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Communication Insights

My Communication Experience While Interning with Maryland’s Parole & Probation

By: Kevin Sheahin

CMAT-495: Maryland Division of Parole & Probation Internship

Having a younger brother who has spent time in a Maryland Juvenile Facility for

involvement in multiple different crimes, exposed myself and the rest of my family to

what is known as our criminal justice system. The encounters with the law sparked

curiosity in regards to what those within the criminal justice career field actually do. This

curiosity led directly to me applying for and obtaining an Internship with Maryland’s

Division of Parole and Probation. Before going into this Internship, I had a very vague

idea of what Parole and Probation is, and what Parole and Probation Agents do. Upon

arrival at my internship, I immediately realized that my previous thoughts on this part of

the criminal justice system were not entirely correct, and at that moment, I knew I was

going to learn something new and valuable. I learned how crucial communication is to

this particular career within the criminal justice sphere, and how having good

communication skills is almost a necessity if you want to be successful in this particular

field. With that said, the purpose of this essay is to thoroughly explain my internship

experiences as well as explain why I choose to pursue this Internship, and to reiterate the

importance of certain aspects of human communication that pertained to my Internship. I

specifically will go in-depth on how important non-verbal communication, verbal

communication, and small-group communication (team-work) is in regards to being a

Parole/Probation Agent.

Before my brothers run ins with the law, my family and myself never really

explored the ins and outs of our criminal justice system. With this said, and before I go

any further, it is important to understand what the broad term, “the criminal justice

system” entails. This term entails a multitude of different law enforcement related

agencies/organizations throughout the United States, that are intact to serve the citizens
of the country, and to uphold the laws. Once my brother began to get involved in criminal

activities, I took particular interests in researching different aspects of our American

criminal justice system. I primarily focused on arguably the most visible part of the

system, that being the Police Officers. I would venture to say that I was probably most

interested in learning about how Police Officers operated because of how constantly my

family was in contact with Officers due to my younger brother. After doing lots of

research on how Police operated, and what the purpose of the Police is, I began to aspire

to become a Police Officer. Usually encounters with the Police sway people from

becoming a Police Officer, but in my case, it was the opposite effect. With knowledge of

one part of a vast system, I thought it would be a great idea to explore an internship with

an aspect of the criminal justice system that I wasn’t too familiar with. The drive to learn

a different aspect of the system is what drove me to pursue and obtain an internship

position with Maryland’s Division of Parole and Probation.

Parole and Probation are essentially alternatives for someone being incarcerated

for a crime. Now, the distinct difference between the two terms is that being on Parole

means that a person has spent some time in prison, but is being granted the opportunity to

serve the rest of their sentence by being released back into society, and being supervised

by a Parole/Probation Agent. Probation refers to someone who has been granted the

opportunity to forgo prison time, and go right to being supervised by a Probation Agent.

Those on Parole/Probation have been charged with various different offenses ranging in

severity of the actually crime (From murder to drug possession), and ranging in how

much time the crime they committed carries (6 months jail-time to 20 years prison time).

With that said, and needless to say, there are many different personality traits/types of
those who are on Parole/Probation, as well as outlooks in regards to why one may feel

why they are on Parole/Probation in the first place. There are those who show no remorse

for their actions and believe that they did nothing wrong, and then there are those who

understand they made a mistake, and are working to better themselves as human-beings.

One of the most important things that I will take away from my internship experience,

and something that I didn’t honestly know before completing my internship is how

important having communication skills truly is. You have to constantly tailor your

communication type and language to every individual that you encounter because of the

various people that you deal with on a daily basis. This profession relies on obtaining

accurate information from an offender, and if you do not know how to communicate

verbally or non-verbally with that given offender, you could miss some very important

details that are required in writing a case-report. Without further ado, it’s time to dive

into the importance of non-verbal communication in relation to this unique profession.

Arguably one of the most overlooked aspects of human communication is the use

of non-verbal communication. I learned in my Interpersonal Communications (CMAT-

205) class that non-verbal communication is estimated to account for 65% to 93% of

meaning in communication interactions. In other words, non-verbal communication plays

a substantial role in sending and receiving communication based messages. A huge part

of a Parole/Probation Agents job is to sit down face-to-face with offenders and have an

interview, as well as just constantly having open communication with the offender while

they are under supervision. These interviews between offenders and Parole/Probation

Agents minimally occur once a week, and at max every day of the week. There are

numerous types of non-verbal communication, but while completing my internship, there

were a couple of types that were really important if you are a Parole/Probation Agent.

