OUR TOWN: John Rei retires from community corrections

John Rei, manager of community corrections in Smithers with the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, is set to retire.

John Rei

John Rei

It was happenstance, many years ago, but John Rei smiles when he recalls the moment that would define his career.

The serendipitous moment came at the end of his fourth year in university.

Rei, about to graduate from the University of British Columbia with a BA in psychology, saw a job posting for a probation officer.

“That’s sounds interesting,” Rei said was his reaction to the posting.

But Rei wasn’t ready to start working and set off to do other things, including travelling through Europe.

After travelling, Rei worked as a youth worker for the municipality of Richmond, B.C. and had occasion to work with a probation officer which tweaked his memory about the job posting he had seen while in university.

As fate would have it, Rei saw another posting for a probation officer. This time he applied and as they say, the rest is history.

Following a four-month training period, both in the classroom and in the field, Rei began his career as a probation officer.

Now, more than three decades later, Rei, manager of community corrections in Smithers with the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, is set to retire.

“On the whole, as a probation officer and now as a manager of the office, it has been a fantastic job,” Rei said.

With many years experience as a probation officer, Rei honed his skills, especially conducting interviews, which is a big part of a probation officer’s job.

“Lots of digging and asking questions of people who sometimes really don’t want to answer the questions,” he said.

The biggest challenge faced by probation officers, Rei said, is clients who don’t take ownership of their problems, but do a lot of finger pointing.

“The challenge is to try and get them to accept they need to make some changes otherwise they’re going to end up back in court or jail,” Rei said.

“In these cases gains are made in baby steps.”

Regardless of how they got to sit in front of Rei, he said every client is treated equally, treated with respect.

On their side of the desk, probation officers also have to model proper behaviour which means remaining calm and respectful even when the client is being less than respectful in the tone and volume of their voice.

Patience and the ability to deal with stress in a healthy fashion are key characteristics of a probation officer, Rei said.

Senior Probation Officer, Heather Canuel said Rei had those qualities in spades.

“He’s a calming influence, nothing really ruffles his feathers,” she said.

“He’s a very honourable, compassionate man and his integrity would never be questioned.

“He’s one of the best men I’ve ever met.”

It is a fine line, Rei admitted, because a probation officer wears two hats, councilor and a support role as well as a peace officer’s hat, with the responsibility of a client’s compliance with court orders and if they don’t comply taking action.

“It’s a real skill to wear both hats,” he said

“Sometimes clients have a difficult time with that.”

Another challenge, as with many vocations in helping people, is separating work from home and social life, but Rei eventually figured it out with the help of his wife, Pat Jones.

“Huge,” Rei said to describe Pat’s influence on his success.

“She’s been very supportive, and understanding of the occasional bad day and the need for confidentiality when talking about the bad day.

“But we’ve also had an understanding that home and work are separate areas.”

Despite the challenges, being a probation officer has its rewards, Rei said.

He mentions one client he met up with while he was out shopping. The client had been working at the same job for two years, was married and had children.

“He told me life was good and that I played a part in that,” Rei shared.

“That feels good, that’s very rewarding to see those changes.”

For Rei, another rewarding aspect of working as a probation officer in Smithers, is the people he has worked with.

Rei described his co-workers as talented and skillful and working and learning with them has been a pleasure.

“Sure there have been bad days and down times, but for the most part I’ve enjoyed this job  and the biggest part of that has been the people I work with,” he said.

Rei also recalls an incident involving another probation officer which he described as very traumatic.

Rei remembers fondly how co-workers immediately stepped up to lend their unconditional support.

As for retirement plans Rei said there are no definite plans, with one exception.

He’s been advised to make sure his bags are packed on a certain day because he is going to be taking a plane.

Where the plane ride will lead him, he doesn’t know.

“There’s lots of places I’d like to go, but I have no idea what’s going to happen,” he said.

Rei did admit he’s looking forward to catching up on some reading and when the weather eventually warms up he is planning on spending more time hiking through the bush.

“I’ve been known to throw the occasional line in the water and hope that nothing bites,” he said with a chuckle.

As for what he’ll miss the most about his job, Rei was quick with an answer.

“I will miss the people,” he said.