I am pretty sure my high school English teacher was at least fifty years of age when she was born. For the rest of us a period of childhood was mandatory. We all experienced night sweats over appearing in public partially clothed or forgetting to complete our homework. It may appear there are perfect teenagers who have clear skin and clear consciences. However, no one escapes the excruciating agony of youth’s bad fortune and bad judgment. That is why societies have always made special arrangements for childhood indiscretions. And that is why Posey County has Juvenile Probation Officer Shawnna Rigsby.
Shawnna stands as a five-foot tall Colossus of Rhodes between the Scylla of juvenile detention and the Charybdis of adult prison. She is our legal system’s cartilage between the adult world of responsibility and our acknowledgement that those under eighteen are as green in their brains as they are in their bones.
Of course, youngsters can cause great harm to others or themselves if their behavior is not monitored and modified. Society must protect itself even while recognizing the need to apply different standards to those who life has not yet seasoned. These two equally important goals are Shawnna’s mandates.
For fourteen years as a member of the Posey Circuit Court staff Shawnna has received countless late night calls from police officers, mental health workers, caseworkers with the Department of Family and Children, school officials and the public requiring her to drop whatever she was doing, sleeping for example, and deal with emergency situations such as fights, drugs, run-a-ways and bad parents whenever children needed care and shelter.
Indiana law does not allow children, in most cases, to be placed in jail. There are a few cases, serious crimes such as murder or rape for example, where a person less than eighteen can be housed with adults. These are extremely rare incidences in our small county and require the judge’s approval. Usually, Shawnna must seek safe and proper housing for children other than jail.
Shawnna has valid credentials for her job and proof that she knows how to rear children. She and her husband Heath have a daughter, Lexie, who is currently practicing law and a son, Cameron, who is attending classes at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Shawnna helps Heath who is the General Manger and Golf Professional at Mt. Vernon’s Western Hills Country Club. Together Shawnna and Heath help families throughout our county.
As Shawnna puts it:
“I basically have one job: Keeping the youth of Posey County out of the Department of Corrections. And we do everything within our means to do that. We help. We rehabilitate. We tell them life doesn’t have to be this hard; that they have the ability to change anytime they choose. We help make things better. But it isn’t all sunshine, rainbows and unicorns. Some children require a bit more convincing that it’s always best to do the right thing. And we can do that too.”
Gentle Reader, you and I remember what Shawnna experiences every day:
“And sometimes it means putting them on house arrest or in secure detention to help them understand that society will not tolerate violent criminal behavior. But mostly, we remember that the juvenile brain is not like an adult brain. And juveniles are forever making dumb decisions. Really, really stupid decisions. And we try to keep those dumb decisions at a minimum until they are about 25 and their brains are finally done. And we live for the days when they walk into the office and say ‘Whoa! I was an idiot! Thank you.’ And again, I think, ‘Man, I love this job.’”
Finally, most people walk out of Shawnna’s office with the words, “I hope I never see you again!” and she always heartily agrees!