The first type of non-verbal communication that I learned is important to

Parole/Probation Agents is what is called affective nonverbal communication. Affective

nonverbal communication refers to communication through the facial expressions such as

giving off different types of emotions through this avenue. I learned constantly

throughout my internship how important being able to decipher and create

communication through facial expressions truly is. As I mentioned before, there is

constant face-to-face interaction between offenders and Parole/Probation Agents, and

with that said, I learned that one can immediately tell how someone is feeling on a

particular day based on the first few seconds of interaction by using affective nonverbal

communication when you meet with an offender. One example of affective nonverbal

communication playing a role during my internship was when I was tasked with

interviewing the offenders. At this particular point throughout my internship, the

offenders and myself had gotten to know each other pretty well. I knew how each

offender typically interacting with people and how each offender generally would

respond to things. In this particular example, I was tasked with interviewing an offender

who more often than not was very outgoing and extremely respectful towards people.

Once I had confirmation that this offender was in the lobby waiting for me to come call

his name and take him to my office, I went out to greet this offender. Based off of

previous interactions and getting to know this offender, I assumed he would greet me

with a positive facial expression, but on this day, that was not the case. I immediately

noticed that this offender had a very angry and fluttered facial expression. I knew at this

moment, it was my job to make sure that everything was okay with this offender in
regards to his well-being, and if this offender was still abiding by his supervision terms.

Once sitting down with the offender, I made sure to give off open facial expressions that

let the offender know I was open to conversate and to show that I cared about his well-

being. After a few moments of no response from the offender, he eventually opened up

and said that one of his friends in the neighborhood had overdosed the night before,

which is why he was giving off those particular facial expressions. This goes to show

how important this aspect of nonverbal communication is because if an Agent or myself

had misinterpreted this offenders’ facial expressions to be disrespectful towards myself or

an Agent, the interview would have been completely unproductive and no one would

have known the reason for the offender being uncooperative. One common

misconception about Parole/Probation is that Agents are there to constantly find ways

that an offender has violated their terms of Parole/Probation. This thought could not be

further from the truth. I learned that the main purpose of Parole/Probation is for Agents to

help aid in transitioning offenders into becoming productive, positive members of the

community. After realizing this, I was extremely proud of being a part of an

agency/organization that wanted to help better peoples lives.

The second nonverbal communication type that is vital in understanding if one is

a Parole/Probation Agent is what is referred to as kinesics. Kinesics refer to body

movement and gestures within a communication context. I learned what kinesics is and

what it entails in an interpersonal communication class (CMAT-205). One thing that I

was extremely surprised at was how well all of the Agents I shadowed and worked with

were at reading someone’s body language. Kinesics is similar to affective nonverbal

communication in some regards, but kinesics is unique in regards to everyone has

different bodily gestures that symbolize and mean different things. One person would

cross their arms and to that person that means that he is happy/comfortable, and then

another person could have their arms crossed and for that person that would mean he is

hiding something or being deceitful. Again, what makes this profession so unique is how

frequent you need to be able to read these nonverbal communication messages, and how

you have to be correct in your deciphering. One Wednesday when I was shadowing

interviews with Agent Hall who works with sex offenders, the importance of being able

to understand kinesics came into play. The particular sex offender that was being

interview had a long history of drug use and police contact, and was very good at hiding

any new violations he had committed. During the interview, this offender was constantly

moving around, having his arms crossed, and overall could not sit still. It was as if the

offender was having a medical issue. The entire time this was occurring, I was watching

Agent Hall essentially sit back and watch this offenders’ movements and gestures, and I

could see it in Agent Hall’s face that she knew something was up with this particular

offender. Agent Hall proceeded to ask the offender if there was anything that he wanted

to tell her about, and Agent Hall did this more than one time giving the offender plenty of

chances to come clean. Once the offender left, Agent Hall was notified by the local

Police Department that the offender had been charged with theft, and Agent Hall

immediately called that offender and explained that she was now aware of the situation,

and told the offender that she was not happy about him being deceitful. If Agent Hall

wasn’t able to read and understand kinesics, this offender could have continued to

commit other crimes until he was apprehended by the Police which could have taken

anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

The second aspect of human communication that I learned is vital in

understanding in this professional is what is commonly known as verbal communication.

