I arrive at the IRCSO Corrections campus close to 4:30 pm on a Friday and report to Major Selby Strickland. He is in charge of the jail. My plan is to stay until about 10 pm. My goal is to just soak in as much as I can while getting lots of photos and interviews. So, keep in mind, there is more to know about Corrections and the jail. My offering here is a just the slice of life I am about to experience!
I only wait a few moments before he comes out of his office and we head toward the main jail. As we arrive, they are preparing for dinner time. There is no inmate dining room. Instead the meals are brought to the blocks.
Down the long hallway ahead of us are lines of large food carts manned by inmates. There are food warmers inside to keep the meals hot. They are waiting but nothing is moving yet.
“We are waiting for the inmate count to clear,” says Major Strickland. “The shift change is at 4 pm and at that time we count inmates in the building. Once clear, we go right into feeding.”
“Each of these inmates has responsibilities and specific jobs,” says Major Strickland.
He explains that 70% in the jail are not sentenced. They are detainees, awaiting sentence. They could be found not guilty.
“But once they are sentenced, in a year or less they become eligible to be a trustee,” he says. “We give them a medical screening to be sure they are fit to work, and we put them in positions they have experience in already. We match skills with the job. Many inmates want to work. It makes the time go by a little faster.”
We make our way to the kitchen, which is markedly clean and bright, and smells of cooked food and Clorox, a good combination for an industrial kitchen such as this one.
“Deputies count all the trays going out and make sure nothing is in any of the containers or food carts other than meals,” says Major Strickland. “Breakfast is at 5:30 am and lunch is at 11:30 am. Lunch is usually cold – a sandwich. Then dinner is hot. Sometimes they have a hot breakfast and sometimes cold. The meals add up to 2,500 calories a day.”
Running the kitchen is a smiling, friendly person named Mabel Patterson. She is an outside contractor with Aramark Food Service.
“I have been with Aramark Food Service management for 7 years,” she says, beaming. “I have been moving around within the company and then the position here became available, so I took it!”
Her attitude of being happy to be working at the jail, I would soon find, is a common one among the IRCSO Corrections staff. I was already feeling a good vibe there.
We leave the kitchen and we make our way to the staff dining area. It is inviting and I notice that, just like in many areas of IRCSO, there are sky scenes on the overhead lights and ceiling tiles which give a sense of openness. There are not many windows, and Corrections staff work 8-hour shifts and sometimes double shifts. They can’t leave the jail once on shift, so these little touches must really help their mental state, I would imagine. It was making me feel calm anyway!
“Anyone who works in Corrections only has time to come down and have something to eat and then go back to the post, so we provide this for them,” says Major Strickland.
That night’s staff dinner is already in the buffet and consists of a mouth-watering BBQ chicken, rice, corn and salad. Just then, Mabel Patterson comes walking through.
That chicken looks and smells good, I tell her.
“I put love in it,” she replies.
Major Strickland tells me we will come back and I can have some of that BBQ chicken! I am in agreement. But for now, we are walking to another area of the jail.
“Corrections is the largest division of IRC Sheriff’s Office with 170 employees just on our side,” says Major Stickland. “Plus we have volunteers, contracted employees, nurses and so forth.”
We turn a corner - there are endless hallways and corners – and we meet Deputy Katherine Asaro. She has been with IRCSO for 8 years and in corrections almost 15 years. Deputy Asaro is one of two training officers on the shift who train the new employees. I find out she is a local, from Sebastian. She is the first of many people I will meet who are from our County, home-grown and here serving! I think that is a beautiful thing. I am here back in my hometown too, so maybe that is why it resonates with me. Anyway, I love it especially because they are here serving in such a substantial and important way, and I am grateful. I call 911 and they come to my rescue. How great is that?
“I get asked all the time, why do we do this?” she says. “I just enjoy it. Every day is different. You never know what you are walking into and I love it.”
I learn that there are 5 buildings in the jail brimming with activity at all times, except when meals are going on and everything shuts down. We are making our way to E Building, one of three open-style dorms that can hold up to 64 trustees together in one open space. One unarmed deputy sits at the desk inside! Of course, he or she has major backup ready to run in should trouble arise, but still, the idea of having that job would be daunting to me.
“This is definitely when your verbal skills come in handy,” Major Strickland exclaims.
