Corrections Officer, Cheshire County (NH) Department of Corrections
"With an end to prohibition, drug users become safer, law enforcement becomes safer, and community members are safer."
Jenny Vanderbilt has spent her career helping people with substance abuse problems, both as a counselor and a corrections officer. After spending five years working primarily with adult men on parole for a long-term residential substance abuse program, she earned her certification as a Master Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor and began working with inmates. She currently is in charge of facilitating groups and counseling for inmates at a county jail in Keene, New Hampshire, where she is also a certified corrections officer.
While Jenny has always felt that prohibition was a failure, what she describes as her “epiphany moment” came in the form of a tragic overdose. “Bad drugs caused the death of a 25-year-old father,” she says. “It was a preventable death. If these drugs were regulated, he would still be alive. I was so angry that we lost this kid. I was so angry that people are dying out there and it felt like nothing was getting done. And then I remembered I could join LEAP.”
In her view, anyone who breaks the law should face consequences, but people have an obligation to change bad laws. “If anyone is going to change this, it has to be my generation,” says Jenny, who joined LEAP in 2013 while still in her twenties. “I feel as if I have an obligation to advocate for a change in laws that don’t make sense to me. This does not mean that I condone drug use or lawbreaking behavior; it means that I believe in helping society to change for the better. In this case, I can put meaning to this young man’s death by advocating for legalization and regulation. I think of the times when inmates get contraband in the facility and the police officers who have to deal with gun violence because of drug trafficking. With an end to prohibition, drug users become safer, law enforcement becomes safer, and community members are safer.”
Jenny holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and sociology with a women’s studies minor from Franklin Pierce College and a master’s degree in human services with a concentration in mental health counseling. She also teaches courses on addiction counseling and chemical dependency diagnosis as an adjunct lecturer at Keene State College.