Early in my career as a probation officer I was assigned a caseload of intellectually and developmentally delayed sex offenders. Yes, you heard that correctly. I had no idea how I would respond to this population or if I was even emotionally prepared to do this job. I remember my first offender well and I remember his offense all too well. When he entered my office, my professionalism and training kicked in and I had no problem supervising him. What didn’t occur to me was that I was about to deal with my own emotional trauma as I began thinking about the victim all throughout the day. Where was this victim now and was the victim living a normal life after what had happened? I found myself even praying for this victim each night.

Over time I learned how to use these feelings to my advantage and I believe I became a better officer as a result. My empathy for the victim made it possible for me to do my job. I was willing to carry that with me in order to focus on this individual whom I had to see at least four times per month, including visits in his home. I wanted to fix this problem. I wanted to figure out what caused people to victimize others and fix it. Our sex offender population is one to the most difficult populations in the field to understand and at times, to supervise. Add intellectual and developmental delays and you can only imagine what it must be like. Yet, our officers are still willing to do it. It is not a glamourous job, it does not always pay well, but they still do it. They do it for the victims, they do it for the community and they do it because it makes a difference.

I once heard someone refer to probation officers as heroes. I have been called a lot of things in this profession, but never a hero. But, I thought about what it means to be a hero. Heroes provide a service to the community. They take action on behalf of those who need them. Our probation officers work with broken and angry people. They work with people who don’t want to see them, but need to see them. They are in the business of changing human behavior. They walk with people through their struggles and at times advocate for our victims. This comes with an emotional price to our officers. Are they heroes? I sure think so.