At yesterday’s celebration of Stillwater Prison’s 100 year anniversary, I saw many friends and colleagues who I worked with at Stillwater Prison and Oak Park Heights Prison: corrections officers, sergeants, lieutenants, casemanagers, captains, associate wardens, wardens, deputy commissioners, commissioners, chaplains, teachers, maintenance staff, industry staff, personnel staff and medical staff. So many mentors! So many teachers! Many of whom I had not seen in a long time so this event, which brought us together, was truly a gift.
A lot of memories came flooding back yesterday. I started my corrections career at Stillwater on December 1976; the prison was going through a rough time then, with a lot of gang activity and violence. Most of the violence was inmate-to-inmate but there were also some serious staff assaults. The cell halls were very large with more than 300 inmates and an evening shift of 4 or 5 officers. I learned some invaluable skills there: how to observe, how to listen, the value of common sense, but most importantly, how to communicate.
I remember vividly one night as I was heading home, a good friend and fellow officer asked if he could talk to me. I said sure. He said he was going to tell me something that would make me mad. I told him to go ahead. He then told me when I spoke to inmates I talked down to them. Well … he was right! I was mad, very mad. But during the ride home I calmed down and figured out he was right and went about changing my attitude and behavior. I am grateful to him for being honest with me because he was the catalyst for a change in me that lead to a wonderful and meaningful 30-year career.
After five years at Stillwater I transferred to Oak Park Heights, the new SuperMax facility a half-mile away, and worked there for the next 25 years. But I am still grateful to Stillwater for the foundation and tools those years gave me!