I learned in an interpersonal communication (CMAT-205) class that language and

meanings within a verbal context can vary based off of culture, geography, and life

experience. Being a Parole/Probation Agent, you come into contact with people from all

over the country, from other country’s/cultures, and with people who speak different

languages which creates language barriers and overall obstacles when attempting to

communicate. Not only did I learn that it is important for Parole/Probation Agents to be

cognizant of this, it is also very important for the offender to understand how important

language and verbal communication is. Throughout my internship experience, I sat in on

many Court hearings, and I found that more often than not the offenders that had positive

confident kinesics, affective nonverbal communication, and most importantly an

understanding of how to use formal and proper English when addressing a Judge, more

times than not had the best possible outcomes occur for themselves in their cases. If an

offender did not use respectful language and decided that they wanted to start to use

profanity towards the Judge or someone else in the Courtroom, the Judge typically

seemed to sentence a strict punishment against that given offender. To counter that, it is

of utmost importance that a Parole/Probation Agent can understand and also use language

to communicate with their offenders because of the diverse background of offenders. For

example, it is not uncommon for an offender to actually speak an entirely different

language. At one point during my internship experience, I sat down on an interview

between a Parole/Probation Agent and an offender who only spoke Spanish. The

Parole/Probation Agent immediately realized that this offender did not know how to
speak English, so what the Agent did was contact an interpreter so that a proper line of

communication could occur between the offender and the Agent. This was extremely

vital in making sure that the proper information was obtained for both parties in this

instance. One other example of being able to adapt to different language and dialect

occurred while I was with Agent Hall. The offender on this particular day had a very

limited vocabulary and educational background, which often led to misunderstanding on

his behalf if Agent Hall used words/terms that he did not understand. Agent Hall realized

this, and decided to use terms that she knew that he would understand, and went into

great detail to make sure that there was complete clarity in discussing the terms of this

particular offender’s parole. This ability to go above and beyond in regards to making

sure your offender is being properly treated goes to show the character of the employees

in Maryland’s Division of Parole & Probation.

The third and final crucial aspect of human communication that I was exposed to

and learned was that it’s very important to possess the ability to communicate effectively

within small groups. Specifically, being able to adopt a teamwork mentality and have

open and positive communication between other employees, supervisors, and outside

Law Enforcement Agencies. I learned how to communicate in small groups and the

importance of teamwork from my time in a small group discussion class (CMAT-310).

There were numerous examples of team work coming into play. One particular reason it

is imperative to know how to work in team is because Parole/Probation Agents constantly

exchange offenders and cases, and it is vital to be able to provide necessary information

about an offender and their case to the Agent who is going to be supervising that

offender. Parole/Probation Agents are constantly going to court, and while at court they
are in constant discussion with the States Attorney and other Agents in regards to how the

Court should go about either prosecuting an offender, or on the positive side of the

spectrum, how the Court should go about ended the terms of one’s probation/parole. This

teamwork mentality and ability to work in small groups is very appealing to me. Gaining

experience in working in a team environment will without a doubt benefit me in a Law

Enforcement Career, and certainly reinforces to myself that I am making the right choice

in regards to my career choice because of my drive to work in an environment that

emphasizes the importance of this mentality.

These three aspects of human communication that I learned firsthand while at my

internship will only be of positive benefit to myself in my Law Enforcement career

because of the pure interpersonal communication that occurs every second. With that

said, understanding the dynamics of non-verbal communication, verbal communication,

and small-group communication (team-work) is of utmost importance if one wants to be

successful Parole/Probation Agent. It was interesting to see how what I learned in my

academic career supported what I saw throughout my internship, and having the

academic aspect without a doubt aided me throughout my experience as well. I am

certainly proud of interning for an agency that seeks to help people, and seeks to help the

local community too. I learned so much about how essential communication is, about

myself, and about the criminal justice system that I did not know beforehand. That was

what I wanted out of this experience, and I got that and more. I cannot say enough

positive things about the people I worked with, they truly were phenomenal human-

being, and each of them inspire me to be the best person that I can be. One of the most

important things that I will take away from this experience is the realization that it takes
special people to want to pursue a career in the criminal justice system. It truly is a

selfless career path with minimal financial rewards, but at the end of the day, one can say

that they left this world in better shape than what it was when they entered into the

profession, and that giving back to your community and country is priceless.