Marsha G. Maloff describes herself as a quiet, unassuming, nonassertive woman, who once aspired to a career in dance.
The entry under her photo in the University of Maryland yearbook might have read "least likely to wind up running a correctional facility."
For the past 10 years as administrator at the Central Laundry Facility, a minimum-security prison for men near Sykesville, she has done the least likely most competently.
"An opportunity comes along and you take it," she said. "It's not planned. It just evolves."
At 44, she still dances ballet and jazz routines for recreation and relaxation. It helps her balance a high-stress job with marriage and motherhood.
One of the first women to work in the state corrections system, she slipped into her career while "looking for something in the social work or psychology field."
Shortly after graduating from College Park in 1970, Ms. Maloff took the state's professional careers test and landed a job as classification counselor at the Maryland Reception Diagnostic Center receiving men into the corrections system.
"Either you have the personality to continue a career in the corrections system or you get out," she said. "I stayed because I found prison is a small version of society at large, where a close environment accentuates problems."
Only the second female counselor to work for the Department of Corrections, she said she felt "in the forefront of a male-dominated field."
"I never felt any gender discrimination," she said. "The men on staff pushed women to pursue their careers and advance through the department in a way that is a credit to all who work here."
As a counselor preparing admissions summaries, she soon learned a lesson that she still uses as a motto.
"I had that social worker orientation: Fix them and make them into law-abiding citizens," she said. "It's frustrating, but you realize you can't change a person. Change happens within a personality."
After two years at the reception center, she became a parole-probation agent in Southwest Baltimore.
"That was a real education and a different side of the coin," she said. "I saw people confined and then I saw them in the community."
By 1979, she had become director of the Mutual Agreement Program, which helped inmates map out their rehabilitation plans.
Four years and a master's degree later, she was placed in charge of 192 inmates at the Central Laundry. The state has since built a 256-bed housing unit and increased the facility's population to nearly 500.
The "vast majority" of prisoners were involved in substance abuse on the streets, she said.
"Without drugs and alcohol, the prisons would be empty," she said.
She finds the work a daily challenge and never uses "bored and job" in the same sentence. With support from a staff of nearly 100, she oversees inmate safety, control and security as well as food and medical services, housing and sanitation. She also signs all records and recommendations.
"If I ever broke my hand or forgot how to sign my name, I might be out of a job," she said with a laugh.
"I spend a lot more time than I would like in the office, but I work closely with my supervisors," she said, referring to top aides who keep her informed of any problems.
A Sykesville resident, Ms. Maloff said she and her husband, Robert Urban, have "joined the community 100 percent."
"I have a vested interest in the Central Laundry and its role in the community," she said. "I am certainly not going to let anything hurt the community I live in."