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01-27-2005, 09:26 AM
Corrections career tough, but rewarding

When Donald A. Cabana came here in 1973 from a position at Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, many of us were impressed with his enthusiasm and desire to get things accomplished in corrections.

"I was a little wet behind the ears but I had a lot of vim and vigor," he recalled in a phone interview from Hattiesburg, where he has just become chairman of the criminal justice department at the University of Southern Mississippi. "I was just getting started, and I have fond memories of working in probation and parole and having a family in Gautier."

Cabana and his wife, Miriam, a nursing supervisor at Singing River Hospital for six years, have six children, including two sets of boy-girl twins, and four grandchildren.

He has made a positive difference wherever he has been. His 30-year career in corrections has taken him to Florida, Missouri and eventually back to Parchman.

"I remember how well versed Don Cabana was in criminal justice and incarceration," recalled retired Circuit Court Judge Darwin Maples. "He was good at his job, a man who knew what needed to be done and how to do it."

A baby boomer, born in 1945 in Lowell, Mass., Cabana earned a degree in criminology at Northeastern University, which recognized its outstanding alumnus in October, and then a masters in criminal justice and a doctorate in education, both at USM.

"I had some great experiences early in my career on the Coast," he said. "I even did some consulting on building the county's Adult Detention Center. I told them then it wasn't big enough."

Cabana was particularly honored when then-Gov. Bill Allain named him commissioner of the Department of Corrections.

"I have been extremely blessed, but it has not been an easy career," said Cabana, especially the last eight months when he had to oversee a radical reorganization.

Corrections officials credit the superintendent of the 18,000-acre prison at Parchman with helping save the state as much as $8.5 million a year.

"It was my toughest eight months," said Cabana. "We down-sized and managed to do it without endangering the public or staff. The operation is more efficient."

When he had a chance to come back to academia, he said it was time for the next person "to turn the corner and put the morale back together."

He returned to a USM program that is poised to take off in the forensic science field that we see so much about on television dramas.

"Students will be able to earn advanced degrees in forensic science which is so critical for crime labs," he said. "This will filter down to solving crimes and making an impact as communities fight crime."

Cabana supervises the department but also will put to use his 30 years of experience to teach criminal justice. "I certainly plan to find time for kids in the classroom."