Sandy Burnam describes her career as a "great ride" filled with rewarding experiences. During her 30 years in corrections, Burnam held a variety of positions, including caseworker; parole officer; director of parole; superintendent of several schools; and deputy director of the Texas Youth Commission (TYC).
"I feel very fortunate to have had the career I have," says Burnam, who retired in 1998. "It's hard to say what position I enjoyed the most because each was unique."
Juvenile corrections has been a part of Burnam's career since her senior year of college. While completing her sociology degree at West Texas State University, Burnam was a volunteer at the Randall County Sheriff's Department, where she worked with teen-age girls.
After graduation, Burnam applied for a probation job in Amarillo, Texas. Although she was told she did not have enough experience for that job, the probation officer with whom she interviewed suggested she apply at TYC. Burnam took that advice and soon began her career with TYC as a caseworker at the Gainesville State School. Thirty years later, Burnam retired from TYC as deputy director.
During her career, Burnam was the first female superintendent of both Brownwood School and Giddings State School. She also was the first woman to supervise both girls and boys on parole.
As deputy director of TYC, Burnam played a big part in establishing its resocialization program. In 1995, TYC adopted the philosophy that youthful residents must take responsibility for their behavior. This phase-progressive, competency-based program has four cornerstones: correctional therapy, education, work and discipline training.
"Kids cannot come to TYC and just do their time," says Burnam. "They must take responsibility for their offenses and figure out how their offenses and behavior are alike and what triggers this behavior."
During her career, Burnam tried to keep the balance of creating a safe environment for youths while also holding them responsible for their actions. She feels it is important that youths take responsibility for their behavior and realize that there are victims. "They have to recognize that they left somebody, somewhere, a victim," says Burnam.
At the same time, Burnam believes it is imperative that each child or young adult feels safe -- no matter what his or her offense. "Creating a safe environment is key because in order to take...