Just outside E Building, we see Deputy Joe Mathis. Guess what? He was born and raised in Gifford, Florida! Another hometown hero. He has been with IRCSO for 6 years. Like many in Corrections, he started with the Florida Department of Corrections and was with them for 2 years before coming home to Indian River County.
I ask him why he serves.
“I want to show the kids in this community that you can be from here and be successful,” he says. “I am just trying to help the community. I do it for the kids so that they know – growing up in this area you don’t have to go down the wrong path. You can choose the right path and be on the right side of the gate. As long as they know that, then everything isn’t gloom. There is a way out.”
Major Strickland adds, “Deputy Mathis is one of our stars on the IRCSO basketball team. His awards are upstairs. He won’t tell you that though.” They both laugh. The IRCSO basketball team plays in various community events throughout the year to raise money for charity.
We walk into E Building, into the open space of the dorm. Dinner is over, and the trustees have begun the cleanup portion of their evening. It is a giant wide open room with extremely tall ceilings and high windows which show the real sky. There are tables and cots throughout the room. I feel a good vibe in there. I don’t feel scared, although I am quite aware of what a spectacle I must be, the only woman in room full of male inmates, clad in cameras and recording devices.
All around me is activity. Everyone was busy and productive and they seemed actually happy, as happy as one can be doing time. I think of the adage ‘idle hands are the devil’s workshop’ and the inspiration to ‘whistle while you work.’
“This building opened in September of 2007,” says Major Strickland. “The concept was they would have enough room to build out 2000 beds eventually, all the while hoping we would never need that. And the jail population has dropped quite a bit so that’s good. We haven’t been using it which is a big savings to IRCSO.”
I find out they just recently re-opened it to house inmates while the main original jail is renovated.
“The original jail was built in 1986 and is used 24 hours a day, so it has really needed updating. We are replacing all of the locks, vents, ceiling tiles and refurbishing the showers.”
Note: As of this post, the work has been completed.
We walk across the entire space of the open dorm to the desk to meet Deputy Quinton Williams who tells me he has been with IRCSO for right around one year now. Before that he was with Brevard County for two years.
“Deputy Williams is also one of our basketball team stars,” points out Major Strickland.
“I have been around law enforcement and the military my whole life so I knew it was something I wanted to do,” says Deputy Williams. “This is not a job you can be complacent about. You have to be on your toes all the time. It always changes and is very unpredictable. And exciting!”
I ask how it feels to be in here by himself. I can already see from his style – friendly but completely in control – that he is right for the job.
“Some situations in here may seem a little uncomfortable because you don’t really know what the outcome is going to be, but in most cases you can control the situation. You just make sure you get everything in your hands and that’s it. And know that backup is a radio call away.”
Major Strickland adds, “They have a lot of responsibility out here because you’ve got people trying you all the time.”
“Yes, and they could turn at any time,” says Deputy Williams. “Somebody may have a bad phone call or somebody else gets on their nerves, and you don’t know what their reaction is going to be. You don’t know when you are going to work if you are going to get involved in an altercation that is physical and you may not make it home. But the group of people I work with on this shift – I know they’ve got my back!”
I note how the noise level is good, even somewhat quiet.
Deputy Williams continues, “When I am out here, I just keep down the chatter. I just try to walk around and ask everybody how they’re doing. You may not know if somebody may be having a bad night and you say ‘I need you to do this’ and they just go from 0 to 100. So I just try to walk around every so often. I make sure I do a security check. You know somebody could be lying up on their bunk not breathing. You never know. So I go around and make sure everybody is still intact.”
There are cameras everywhere with multiple sets of eyes constantly watching in case anything happens. Just think right now as you read this, no matter what time of day or night it is, those cameras are on and eyes are watching with everyone’s safety – officers and inmates alike - the top priority. The cameras also provide the evidence which can be reviewed if there is an altercation. They tell me how incidents between inmates dropped dramatically as soon as the cameras arrived. I learn and we will see at the end of this story that there is a command center – like a ‘situation room’ - where they can watch live video and review footage of nearly every corner, inch, nook and cranny of the whole jail, all on two large monitors.
“If we ever have a critical incident in the jail, then we are able to go up there and view it first-hand,” says Major Strickland.
