Mower’s transporter; Retired juvenile worker now serving as a driver
Published 10:11 am Tuesday, August 25, 2015
A radio is one of Denny Shatek’s most effective tools of the trade.
As a driver with Mower County Correctional Services and Health and Human Services, Shatek often encounters juveniles at their most vulnerable — right out of the emotions of court and on their way to a treatment or placement facility.
“That’s a very effective tool in calming, music is,” Shatek said of simply turning on the radio.
Email newsletter signup
In 2008, Shatek, 69, was asked to be one of the county’s six part-time drivers, and he’s since become one of the first called on to drive.
“He’s usually our first call for help,” Correctional Services Director Steve King said.
Shatek has a background in the business. He was a child counselor for 22 years at the Minnesota Sheriff’s Youth Programs, commonly called the boys ranch, where he ran the work program for about 15 years.
“I like to keep my hand in the juvenile system,” Shatek said. “I’ve worked with juveniles for so long.”
Shatek’s industry experience hasn’t been lost on his passengers. While drivers need frequent availability, King also said they must build a good rapport with the young people and have empathy.
“He’s so darn responsive and he just really seems to like his job,” King said.
‘I get to know these kids’
Shatek frequently drives juveniles and young adults, but he also transports adults from jail to treatment facilities.
His most frequent trips are to the Olmsted County Juvenile Detention Center, formerly called Many Rivers, along with facilities in Lino Lakes, Willmar, Duluth, Red Wing, Grand Forks, southern Iowa and more.
Some drives can be quiet, but Shatek is always willing to talk during a transport.
Shatek said juveniles often trust him, because he’s not a cop or a parent. Shatek usually lets the children start talking first. With his background in juvenile work, he can answer their questions and try to ease their fears about their situation and what to expect at a facility.
“Going to Willmar’s a four-hour drive, so I get to know these kids,” Shatek said.
Shatek remembers talking to one young adult the entire drive to a treatment facility as the man told him about why he was going treatment — for his newborn daughter.
“I explained to him, ‘Well, you have to do it for yourself first,’” Shatek said.
Shatek has seen the man several times around town since, and he often thanks Shatek for his help.
The juveniles Shatek drives are on probation for a variety of reasons: behavioral issues, chemical dependency, thefts and more. Many come from single-parent homes without much structure. “They need guidance,” Shatek said.
“A lot of these kids don’t have a structured home,” Shatek said. “So they need some structure to get their life back on track and that’s the hope of placement.”
Part of his work at the boys ranch was to provide that structure, and Shatek is still a stout believer in such correctional work.
The juveniles in the work program would do work for elderly residents, the city and other groups around town.
“All these kids did was work, except for the four hours they went to go to school,” Shatek said.
Today, Shatek’s former workers thank him for his work in the program. Many say the program helped them learn about caring for and taking care of others.
‘In the clutch’
Despite being referred to as volunteer drivers, Shatek and other drivers are paid. However, Shatek’s services cost $13 an hour, while the same drive would cost a sheriff’s deputy about $80 an hour, along with taking the deputy away from other duties, according to King.
“We’d just as soon do it this way by a long stretch and save time and money,” King said.
However, some juveniles require a deputy for transport with the security.
Shatek can get called into work at any time. A few years ago, he was called around 2 p.m. on the Fourth of July for a transport, and he’s commonly called in the middle of the night.
More often than not, Shatek grabs his gear bag and goes to work.
“He just comes through in the clutch,” King said.
When making a Corrections transport, juveniles are required to be in handcuffs, but Health and Human Services kids are not restrained. Shatek carries a bag with shackles, handcuffs, pepper spray — which he’s never used — a spit mask, a GPS and other various equipment.
The workload varies. Sometimes in a two-week pay period he’ll work zero or just a few hours. Other times he’s worked more than 30.
Shatek typically uses one of two vehicles: a 2006 Dodge Durango with a cage and a 2008 Dodge Durango with no cage, both former sheriff’s cars now owned by Corrections. The children are kept in the car with childproof locks.
A key tool
Especially after leaving court, Shatek said juveniles can be emotionally charged. But once in the car, Shatek said the curtain is down and the show is over.
Usually, he tries to de-escalate or calm the situation based on his experience in the business.
“You’ve got to have some tools with these kids,” Shatek said.
Music is a key tool. If a juvenile asks politely to listen to a station, Shatek will usually turn it on.
“If I got kids that I transport time and time again, I know what station they like. I’ll turn that on, and that’s kind of a pacifier,” Shatek said.
The most popular stations are 106.9 KROC out of Rochester or 101.3 KDWB in the Twin Cities. When Shatek picks, he’ll often turn on KFAN 100.3 for sports radio.
But Shatek’s approach can be like tough love. He admits he’ll be blunt with his passengers by reminding them they got themselves into the situation; it’s not the fault of the judge, probation officer or anyone else.
“You wouldn’t be in this car unless you did wrong,” Shatek will tell them as he tells them to take advantage of the tools they’re going to learn at a placement or treatment.
Sometimes he just listens if a juvenile opens up.
“You hope that you maybe reach them,” Shatek said.
Shatek will tell a probation officer or someone at the facility what he learns over the drive.
Early on, Shatek knew some of the children and their history after working with them at the boys ranch. Now he’s transporting some of their children.
There can be frustrating moments, especially when Shatek sees repeat juveniles who excel in the structure of a placement but slip into the same routine after going home.
But there’s success too. He still gets people coming, many wanting to tell him, “I’m doing good.” Shatek almost always commends them for turning things around.
“A pat on the back goes a long ways in keeping them straight,” Shatek said.