I knew something was wrong when my phone began a cacophony of texts and calls while I
got ready for work.
“Have you seen the Governor’s email?”
“Check the news.”
“Call me as soon as you get this.”
It took a minute for me to figure out which message to answer. I scanned my email and saw enough to know. The Executive Director for the Department of Corrections (DOC), Tom Clements, had been murdered after answering his door the previous evening. I had only met him once, but knew Kristin, my boss and his fellow cabinet member, was close to him. I would find out later he was her mentor.
As I drove to work, I made calls to my assistant asking to cancel my meetings and to my colleague, the Chief Operating Officer, to talk about next steps. He was already ahead of me, having asked our Chief Information Security Officer to cancel a flight, leave Denver International Airport where he was about to board a plane bound for a military training and come to the office. When I arrived at the office, I met with the COO in our network operations center as his team graphed out next steps. We needed to save off Executive Director Clements’ phone records, emails, cancel access to services, save network logs, secure his devices and anything else that might be needed in an investigation. While there is no protocol for this kind of horrific event, anyone in IT has protocols for criminal forensics and sudden departures. It was sterile. It was raw.
Around 1:00, our executive leadership team set up a streaming video to the people at the Department of Corrections who worked in our organization. The DOC headquarters resides in Colorado Springs, about an hour and a half from Denver. We had been asked to not go to the facilities. The suspect had yet to be found. Security was at its highest and they had no need for more visitors. It was true. But we felt we had to do something to show our love and support. I’m not sure our video stream was helpful to those people who worked with him every day. But there is no manual for a day like that. So we improvised and did the best we could. I sent emails to everyone on my staff at DOC, most of whom I had not met since the team had only recently moved to me. I’m not sure that helped either, but it was heartfelt and they responded in kind.
Around 2:00 in the afternoon I found myself alone in my office and reflecting. I did not know the daily environment that Executive Director Clements worked within. But, I have experienced a glimpse. I have visited several of the correctional facilities in Colorado, checking out the technology and trying to understand their needs. It is not the same world you and I live in. While we normally protect our internal assets, trying to prevent outsiders from getting in, the world of corrections is just the opposite. The people in corrections try to prevent insiders from getting out.
During my visits, I had counted the number of mantraps as I entered a maximum security prison (seven in my recollection). I had heard the rattle of the steel as it locked me further into its confines and felt a bit of a chill. I had experienced the immediate claustrophobia of standing in the bright white cell of a solitary confinement pod, where only the worst of the worst are kept. I had waved to a guard with a gun pointed at my head as my escort opened the trunk of our car so the guard could see there were not prisoners holding us hostage as we drove out of the facility.
These are experiences I will never ever forget.
I am the first to admit that I get frustrated, even angry, with the bureaucracy of government. We are sometimes our own worst enemy. But, in my short year and a half tenure, I have met the people who serve the public for the greater good. They are committed to a job that often saves lives. A job that protects lives. Child welfare. Public safety. Food assistance. Medicaid. Unemployment. Corrections.
Reimagine life without these services because we could not find people willing to lead them. Granted, there is danger everywhere. But, it is not everyday you have a guard pointing a gun at you because they are trying to protect both you and the public from a potential hostage situation. Not everyday unless you work at the Department of Corrections.
Goodbye, Executive Director Clements. And thank you.