He goes on to explain the evening routine to me. “Usually after they eat, we designate certain inmates to clean up the entire building. We also search the entire building. We do a search of the bunks. We have them flip over their mats, pull out their bins. Afterward, they can sit, play cards, reach, talk, watch TV. This dorm has a basketball court for recreation and releasing stress. Around this time when the kitchen trustees are coming back, we have the laundry and cleanup trustees go out to work to clean the rest of the jail. All the while we have visitations going on over the video monitors. If they see a visitor come up on the screen, everybody will yell ‘viso, viso.’ So they pretty much keep each other on their toes. This is one of the more laid back areas out here because they know if they get in trouble they could lose their potential gain time and privileges. They like being out here.”
Regarding television, everybody watches the same channel. IRCSO also uses it to broadcast notices to the inmates, including bonds coming up. The TVs are paid for by the inmates! Each inmate pays a $10 booking fee and $2 per day that follows. IRCSO retains 32 cents of every dollar inmates spend in the commissary. Each inmate pays $2.40 for a 20 minute phone call and IRCSO receives an 81% commission on that. All of this goes into the Inmate Welfare Fund, which is what pays for televisions, inmate clothing, the GED program, cleaning supplies, the video visitation system… basically anything that benefits the inmates. It adds up to about $35,000 a month in revenue. IRCSO spends that instead of tax dollars for these purposes.
As we turn to walk out of E Building, we hear, “Major! Major! Want to take a photo of this? It’s Vero Beach, Gifford and Ft. Pierce - we can all get along in jail!”
We turn to see three happy looking guys sitting in a row together.
I ask Major Strickland if I can take the photo. He looks at the three men and says, “As long as you are willing – absolutely.” They are.
Now others from all around the room are shouting, asking to have their photos taken! I hope I don’t start a riot! We keep moving toward the exit and then I hear a distinct, deep voice over my left shoulder saying, “Take a photo of my bed.”
I turn to see a tall, thin, older man. He is gesturing toward a perfectly made cot which could easily pass the bounce-the-quarter test you would expect to see in military boot camp.
“You know, I do it like that,” he says. “And you see that Bible? You need to make sure you get a picture of that Bible!”
Placed horizontally across the pillow is a bible. It is open to the book of Luke. The part about how no servant can serve two masters.
I see him and the Major shake hands and ask if I could take their photo. They say yes. Awesome, I say. Thank you. “Glad to be of service,” says the tall man.
We head back to the original part of the jail and pass above an area where we can look down into smaller dorms containing men in red jumpsuits.
“These are our maximum custody inmates – murder charges, capital sexual battery. The ones that could get life in prison, and even possibly the death penalty. We have had people come back on death row for appeals. One was here for two and a half years before he went back.”
As I look down I think, Diana Duve’s alleged killer is there. The McDonald’s stabber, too.
He points out that these maximum custody dorms are usually the quietest. “They don’t have anything to prove to anyone else and they have lots of time ahead.”
Now we head to the mental health wing where they detain those inmates with mental health issues.
“Our mental health workers are greatly helping us at the jail,” says the Major. “Those people that would have been normally incarcerated are getting assistance from the mental health system. In fact, we are about to have the first graduation from mental health court!”
The mental health wing is a narrow area with 14 holding cells. Honestly, it was creepy. It is the only place in the jail I did not feel that good vibe… except that is for Deputy Jeffrey Wolski who was on duty in the wing, proof that in every dark place there is always a light!
“This area has more challenges than the other buildings,” he says. “It’s quiet right now but a lot of the time these guys come in here and start banging on the walls and doors. A lot of people in here, some of them have serious mental issues. Some throw and wipe their feces everywhere. It gets pretty ugly up here. Others come in because they are afraid and say they are going to hurt themselves to get off the main lot. Some do need help and we try to give it to them. Others know the game and they play it.”
Deputy Wolski came to IRCSO in November 2014. Previously he worked in death row in Nevada and then was with Martin Corrections. He has been in law enforcement five years.
“I like working with people, the teamwork,” says Deputy Wolski. “The outside doesn’t know half the stuff that goes on here. Sometimes this is like a jungle – a different city. It is a city within itself. Once they are in jail they are gone and forgotten about but we have to deal with a lot more inside here than people think. You’ve got your people committing crimes inside here that people outside don’t even know about. You have these guys call you names, tell you what they are going to do to your mom. Some people go home and start thinking about this stuff. You have to have selective hearing. I am by no means a psychologist but I like talking to some of these guys and girls. If you can change one or two, maybe when they get of here they will say, ‘this guy talked some sense into me and changed my life.’ Some of them you can’t – there’s no talking to them, they are just institutionalized. It’s sad. But sometimes you reach them! I have run into some inmates out in town. And they say ‘hey thanks for talking to me.’ It feels good. I also have run into some in town that have called me some names too,” he says laughing, maintaining an air of good humor.
