Cañon City author’s book recognizes pioneering female prison wardens

Exhibit recognizing the women will be on display at Museum of Colorado Prisons through October

By Sara Knuth
The Daily Record

Dr. Susan Jones
Dr. Susan Jones, author of ‘The Faces of Change: The Women Wardens of Colorado,’ speaks to a crowd Thursday during a book signing at the Museum of Colorado Prisons. (Sara Knuth / Daily Record)

After Susan Jones found out she was pregnant, she kept it hidden for months.

“We hid my pregnancy from my family, even,” she said. “We didn’t tell anyone for several months because we didn’t know if I was going to get fired because this had never happened.”

When she finally told her warden — while she was working as a correctional officer in 1985 — “He said, ‘But corrections officers don’t get pregnant.’ That was his response,” Jones said, adding that he told her that he would get back to her. “He said, ‘Keep that between you and me.'”

“Up to and including today, he has never yet gotten back to me.”

It’s stories like those that Jones tells in her book, “The Faces of Change: The Women Wardens of Colorado.” Jones, who later became a warden herself, followed the stories of five of Colorado’s first female prison wardens, including that of Wallis Parmenter, the first woman to earn the same pay and title as male wardens.

Jones told some of those stories Thursday during a book signing at the Museum of Colorado Prisons. Several of the pioneering female wardens attended the signing, sharing stories of their own.

Parmenter, who became a warden at Rifle Correctional Center, earned equal pay as a warden in 1984 and eventually became inspector general. But it wasn’t always easy.

When she was working as a warden, a police chief confronted her about her work, she said.

“He said, ‘Let me tell you one thing, little missy: You’ve got no business in my business,'” Parmenter said. “I said, ‘If I prove you wrong, will you be man enough to admit it?’ And he did. That made me feel so good.”

Jones said it’s important to keep stories like those alive for new generations of correctional officers.

“It’s really about capturing history. This book is really about history,” she said.”Each of these women changed part of their department, but as a group, they changed the course of our system. And I think people would be remiss if they missed that point. It’s a different Department of Corrections — thank goodness — than 1985.”

For Jones, who was the warden at the San Carlos Correctional Facility, LaVista Correctional Facility, Colorado State Penitentiary, Centennial Correctional Facility and Fremont Correctional Facility, her own struggle with hiding her pregnancy — and wearing baggy clothing instead of a maternity uniform — later translated to her work as a warden.

Under the care of female wardens in 2010, the department began purchasing maternity uniforms in bulk for female officers.

“It may seem like a minor thing, but when you’re talking about something so basic as a maternity uniform that we still have to figure out every time, and it’s a crisis every time, it’s demoralizing because then you’re causing all this trouble for the admin,” she said.

Jones added: “Now it’s kind of a funny story, but at the time it was anything but fun. Can you imagine your daughter telling her warden she got pregnant before she tells you?” Jones said. “That’s the situation we were in because we were really worried about my future employment because we hadn’t gone down this road before.”

Stacey Cline, the director of the Museum of Colorado Prisons, said an exhibit of the pioneering female wardens will be on display through October.

“With corrections, just think — we started here in 1871,” Cline said. “One hundred years and a woman finally gets the rank of associate warden. Anytime there’s a first, I think that needs to be recognized.”

Jones, who has the distinction of the first pregnant correctional officer in Colorado, later earned her doctorate from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. She currently lives in Cañon City with her husband.

Her book is available to purchase on Amazon and at the Museum of Colorado Prisons, 201 First St.

“I hope the women wardens today can say, ‘I’ve never been treated any differently because I’m a woman,'” Jones said. “It didn’t come easily. It came on the backs of all the women we talked about here. They each contributed something toward that. And I don’t want to lose that.”

Sara Knuth: 719-276-7644,