When We’re United, Anything Is Possible

For the last six years, Heather Hansen has worked as a Corrections Counselor at MCF-Togo, also known as the “Thistledew Camp" and a proud member of AFSCME Local 3887. She said, “For the first time in my life, I was making a livable wage and able to provide good medical insurance for my family. Working here has given me a sense of purpose that I’d never thought I would experience. My ability to empathize has increased working with the offenders in the CIP program and I quickly learned how to hold the men accountable while also establishing appropriate boundaries to encourage growth and change through connection and compassion.” This program was slated to close, but the collective power of our union successfully fought back the proposed closures. If additional closures are proposed affecting any part of our membership, our union will be ready to stand together in solidarity on behalf of all Minnesotans. 

Offenders going through the Challenge Incarceration Program do restorative justice work by providing assistance to the community and local non-profits as well as jobs within the facility itself. The program teaches offenders how to be responsible, productive, and engaged in their journey to become rehabilitated and transformed. The CIP program has a proven track record of success and has saved our state millions of dollars. 

Officer Hansen further explained: “I have been able to share my love of nature and use it to help men step out of their comfort zones. I was born and raised in northern MN. This is home, but I have lived in the Twin Cities. I found the constant fast pace of the metro to be extremely stressful and overwhelming. I found myself retreating to one of the green spaces as often as I could, but it wasn’t enough. I needed more than to visit nature on the weekends… I needed to live in it. Now, when life gets stressful and overwhelming, I just step outside; I listen to the birds and the frogs, feel the wind or the rain or the sunshine. I have worked through many issues while floating on my back, in the still of night, on a lake smooth as glass, with nothing to see but stars. Nature heals.” 

Correctional officers like Heather and community members stood together in solidarity and their collective action is emblematic of what we as union members are called to do in this time of turmoil: Stand up for public services and the people of Minnesota. They signed petitions, wrote incredibly personal letters to legislative leaders and Governor Walz and put up hundreds of yard signs and window clings declaring "Save Our Jobs." They also rallied their neighbors and attended public events. The good fight workers like Heather waged proves how the AFSCME Green Machine works when our members take action: We get results!

While for now, we saved these livable wage jobs in Northern Minnesota and protected a program that positively impacts the lives of thousands of offenders, we know that our work must continue.

The Impact

If the plans for the closure of the Togo and Willow River facilities had moved forward, over 100 brave men and women’s lives would have been forcibly uprooted. “We were going to be forced to move from the communities we love in order to keep our retirement, health care, and livable wages,” said Heather. “This work is part of who I am, making a difference in the lives of those that society often views as disposable and gives me purpose to keep going. This is one of the many reasons why it is important to me that MCF-Togo and Willow River stay open and grow -for these workers in Northern Minnesota, our communities and the offenders who have lived successful lives once they re enter society and return home. If plans come forward to propose additional closures, we will be back to stand up for our fellow brothers and sisters and live up to our union values."

"AFSCME Council 5 proudly stands beside the 43,000 members of our union as we work together to rebuild our new future rooted in social, economic and racial justice, protecting and investing in public services and holding elected officials accountable to our shared values as the working-class," said AFSCME Council 5 Executive Director Julie Bleyhl. "There will be tough days ahead as we face a growing budget deficit and increased uncertainty, but if we are united on behalf of our membership and our labor movement, then we can accomplish anything."