“Most of the disturbances that happen in the jail are happening in this area,” says the Major. “They do try push your buttons. They find out what bothers you and they hope you will lose your cool. We have professional deputies here so that is not happening.”
We are on the move again. As we walk, I comment on the big campus here.
“We are 190,000 square feet - a lot of area,” he says.
I ask how he got where he is, in charge of IRCSO Corrections.
“I started with IRCSO as a Deputy in July 1991,” he says. “Six and a half years later I made Sergeant.”
Then Lieutenant, then Deputy Division Commander, then Captain, and now Major.
“I have been promoted under every Sheriff since I started! I have been very happy here.”
And guess what?!
“I am from Vero originally,” he says. “My father was in the Air Force for over 30 years, so we moved around a lot, but always came back to Vero.”
I have a sense that he is very dedicated to the jail and his responsibilities and that this confirmed when I ask him how much he works. “I am here from 8 am until 10 or 11 pm, 6 days a week, sometimes 7. I love it though. It is great. Definitely good.”
We make a brief stop in the Medical Wing, which is the fourth largest medical provider in IRC! It works just like a doctor’s office, with doctors and counselors making regular visits.
Now we go to K-L-M-N-O sections. These are five dorms that each hold 24 people. Right now, there are females in three and males in two. These are among the original dorms which are in various stages of being restored.
Watching each dorm in the center from a round room above is what looks like a 360-degree watch tower. We go up. We can see inmates but the inmates can’t see us. We also see areas where inmates can visit with attorneys, receive counseling, or study for the GED with an instructor. We see deputy work stations which are usually a 2 person post. We see through the one-way windows and also on the video monitors.
Manning this tower is Cara Carroll. She talks to us, but she is always on the move, working the round room, keeping an eye on the dorms below and the deputy stations. She frequently pushes a button when she sees officers walk up to locked doors. At this moment I realize why the doors magically would open when Major Strickland and I were walking the campus! Someone like Cara was watching and pushing the button to open the doors.
Like several people we will meet during the shift, Cara is on a law enforcement career track through the CCA (Civilian Correction Assistant) program. Cara was just selected to start the Corrections Academy in August (2015) and will go from being a civilian employee to a sworn employee.
“It takes a great deal of self-initiative to do this and I know she is going to do well,” says the Major. He goes on to explain that Cara and others in her position in the watch tower are the eyes and ears for the downstairs deputies.
“If they are in the housing unit and there is a disturbance and they can’t get to their radio, then Cara is going to call for assistance and open the doors from up here,” he says. “She sees the inmate fights first from up here usually, too.”
We look down and the nurse is arriving and the inmates are lining up for their evening medication.
Now it’s time for me to have some of Mabel Robinson’s love-infused chicken, and we head back to the staff dining area. There I meet the two more officers on the shift that evening.
“Lt. Frank Lomonaco is the Watch Commander,” says the Major. “He is in charge of the ship tonight.”
The second officer asked not to be identified in this story. I will refer to him only as “X.”
While I eat (and it was everything Mabel said it would be too), we chat. I ask them to tell me what they would want people to know about their work at the jail.
“I love the people, the job, the relationships, helping the community,” says X. “You are doing something good for the country and for everybody.” He also wants us to know, “Every crime is linked to drugs of some form.”
“Street drugs are what are the worst now,” says the Major. Drugs like FLAKKA. “The withdrawals we are seeing from people coming off the street drugs are the worst we have ever seen. They are constantly coming off these drugs in our medical wing. One issue is if they are in jail for 6 months and get clean, and then they go back out and take the same amount of street drugs they had been taking, this can kill them right away.”
X adds, “When they come in they are like shipwrecks, and when they leave they are like cruise ships, all healthy.”
It’s a forced rehab, I say.
“Also, when they go back outside, they might go back to the same relationships they had before and that causes the same cycle to start all over again,” says Major Strickland. “We book approximately 6,000 a year in jail, but some have been here 10 times,” says the Major. “So it is not 6,000 people in the county. But there are people who learn their lesson and never come back here again. So there is hope!”
