It’s funny, these things that affect us as children. Perhaps some things that we took for granted, they can affect our development even in ways we might not be aware of.
The right support, the right education, the right role models can lay the foundation for a prosperous adulthood. And healthy development can cause us to aspire to goals, inspire others and reach our full potentials.
With a Catholic education, a state championship and a history of inspirational influencers propping her up, Tina Litz has ascended to the top of her profession, at least locally. Recently, Litz, a former Lebanon Catholic girls’ basketball star, became the first female warden of the Lebanon County Correctional Facility.
“I think the message is that grit and hard work pays off,” said Litz. “It’s old school. I’m grateful for the sacrifices my parents made to send me to Lebanon Catholic. I’m grateful for my coaches. I’m grateful for the people who took time from their busy schedules to invest in me, and now I can give back.
“There was a period of putting my time in and paying my dues,” continued Litz. “I didn’t just walk into the facility one day and become the first female warden of the Lebanon County Correctional Facility. I developed. But I don’t look at myself as the captain of the team. I don’t know all the answers, but I know where to get them. There are a lot of smart people who work in this facility. But I put my time in and I was disciplined within my team.”
On Monday, February 8th, Litz took over as warden, after Robert Karnes retired following a 40-year career at the Lebanon County Correctional Facility, the last half of which was spent as warden. Litz, a 1994 graduate of Lebanon Catholic High School, has enjoyed a similar, lengthy career at the Lebanon County Correctional Facility.
She began working at the prison part-time at the age of 19, while attending York College, where she earned a degree in criminal justice. Before becoming the warden, Litz had served the Lebanon County Correctional Facility in a number of roles, including its deputy warden of treatment in the drug and alcohol program for the last seven years.
“I knew for about a year that the current warden was retiring,” said Litz. “I knew I was going to be in the running. I also knew it was going to be a tough call for the county commissioners. You know how you compete, you compete, you compete? Well, I won, which means now we’ve got some work to do. Down here, it’s still like a team philosophy. No matter who was going to be the captain of the team, we were going to function as a team.
“The warden plays many roles in the correctional facility, and the county,” added Litz. “We have to work with parole, the D.A.’s office and the county commissioners. We have to make sure the inmate population is taken care of, and their needs are met. We have to make sure the community is safe. What wardens do is surround themselves with people who are smarter than them. To be a good warden, you have to strike a good balance between people work and paper work.”
In her role as warden, Litz also oversees a staff of 125 Lebanon County Correctional facility employees. Currently, there are about 285 inmates incarcerated at the prison, a number that’s down by nearly half since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis almost a year ago.
“It was around 2015 when Warden Karnes promoted me to be the first director of training,” said Litz. “It provided me an opportunity to develop trust with my co-workers. The male staff bought into the idea of having a female in the position. Once I realized I could do it and got the buy-in from the staff, I think it was at that point I thought, ‘If I can do this, what else can I do?'”
“I have been very lucky in my career to have many mentors and coaches,” continued Litz. “I often talked to (Lebanon Catholic head coach, Patti) Mrs. Hower during the course of my promotion. I attribute a lot to the coaches who pushed me.”
Litz learned many of those values of team work, work ethic and structure as a basketball player under Hower at Lebanon Catholic in the early 1990s. Not necessarily a big-time scorer, Litz was a fundamentally sound player who would do whatever it took for the team to succeed.
A four-year starter, Litz was a big part of Beaver teams which compiled an overall record of 99-16 during her career. Litz was a member of Lebanon Catholic teams that won three District Three Class A titles and the PIAA Class A championship in 1991-92.
“I have very fond memories of Lebanon Catholic,” said Litz, a 44-year-old resident of South Lebanon and the mother of two. “It was always like a rollercoaster. You would work and you’d win a lot of games, but then you’d show up at practice the next day like you had lost your previous game. The coaches never allowed us to think we were better than we were. It was like, ‘right back to the drawing board’. You were always re-evaluating and developing a strategic plan, and I think that’s helped me in this environment. You have to have that investment.
“I feel like the discipline, the accountability we had, were the biggest things I took away from my Catholic education,” Litz continued. “My parents worked hard to give us a Catholic education. My parents always had a strong work ethic. With basketball, you had to make the grades to play.”
Upon her graduation from Lebanon Catholic, Litz matriculated to York College, where she played basketball and earned her degree in criminal justice. She began working at the Lebanon County Correctional Facility while attending college, with few preconceived notions of where her career might take her.
“I feel that part has sunk in yet,” said Litz, of being the County prison’s first female warden. “When our team won a state championship, all I knew was our team knew how to win. All these people made a big fuss about us. We just did what we did at Lebanon Catholic. I don’t look at it like a gender thing. If you don’t know something, you get an answer. Part of me is just glad my kids have seen my hard work. I’ve had to miss some family time, but the hard work has paid off.
“It (being Lebanon County Correctional Facility’s first female warden) does give me a sense of pride, just because of the work ethic,” added Litz. “It also sets a tone that women have a place in the correctional field and the prison system. Sometimes, females can bring a different perspective or conversation to the table. I do hope I am setting a standard. I went and got the same degree as everybody else. I feel like it doesn’t matter what the gender is. I never picked the easy way out, and I wanted to earn the respect from the staff.”
In her own special way, Litz is also helping to keep the spirit of Lebanon Catholic alive. At the end of April, 2020, Lebanon Catholic School was closed by the diocese of Harrisburg because of financial hardships.
“It was a gut punch,” said Litz. “It was like in (19)94 when we lost in the eastern finals. My two children were attending Lebanon Catholic at the time. It left a bad taste in my mouth. I just feel like there was a better way to do it. It’s a terrible loss for the community.”
Litz may also be the last female warden of the Lebanon County Correctional Facility that Lebanon Catholic ever produced.