The McPherson County Jail never closes. Capt. Arlo Blevins of the McPherson County Sheriff's Office noted he has even worked Christmas mornings.

"We're open 24/7. We're open every holiday," Blevins said. "We can't ever shut our doors."

What has kept Blevins in a corrections career since 1997 is his team of coworkers.

"I have some really great people who work for me and with me," Blevins said. "...They're kind of the unsung heroes out here. They're giving up time with their family to do a job they love to do."

"The McPherson County Sheriff’s Office is put together and held together by extraordinary individuals from the top to the bottom of the organization; brave men and women who work steadily day in and day out to protect our county and our citizens," said McPherson County Commissioner Tom Kueser. "I am proud to know them and blessed to be able to work with them."

The McPherson County Jail was built to hold 54 inmates, but can house more if needed. It typically has around 40 inmates, most of whom stay between five to 10 days, according to Blevins.

People can start as corrections officers at age 18, working on one of three daily shifts.

The officers rotate through three posts — master control, male housing and booking.

Master control deals with visitors to the jail and keeps a log of the inmates. Booking involves the most paperwork as arrestees are brought in to be fingerprinted, photographed and have their court date set.

In male housing, the officers answer questions, enforce rules and perform hourly head counts. They also make sure inmates get along and break up fights.

"(Fights) happen, but you don't see it as much in a county setting," Blevins said.

Women are housed in a separate area and are often double bunked because the jail wasn't built to house many female inmates.

"When I started here, we might go weeks without having a female in the jail," Blevins said. "In the last 10 years, we're running eight to 10 (daily)."

Corrections officers also take advantage of professional training, learning about local laws, jail administration, deescalation techniques, etc.

"In the jail, we don't carry a gun because anything you carry, you take the chance of having used on you," Blevins said.

When people are brought to jail for the first time, they are sometimes surprised at the officers' professionalism.

"There are some misconceptions about who we are. We've been viewed stereotypically over the years as mean and abusive," Blevins said. "...People say, 'you're much nicer than I thought.'"

The officers do adopt a stern demeanor when necessary and are constantly watchful for any sign of trouble.

"It is a different day every day because we're always on guard," Blevins said. "You never know what to expect."

Because of the nature of their work, corrections officers stay alert for any sort of manipulation, which can lead to a heightened cynicism and issues such as PTSD, divorce or alcoholism.

But the majority of the time, jail staff deal with routine tasks.

"Five percent of the time it's extreme excitement; the other 95 percent of the time it's paperwork, keeping a log and doing head counts every hour," Blevins said.

Inmates are provided with three meals a day and medical care through subcontractors. Bible studies and programs like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous are also offered.

"We don't coddle them by any means, but we have to treat them like people because they are," Blevins said. "I've met some really decent people who have come through these doors."

Trustees — those who have been at the jail for a while, have no serious charges and exhibit good behavior — are allowed to trade the standard black-and-white striped uniform for orange and white stripes and are given more freedom of movement.

One trustee, a male inmate, mows around the Law Enforcement Center.

"He does a great job," Blevins said. "We don't pay him much, just a buck a day."

The jail does facilitate a work release program that requires judicial approval. Corrections officers call and stop by their employer to make sure they are present and meeting the requirements of the program.

Most inmates are cooperative, even when they are brought to jail over and over again.

"Some people have addictions and they know it," Blevins said. "We don't give them a pass, but we treat them like human beings. That's the way of the future and that's the way jails should be."

Not every inmate is shy about voicing their displeasure about being incarcerated and Blevins also fields phone calls from their family members.

"I've been called some serious, loud names in the last few months and I've had to keep cool and say, 'I understand you're upset right now,'" Blevins said. "...A good 95 percent of the people who come through our doors understand we have a job to do and that they are here for a reason, that it's not our fault. The other five percent are horrible to deal with."

Blevins often sees former inmates in public settings. While he typically avoids interaction, he appreciates the times when they approach him to share how their lives have improved.

"That's the story we like to hear," Blevins said. "I tell them, 'put me out of work.'"

Though he has to explain that he does not patrol the streets or have local traffic ordinances memorized, Blevins said people are mostly respectful of the work he does.

"I think it's a small community thing," Blevins said. "It doesn't matter what outfit you wear or what division you're in, they're pretty supportive in McPherson County and I appreciate it."

 

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at pmiddleton@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MiddleSentinel.