Lt. Lomonaco says, “Many of these people are predators. They are predators on their family too, and highly manipulative. That’s why people get taken advantage of because if you are not like that, you don’t understand it. In here, they immediately learn who is new on shift and try to manipulate them. In day one in corrections when you get in this field, the first thing they talk about is manipulation.”
X adds, “What makes them think like that? We can’t imagine. ‘How much can I get away with?’ This is our society in here also. How did they go wrong and where did they go wrong? It’s the choices they make. They take the easy way - like water going down a mountain.”
Lt. Lomonaco shows me a photo on his phone taken just week or so before of one of the cell walls in the mental health wing. An inmate had scrawled the words “MUD LIFE PIGZ” on his cell wall in his own feces.
“You become numb to it,” says X.
“Basically, nothing shocks us anymore,” says the Major. “That takes experience. You can’t teach it.”
“Sometimes roles reverse,” says Lt. Lomonaco. “Out there they may have been the predator, but in here they become the prey. It’s all micro-societies in here – every block/ housing unit. There are always leaders and followers.”
Perhaps following up on his statement that there is hope, Major Strickland now takes me over to the area where they have numerous programs to help educate, and perhaps even reform, inmates. Or at the very least, give them access to tools they can use to better themselves when they get out of jail.
We enter a pale blue, peaceful room.
“This room is a path to freedom of sorts,” says the Major.
All around on the walls are inspirational messages. My favorite is: Heal the Past, Live the Present, Dream the Future. Here, inmates participate in drug programs, GED study, church services, bible study, and more.
“We have four males and a juvenile in the GED program right now, and the juvenile is getting ready to test next week for his GED. He is doing very well.”
I can see from his body language that Major Strickland believes and takes pride in this area of Corrections.
“We are really happy with the programs. Many of the programs don’t have to be offered, but we have been doing them and the Sheriff is a big supporter of them because the recidivism rate drops significantly with the programs. Instead of 70% plus returning to jail, it drops to almost 20%. For this success, we have to have inmates who really want to be in the program, and we find out quickly if they are just doing it just because they think it will help them in court. What is really good is when we see inmates that have come to jail for years and years finally make that decision - ‘I want to stop substance abuse now and I want to get better, clean and sober’ - and that’s what they do.”
He says how important volunteers from the community are to the success of the programs, especially the volunteers who have been in jail themselves before, have since turned their lives around and now share their message of change with the inmates.
It makes me happy to know that for those who want to change, these opportunities exist for them. Maybe they never had anyone show them a better way before?
Now we move to Booking. This is the main receiving area for inmates when they are brought to the jail. It is a big giant room with lots of chairs. It reminds me of any other government building where you have to check in and wait with lots of other people.
“This area, you just never know,” says Major Strickland. “We may have 20-30 people, and then we may go a whole shift without booking one person. After court on Monday and Tuesday, though, this place is packed.”
The room is lined on one side with special holding cells in the event inmates come in intoxicated, violent or just need their energy levels brought down a few notches before they can be safely booked and released into the inmate population. There is a restraining chair available, which does exactly what it sounds like it does. You can see more about it HERE from when I first took a tour of the jail in Citizen’s Academy.
On one end of the room behind a partition and wall of glass windows, corrections officers and CCAs work to process and manage all of the ongoing paperwork associated with booking.
We step inside and have a chat with Deputy Matthew Tangel. He has lived in Vero Beach most of his life and has been with IRCSO for 6 years. His grandfather was a New York police officer and his inspiration to go into law enforcement.
“You don’t come across the same people twice in here and you see a lot come through the door, so you learn about people,” he says. “I think we have a great team. There are great officers on our shift.”
He seems really happy. I tell him so.
“You have to have people skills to work here,” says Major Strickland. “People come in here and you don’t know what kind of emotions they will be feeling. You have to be able to talk to people. Otherwise you can get in a fight every day with someone. You must instead have a calming effect on them.”
Deputy Tangel agrees. “Yes, our voice is definitely our best resource. If you can communicate with people on their worst day which is when they see us, you can definitely deescalate different situations rather than using other means. It’s always better to calm somebody down with words and not actions.”
“Of course, there are always going to be those people that no matter what you do they are going to be a problem,” says Major Strickland. “So that is when the restraining chair comes into play.”
“You have to be aware all the time,” says Deputy Tangel.
I say that even off-duty I bet he is always acutely aware of his surroundings.
“Yes, you bring it home too,” says Deputy Tangel. “You don’t want to, but it comes naturally. You are always looking around and observing other people.”
