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Roselie Gus 'Just Ducky' After 30 Years in Corrections

August 28, 2017

By Rachel Friederich

DOC Communications

portrait of Roselie

Roselie Gus is 'just ducky' after 30 years spent serving the state of Washington with the Department of Corrections (Rachel Friederich, DOC Communications)

TUMWATER – If you ask Roselie Gus to describe what her 30 year career in corrections was like, she'll always say, "just ducky."

The saying speaks to her ability to be resilient in life. Her biggest obstacle was intergenerational poverty. First with her own mother, then experiencing it as a young mother to her three children.

She initially took a temporary job at the Department of Labor & Industries in Tacoma, Wash. for seven months to make ends meet. This helped her land a position as an entry-level clerk typist at the former McNeil Island Corrections Center. She didn't expect it to lead to a career spanning three decades within the same state agency that would make her a pioneer in the emerging field of information technology.

"I let life lead me, that's why I'm always ducky,"' Gus says. "When it rains, it just rolls off a duck's back and he just sits there riding the waves. Wherever I end up being, I'll do the best job I can in that place."

Gus is retiring from state service on Aug. 31.

McNeil Island

Gus worked for 12 years at McNeil Island and held four positions, including clerk typist 2 and 3, correctional records specialist, and correctional mental health counselor.

Much of her job as a clerk typist 2 for the records office involved maintaining inmate files, ensuring their paperwork was accurate and complete. As a clerk typist 3 in the cell house she transcribed behavioral interviews between inmates and correctional staff. As a records specialist, Gus processed transfer paperwork and verified sentencing information was accurate. When she promoted to mental health counselor, she carried a small caseload of inmates.

Gus said being a young woman working among some 1,700 male inmates didn't bother her. She was never worried about harassment because "that's no different than what you would encounter on the street. Here, I felt safer because there were officers nearby. I can't guarantee there's going to be an officer if someone is harassing me on the street corner."

That sense of fearlessness and professionalism came in handy during a disturbance at the prison in the mid-1990s involving around 150 inmates. The department transferred the inmates involved to other prisons across the state. Gus and a colleague, Patti March, worked through the night to ensure each inmate's file was complete and the proper transfer paperwork was sent with the inmate to his new facility.

"We wore several hats that night in making arrangements and facilitating the transfer," said March, a former data entry operator at the prison. "It was a very long night, but we made it happen."

Gus also served as a union shop steward for employees, taking grievances to management and making sure management followed rules in decision-making. The experience made Gus a good listener to those experiencing conflict. It helped her get a job as a correctional mental health counselor in the prison's mental health unit.

Counseling those who could be experiencing the highest levels of depression or anxiety might be daunting to most people, but Gus says she enjoyed the work because "I helped them (inmates) improve their outlook on life. It was the opportunity to help someone, sitting with them, talking through life plans and making an impact on their lives."

Transition to Tech

Gus was a correctional mental health counselor for nearly two years, until she sustained a foot injury that put her on disability. She could no longer stay on her feet for long periods of time, so she returned to the records office for a couple of years. March, who is now an IT specialist with the department's network services, suggested she apply for a job at headquarters in Olympia.

In 1999, Gus took an "in-training" job with the department's IT help desk. She began with simple tasks, such as changing passwords, handling employees' network systems access, and assisting in resolving hardware and software issues.

Over the years, the work got more complex. She promoted to an IT specialist, and eventually became an IT supervisor. She also was a part of the Offender Management Network Information (OMNI) team that planned, tested, and launched the new inmate record-keeping computer program, OMNI, which replaced Offender-Based Transaction System (OBTS).

When Gus began working in the IT unit, the Help Desk only had four employees, but as technology progressed the Help Desk grew to more than 20 people. Today, a total of 180 people work in the agency's IT unit statewide, of which 48, or approximately 26.6 percent, are women.

In 2009, Gus learned HTML and CSS coding as a new member of the websites team and was instrumental in developing and posting content for the agency's websites. She is retiring as a web developer in the department's communications division.

Michael Pearson, interim deputy chief information officer, is one of Gus' former supervisors. He says a growing unit with many employees who have differing personalities can sometimes lead to disagreements, but Gus was always able to diffuse a stressful situation.

"With Roselie, you'll laugh a lot," Pearson said. "She has that infectious smile. Even when things get rough, she could turn it around and remind us we were going to get through it."

The Future

Gus plans on writing a book, From the Heart of Journey's End, which is inspired by her own life experiences. She's also going to help design a website for her friend and international motivational speaker, Khurshida Begum. Begum has spoken to thousands of people at conferences and forums about her experience with human trafficking. Gus met her through Toastmasters International, a non-profit organization that helps people improve communication, public speaking, and leadership skills. The organization has thousands of local clubs across the world. Gus has been a member of several Thurston County clubs since 2004, helping to mentor and coach Toastmaster members and establish new clubs.

Asked where the new journey will take her, she replies, "I'm just ducky. I'll end up where I'm supposed to be."