When Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral was appointed by acting Gov. Jane Swift in 2002, she became the first female sheriff in the Commonwealth.
In this role, Cabral oversees roughly 2,5000 offenders at the Nashua Street Jail and the South Bay House of Corrections. On Greater Boston’s 1 Guest series, she opened up about growing up in Rhode Island, the book that inspired her to become a prosecutor, and some of the proudest moments of her career in criminal justice.
East Providence childhood
Cabral grew up in East Providence, the middle of three children.
“There’s 5 years between my older sister and I and 7 years between my younger brother and I,” said Cabral. “So our parents sort of had the luxury of raising us as almost only children because there was so much time in between.”
Cabral said this age difference allowed her and her siblings to develop their own identities.
“Because there was so much time in between we each have our own distinctive personalities. We [were] very much allowed to be who we were growing up.”
A bookworm with a taste for true crime
Cabral admitted she was a bookworm as a young child.
“I always loved reading,” she said. “My mother could drop me off at a library if she had to run her errands. … She could drop me off at 8:30 and pick me up at 4:00 and when she came back I was still sitting there with a table full of books."
Cabral credited one book in particular — Vincent Bugliosi’s "Helter Skelter," about the gruesome Manson family murders — with steering her towards a career in law enforcement.
She was captivated by the depiction of “this prosecutor facing the challenge not just of getting a jury to convict on these horrific murders, someone who literally wasn't present when they occurred, but having to describe to them the nature of this entanglement between him and these young men and women that he had go and kill for him,” said Cabral. “The challenge of that is just fascinating for me … I was very influenced by that.”
Although it caused a furor with her boss, then–Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, Cabral felt confident about the work she did prosecuting a case involving blockades at abortion clinics. To make things more complicated, two of the people she was prosecuting were priests and wanted to appear in court dressed in their clerical garb.
“The courtroom is supposed to be a level playing field and there were multiple defendants in this case. The one thing you don't want is for one defendant to come in cloaked with what appears to be more deference by others in the courtroom,” said Cabral. “I remain to this day very proud of the work I did on that case."