A pane of bulletproof glass keeps a receptionist safe in Diamond Bar, Ca. It’s in keeping with the museum’s subject: the California parole system, reports the Los Angeles Times. “We didn’t have many choices,” said Parole Agent Paul Toma of the museum, which is inside an administrative building at the Department of Corrections. “With our funding, there weren’t a lot of places we could go.” Toma, 47, fought for 14 years to create a place dedicated to his often-overlooked profession. He he became a parole agent 17 years ago after working as a prison guard.
What eventually became the T.H. Pendergast California Parole Museum began in 1990 as a pile in Toma’s office. On his days off, he interviewed retired parole officers and waded through their dusty attics. He found old photos, early department documents, badges, even a dictionary of prison slang from 1951. Finally, in 2001, after a decade of lobbying, Toma won $50,000 in funding from the Legislature.
The museum finally opened in October. It has a handful of visitors each month, mostly retirees and high school classes. Visits are by appointment only. Photos show parolees in various stages of the system: in prison, before a parole board, back in society. The tour includes a PowerPoint presentation on the history of parole: from the first state prison – housed in a rotting three-masted ship in the 1850s – to the creation of a parole system in 1893 because of overcrowding.