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Twenty-four years and counting: Meet Red Wing's new warden

Shon Thieren knew being the Department of Correction warden was what he wanted to do since day one. Kit Murray/RiverTown Multimedia1 / 3
Built in 1889, the historic building has been home to male juvenile and adult offenders in Red Wing, providing support and treatment to help guide them toward success. Submitted photo by Jamie Swenning2 / 3
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When a job has a strong sense of community, not only with the staff but for those who reside there, it can be hard to tear away from it. For Shon Thieren, he experienced just that.

In 1993, Thieren was an intern at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Red Wing. Going on to fill positions such as recreational therapist, correction supervisor and associate warden of operation, the new warden says his job is all about the big-picture approach.

"I was at the right spot at the right time," Thieren said. "I knew day one this was what I wanted to do."

Since February, Thieren's new role as warden comes with an endless to-do list, just like every staff member at the facility.

"I make sure all the tasks are happening," he said. This means watching the little details too, like ensuring students are dressed for cold weather during winter months. The biggest thing, Thieren says, is to make sure he is there to help create an environment that will make the offenders want to make the change.

"You can't just come in and do a job with juveniles," he said. "You have to want to help the youth and provide the right opportunities."

Red Wing houses both male adult and juvenile offenders, currently with approximately 100 youths and 43 adults. Alongside Thieren are almost 200 staff at the facility, who he says are extremely dedicated, crediting them for his loyalty to the location.

Recently, Red Wing has seen numbers start to decrease for inmates' length of stay, showing progress and improvement. Studies indicated that inmates had been staying for up to 16 months when best practice states they should stay no more than a year at the facility.

By continuing to focus on individualized treatment and stronger relationships between staff and offenders, Thieren says the facility will be able to provide the young men and adults skill sets that last.

The inmates at Red Wing live together, whether it be at Princeton, Yale, Brown, Cornell, Harvard or Stanford — the cottages for juveniles at the location — or Knox, the adult cottage. They are put into peer groups to work as a team, helping improve their relationships and social skills.

"They are very much involved, there is almost no downtime," Thieren said.

Each day on the schedule is one hour of recreation and leisure time, from playing basketball to practicing yoga, along with education classes and meals together with their peer groups. During a family-style dinner, staff will sit and eat with students, helping contribute to stronger relationships. Community service is a big part of their agenda as well.

The facility also provides a strong sense of support for those in need, offering grief groups, mental health trauma and mentors to maintain a safe community.

Rich history

In 1889, Red Wing constructed it's all-male Minnesota Correctional Facility, located near the Mississippi River off of Highway 61. A year later, the Minnesota State Reform School relocated to Red Wing and formally opened in 1891. While the original site was in St. Paul, it was ultimately too crowded and in dire need of repair.

Red Wing currently houses the only facility in Minnesota with both juvenile and adult services; nine other adult locations are located around the state.

With a four-level custody classification system for adult facilities, Minnesota scales security for their facilities from level two to five. Red Wing holds minimum security offenders, or level two. The scale increases to medium, close and maximum. Each facility is different but holds the common foundation of providing treatment, education and transition services, whether it be court-ordered probation or as a result of being committed.

Today, the nearly 130-year-old historic buildings are home to residents who are working hard, whether it be toward their diploma by learning trade skills or building the skill sets that guide them in the direction of change. From cognitive behavior training to skill development and relapse prevention, the amount of free time for offenders and staff is sparse.

"I had the opportunity to work for the past 24 years with a phenomenal staff through that entire process," Thieren said. "And I see this as a way for me to pass on some of the skills and knowledge that I've learned to ensure that what we do here at Red Wing continues to benefit the youths under our care."

Kit Murray

Kit Murray joined Red Wing Republican Eagle in Aug. 2016, covering government, transportation and public safety. She is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead with a degree in photojournalism and philosophy. 

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