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Archive for Sunday, November 10, 1991

WORKERS OFFER PEEK INSIDE JAIL

November 10, 1991

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Randy Smith dabbles in psychology, discipline and medicine, all in the name of helping murderers, molesters and thieves survive another day.

But the only title Smith officially claims is shift sergeant for the Douglas County Jail.

Smith said that he and jailers are in constant contact with inmates, tending to such daily tasks as settling a cellmate scuffle or trying to administer to the needs of a sick inmate.

"You usually have a little problem here and there," he said.

Smith said that sometimes a routine morning cell check will take 30 minutes. Other times Smith and the jailers will chat with one or two of the inmates for hours.

"We don't just put them back in the cells and forget them," he said. "I'll listen to their gripes or complaints."

One of the more extreme problems he's run into happened in October, when an inmate threw a cup of urine and some food into an adjacent cell. The offending inmate was ordered to clean up the mess and put into a cell without a roommate, television or access to a telephone, Smith said.

"EVERY TIME I think I've seen it all, I see something different," Smith said.

Both Smith and Douglas County Sheriff Loren Anderson said incidents such as this don't happen often.

Often the inmates need someone in whom they can confide, Smith said. Many times inmates have questions and concerns about their fate. Sometimes they're depressed.

And sometimes they don't like the food, Anderson said.

"The best gripe I like is, `The food isn't any good and there isn't enough of it,'" Anderson said.

LAW ENFORCEMENT officers aren't the only ones who work in the infrastructure of the Douglas County Jail. And they're not the only ones who must deal with maintaining some normalcy within the confines of the jail.

Debbie Josling, jail kitchen manager, said complaints about the food are few and far between.

Josling said that the inmates are given a form on which they can make suggestions or ask for a special food item or meal.

"We have received some nice ones (comment forms)" complimenting a meal or the cooking, Josling said.

"We very rarely get complaints," she said. "We'll get one (inmate), you know, that doesn't like anything."

And then there's the inmate who wants frozen yogurt or a special food item every meal.

"This is not the Holiday Inn . . . we have a budget."

YOU MIGHT say Betty Barlow doesn't judge a book by its cover. Barlow, reference assistant at the Lawrence Public Library, said her weekly visit to the jail involves disseminating books, not passing judgment.

"A lot of people think `once they're locked up they're different.' You soon find out they're very much like the people you see on the streets," she said.

Barlow usually visits on Friday afternoon, pushing her book cart around to the different cells and talking with the inmates.

"When I get to the first cell, one of the inmates will yell, `The library lady's here, cool it."

Men and women in jail are courteous, and Barlow said that during her 15-year tenure she has never been verbally or physically harmed by an inmate.

Barlow said the inmates borrow 200 to 250 books a week from the collection of 5,000 paperbacks available for inmate use.

JOSLING, Barlow and Smith all will tell you they can observe the impact their work has on the inmates, and the three know the effect the prisoners have on them.

Josling said that one day she was delivering some meals to the juvenile detention area and saw someone she knew: a young man who had attended Eudora High School when she had worked as a cook there several years back.

"I came back to the kitchen and just about cried," Josling said.

Barlow said that she tries not to get bogged down in feeling sorry for the inmates.

"There are certain people who, because of what they do, need to be taken out of society for our safety or theirs," she said.

Smith has seen a lot in his time, and says he wished he could share an important part of his life: his job.

"I always said I wished I would have kept a journal from the first day and later I would have written a book," Smith said.

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