For Dr. Tracy Johnson, working in Wisconsin’s prisons is a “dream job.”
A psychologist in the state prison system for the past 20 years, Tracy described her career to the Waunakee Rotary Club at the Feb. 23 meeting.
Tracy never thought she’d want to work in a prison, she said, but learned that she could be hired without a license. With her newly earned Ph. D, she needed a year of experience to get that license.
She was offered the job on the spot at the Waupun prison, and she called it a great learning experience.
“There’s never a dull moment,” she said.
She also has a chance to treat people of all ages, from 16 to 83.
“You get every age range, ethnic background and from all walks of life,” she said. Bankers and factory workers can serve sentences side by side.
She also learned just how many mentally ill people are serving sentences – about 25 percent of the prison population. In the 1960s, laws were passed to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill, and many have since ended up behind bars.
“There is a great need for psychologists in prison,” Tracy said. “These people will be released. Most will be returning to the community.”
Tracy has worked in both maximum security and medium security prisons. For the past five years, she has been in a supervisory role and is now able to make some policy changes.
She has met alone, one-on-one with murderers, rapists, psychopaths and sex offenders who are in individual and group therapy.
Tracy has become effective in crisis management, she said, recalling her first brush with it early in her career. She suddenly heard herself being paged to Unit 20, and when she arrived, she encountered a “jumper,” a suicidal prisoner about to leap to his death.
“I think I was shaking the entire time,” Tracy said. “I was able the talk to him, and the situation was resolved.”
Tracy also loves working within an multi-disciplinary team with doctors, nurses and prison staff, she said.
Now, she is the part-time manager for the juvenile prison system, along with working as a part-time supervisor for psychologists at a prison in Prairie du Chien.
With devastating newspaper reports about the Lincoln Hills juvenile prison facility, Tracy was reluctant to take the management position, she said, until a friend told her should work toward a solution.
“It’s been incredibly rewarding,” she said. “We’ve made so many changes at Lincoln.”
One Rotarian asked about solitary confinement and whether its use should be continued. Tracy responded that some inmates are so violent and aggressive, they pose a threat to others’ safety.
“Every time you let them out, they hurt somebody,” she said, recalling an incident where one morning at 6 a.m., a glitch in the security system allowed all doors to open. Immediately, an inmate left his cell, grabbed the first weapon he could find, and went to another inmate’s cell to attack him, all caught on video.
“That’s how violent he was. It does have its place,” Tracy said.

Other News:
•Todd Scheffler, who is helping to lead a capital campaign for improvements at Warrior Stadium, gave an update of the work so far. The campaign will fund artificial turf to replace the grass football field, allowing it to be used more often and throughout the spring, summer and fall. Currently, 300 students use the field. Once it’s completed, more than 1,000 students will be able to use it, including the marching band.
Guests: ???
Visiting Rotarians: None.
Greeters: March 2, Bob Pulvermacher and Corey Randl; March 9, Tom Roepke and David Rupp; March 16, Bob Sachtjen and Todd Schmidt.