County detnetion center undergoing expansion, renovation

By Ryn Gargulinski

It may not be the Grand Hyatt, but the Quay County Detention Center is undergoing renovation and, with the removal of the juvenile section, an expansion.

Center Assistant Administrator T.J. Rich, who is manning the ship while Administrator Anthony Elebario has been deployed for at least a month to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina, said they recently installed new outdoor lights, repainted the exterior, are in the process of sprucing up the interior and hired a full-time maintenance person.

“We’re cleaning this place up,” Rich said, pointing to the bright white color now gracing the repainted kitchen that will soon adorn all interior walls.

Upon entering the facility, one is greeted by Quay County Dispatcher Kathy Parker who said she’s been working in the dispatch booth for about four years. Starting Nov. 1, the dispatch, which serves 13 different area agencies, is going to be centralized and moved to the police department but Parker will remain on staff. Although Parker said the smallness of her work chamber usually does not phase her, she said “Sometimes it gets too crowded and I have to tell everyone to get out.”

Not that inmates are ever invited into the booth. They are brought in through a locked hallway and then placed in a holding cell, Rich said. This could include a detox, isolation or, as one inmate was on Monday, strapped to a wheelchair in a locked room because, as Rich explained, “He rammed his head into a cinderblock wall.”

Isolation cells are also used to keep certain inmates separate from the group, Rich said. For instance, if one “snitches” on others that inmate may be in danger.
“It’s a small community,” Rich said. “It creates a lot of drama.”

Moving through the four pods that currently house on average 60 adults — one for women and three for men — one eventually comes to the visiting room, equipped with plexiglass and telephones for inmates to converse with visitors. Also included in the room is a rack of mostly romance novels and a small law library for inmates who wish to represent themselves.

“That doesn’t happen very often,” Rich said, adding most know better.

A day room, laundry room, medical room, kitchen and small outdoor area with a basketball hoop complete the adult section of the center as one moves onward toward the juvenile area.

Another day room, laundry room, medical room and larger outdoor area are part of the facility for the younger set, as is two mediation rooms, a visiting room for face-to-face visitors, a classroom and a larger array of reading material — not romance novels.

“Most books are donated by schools,” Rich said. “That will stop once the juveniles are moved out.” The classroom and its computers will also disappear, Rich said, and the room converted into something else.

The pods in the juvenile area will also be converted, most likely for the adult women inmates, Rich said, and for isolation and medical purposes.

Said Rich about his career with the center, which began 11 year ago: “I didn’t choose this profession — it sort of chooses you.” He said he always had an interest in law enforcement and finds the Quay staff — and even the inmates — a good bunch to work with.

Sgt. Bill Hull, another detention center employee who was wheeling a cart full of lunch to the inmates, said his favorite part of working with people who break the law is job security. “You never run out of work,” he laughed.