Two Cedar Rapids brothers pursue careers in criminal justice. Yet one puts the offenders away, while his younger brother oversees punishment and prepares them to rejoin society.
Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden and his brother, Bruce Vander Sanden, director of 6th Judicial District Department of Correctional Services, admitted they don’t always agree. But both have gained insight into the other’s job.
Bruce, 47, said in the early days it was helpful to have his brother in the county attorney’s office to “pick his brain” on the court process and justice system.
“It always caused me to reflect, and sometimes challenge, the way I thought about the criminal justice system,” Bruce said.
Jerry, 56, said he and Bruce “talk shop” often, and it has made him realize “what I do at the courthouse has a ripple effect. It has made me see a different point of view.”
Because of their age difference, they didn’t become close until Bruce was out of college, but they followed similar paths. Jerry went to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville for his undergraduate degree and then the University of Iowa Law School. Bruce received his undergraduate degree at the UI and his master’s at Wisconsin-Platteville.
They also both thought about being police officers but then decided on the law and corrections.
The brothers even lived together for a few years before both were married. Each served as the other’s best man at their weddings.
Jerry got Bruce his first job in corrections as a residential officer. Later, Bruce returned the favor. He didn’t get Jerry a job but got him involved in a new sport at the age of 35 – rugby.
Both played on a city team and Bruce, who was faster, boasted about assisting Jerry the first time he made a goal.
Jerry said he didn’t know why both chose the criminal justice field as their father, Gerald Sr., was in the restaurant business. But their parents wanted them to obtain a college education and had made sacrifices so they could.
“I was thinking about this, and it’s not such anomaly because we all started at the bottom in our careers and worked our way up,” Jerry said. “Dad worked at Bishops Buffet (a now-closed Cedar Rapids restaurant). He started out as a busboy, and then 37 years later retired as the president of the company.
“We won the parents lottery. They both taught us about work ethic, motivation, ambition and, above all, integrity.”
Jerry said he knew whatever Bruce chose to go into that he would excel because he is self-motivated and ambitious.
“He always had a job starting with his own lawnmowing business when he was a teen, and then working construction and other jobs through college,” Jerry said.
Bruce said he looked up to Jerry while growing up, and admitted his brother’s career path probably influenced his own.
While in college, he recalled one night when he answered the phone and someone Jerry sent to jail was looking for him. The man was calling Jerry to thank him because after his arrest he changed his life.
Bruce said the only time there was possibility for conflict was when Bruce was a probation officer and he would face Jerry in court over an offender’s probation revocation.
“Sometimes the defense would cry foul because they would think we were in cahoots with each other,” Bruce said. “There were times we didn’t see eye to eye, and we didn’t change our positions because we were brothers.”
Jerry said the offender was probably “distressed to learn that the probation officer was the brother of the prosecuting attorney.”