Major Stickland interjects, “Deputy Tangel is one of our top deputies for finding contraband! He has found it when others have not found it!”
We move back into the main receiving room. Nearby is a fingerprint machine and Deputy Melinda Rolle is fingerprinting an inmate. She finishes and we get a moment to speak with her.
“This is my 11th year in law enforcement,” she says.
I ask her if they test her more because she is a female.
“Being a female, yes, they will sometimes test you more - AND THEN THEY LEARN!” She has a great laugh. “Also, of course when they come in, they are upset. We try to deescalate the situation. Let them know to calm down. I try to talk to them - being a female and a mother and a former teacher – and bring their energy level down.”
She adds, “I love my co-workers and I enjoy working with them. I really do. It is very family-oriented here.”
On the opposite side of the room is the body scanner. It too does what it sounds like it would do.
“This equipment has really helped us cut back on contraband,” says Major Strickland. “Everybody who comes to jail goes through that. And if they go out to transfer to court or a medical office, they must go through it once again to be sure they are not bringing contraband back in anywhere on their bodies. All trustees who go outside on work crews also pass through the scanner when they come back in.”
He says that the radiation from the body scanner is 400 times equal to one dental x-ray, so it is not dangerous. The state health department checks it regularly too. Next to the scanner are some offices where the commanding officers work. I see Lt. Lomonaco and X working at their computers and I give a wave.
So the inmate is brought in for booking. If he or she does not have to be restrained or put in one of the temporary holding cells, they go through the booking process of having their property inventoried and put into bags. This includes their shoes. They won’t see these items until they are released from jail. They go through the body scanner, are fingerprinted, and then wait in one of the chairs for all of the paperwork to be finalized.
In addition, Booking is where they process all the sexual offenders in the county. They come in on a regular schedule and also any time they have an address or work change.
It is getting close to 9 pm and the night trustee work crews are busy restoring the original dorm areas of the jail I referred to earlier. We take a walk over to observe their progress. The dorms we are in now are built for 18 inmates each. We take a walk through. I can smell the construction – especially the paint. The Major says the trustees like the work.
“It makes the time go faster,” he says. “We have detail crews with special skills which do a lot of work at night too, when it is quiet. They can earn certificates for being part of the program to help get a job when they get out. They have a great sense of accomplishment. These crews are hand-picked and all have a great attitude and good work ethic. I just wish they had it when they are out and hopefully they will!”
He adds, “By utilizing the work experience of the trustees, we have been able to save thousands and thousands of tax dollars.” He tells how one trustee was a master electrician, and what would have cost close to $20,000 ended up being more like $3,000 for materials when it was all said and done. Of course all work is inspected and up to code and safe and all that you would expect.
We come across a trustee who is mixing paint. He agrees to speak with me and have his photo taken.
I say, “I bet you have painting experience!”
“35 years in the Union and 20 years in my own business in Boston,” he says, giving me a big, proud smile. “We used to call ourselves the Rodney Dangerfields of the trade because we never got no respect!”
He laughs, and then his face gets serious.
“I have been here twice, unfortunately, but I always try to help out. I try to teach some of the inmates so when they get out, they can go apply for a job. I try to teach them little things. I go by the saying ‘give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for life.’ Young kids, they all think they can do it, but I catch them here and there and I quiz them! Some of them don’t even know latex from oil. I teach them painting phrases they can use when they go for an interview. Some of them still think they know it all – young kids.”
Speaking of kids, back on the move, now we see juveniles studying.
“One will be taking his GED next week,” the Major reminds me.
Turning a corner we see Deputy Brett Greenlaw. Originally from a small town in New Hampshire where he was a volunteer firefighter for ten years and a part-time police officer, he now lives in Vero Beach. Ten years ago he decided to pursue a full-time career in law enforcement.
“There are definitely challenges to the job, but I like working with the inmates,” he says. “If I can make a difference with these guys, then that is what I love. Sometimes it is just teaching them to have general respect for one another. I found that most of these guys in here either didn’t have a father in their life or don’t know who their father is. A lot of guys ask me to pray with them and I will as long as it is not interfering with the job, and hopefully the work gets done by Him, not me.”
Back in another hallway, we see the current Corrections Deputy of the Year - Deputy Jeff Plasse. I met him back in Citizen’s Academy when we toured the jail. That evening he was to be my last photo and I was having all sorts of technical problems with my camera which went on and on and on. He was very kind and patient, but I figured he thought I was a little crazy too. I tell him I am now a full-fledged volunteer!
