to children from low-income families. Last year, Glennon’s team collected hats, gloves and miniature holiday stockings to place in gift boxes that inmates at the Washington Corrections Center made for Squaxin Island tribal children in the foster care system.

Glennon says the roller derby has given her more confidence in herself. A year after joining the league, she challenged herself to complete the annual Seattle to Portland bike relay. It’s a two-day event encompassing 203 miles.

She says it was difficult, but “the only thing that was hard was in my head. I look at this and there are things I am nervous as heck to do…Don’t set limitations when you first start out. If you do, you’ll never know how far you’ll go.”

It’s the same philosophy she tries to instill in the incarcerated individuals on her caseload.

Besides deciding custody placements in prison, classification counselors like Glennon help incarcerated people with their release planning.

She remembers helping an inmate learn how to save enough money to find housing for when he got out of prison. This was before the state’s earned release date housing program (pdf), which provides eligible inmates financial assistance for housing.

She met with the individual and helped him learn to set aside money from his prison job and keep a budget.

Years later she ran into him in the community. He told her he had two jobs and had his own home, something he wasn’t able to do before his incarceration.

“To me that’s rewarding. When they (incarcerated individuals) come to me, I try to help them with solutions. But, I have them come up with the solutions. Because then they’re more invested. It’s not just ‘Ok, you do this;’ it’s ‘If I do this, I’m going to succeed.’”

The Dockyard Derby Dames’ next bout is at 5 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Pierce College Steilacoom Campus. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. For more information visit https://dockyardderbydames.com/