“Deputy Plasse is assigned to all special details trustee work crews every night,” says Major Strickland. “Anything to do with trustee crews, he takes care of.”
“We have a lot of good things going on here as you can see,” says Deputy Plasse. “We are making some major changes. Inmate labor is doing a lot of the work and saving us money. We have some talented inmates.”
I tell him about the painter I just met.
“Some people who come in here have skills and all they want to do is teach the others and this enhances everyone,” he says.
He praises Major Strickland and his leaders and fellow deputies. “We have the right people in the right positions here to encourage you to do your best.”
We begin to make our way to the command center or ‘situation room’ I referred to earlier and we have to go through another main entry point where all staff and volunteers come and go. Inside is Deputy Frank Raymond Jr. and CCA Joey Lee Allen Jr. Allen tells me he knows Chunky Chat and he read the past entry about my ride-along with Lozada! (see that HERE). He explains their role in this critical point of passage in the jail.
“We make sure security is always upheld,” says CCA Allen who was born and raised in Vero Beach. “We make sure everybody is accounted for.”
He continues, “I wanted to learn how the jail works,” he says. “I have been here since September 2014. It has been interesting. I love the staff. One sadness I will carry with me when I leave will be missing the people I work with.”
Deputy Raymond was also born and raised in Indian River County. He started with IRCSO as an Explorer! Learn about them HERE.
“I really like it here,” he says. “I don’t mind any position. You have to be able to communicate though, because the inmates test you.”
He is looking at some juveniles on one of the video screens. “We have ten-minute watches on the juveniles. Every ten minutes we have to observe them and put the codes down. We pull up different cameras too. We always keep an eye on the deputies to be sure they are safe.”
Everybody is watching after everybody else, I say.
“Oh yes,” Major Strickland and Deputy Raymond say simultaneously.
Major Strickland and I head now into the ‘situation room.’ Deputy Kenneth Stinson and CCA Don Robinson join us.
It’s true. Every single corner of the jail is on camera and every angle can be seen up here.
“Thanks to the cameras providing evidence, we haven’t had a successful inmate lawsuit out of the jail since 2009,”says Major Strickland. “Medical malpractice insurance is less than 15% of what it used to be because we have had not successful medical claims against us either.”
“They know they can’t get away with it,” says Deputy Clasey. “We have more cameras here than I have seen in a facility! Accountability keeps things up to standard.”
I chat with Deputy Stinson. I first met him during Citizen’s Academy on the jail tour, too. To my delight, I find out he was born and raised in Indian River County! He has been with IRCSO since October 15, 2012. He has relatives in law enforcement who influenced him, including an uncle who is with IRSCO.
“We wear many hats,” he explains. “We are the disciplinarians and we are the counselors. Sometimes you wear three hats at a time. The job is always changing and evolving and you are always learning. It is a great place to work. I should have come over here years ago.”
I ask him if it is hard to shut this part off when he goes home.
“It’s a learned skill over time but you do learn. You can detach. I would tell those going into the field to be willing to learn and be able to change with change. You must be adaptable and flexible. And you definitely cannot be timid! But the job also makes you stronger over time. I was the quiet guy – this conversation probably would have never happened before!”
CCA Don Robinson was raised in IRC and earned his criminal Justice degree from Aurora just outside of Chicago. “I grew up with deputies so I wanted to be in law enforcement since I was a little kid. I always want to help people, so I figure this is the best way I could do it.”
About CCAs, Deputy Stinson says, “They see the stuff we can’t see. They are our eye in the sky. They watch our back. That’s most important.”
Major Strickland says, in closing, “We are always looking to see how we make this place safer and more secure. We demand inmates follow the rules, but we treat them like human beings. We are not here to judge them.”
It’s 10 pm and I am whipped. Major Strickland walks me to the parking lot. Two inmates, both with a subdued demeanor, have just been released. We watch them greet their respective rides and drive off into the night. I drive home and feel thankful.
I am going to leave you with some artwork done by inmates which is on display next to the 'situation room' :
I am an official, fully vetted volunteer with the Indian River County Sheriff's Office (Citizen's Academy, background checks, fingerprinted, etc.). Since my expertise is photo-journalism, producing these stories is one way I give back to my community.
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