Tacos to inmates

AT WORK

Raymond Schaefer gave up a career at Taco Bell to oversee Baltimore County prisoners

January 09, 2008

Raymond Schaefer

Correctional officer

Baltimore County Detention Center, Towson

Salary --$40,000

Age --43

Years on the job --One

How he got started --After almost 20 years in the restaurant business, most recently as a general manager of a Taco Bell, Schaefer decided he wanted a career with more stability. He said he had gone through corporate ownership changes over the years and his benefits and pay were reduced at Taco Bell. "The main reason was stability here. It's guaranteed."

Training --Schaefer went through a six-week training program that focused on academics, self-defense, communication skills and legal issues. "They taught us to be fair, firm and consistent."

Typical day --For the past year, Schaefer has worked the night shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. five nights a week with rotating days off. He starts his night by attending roll call to find out information from the previous shift. He must then do a head count as well as random security checks twice an hour. The inmates are fed from 4:30 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. to ensure that those who need to attend court hearings or bail reviews are ready.

Schaefer serves as the housing unit officer, so he works among the inmates - not behind security glass. He said older jails were designed to separate officers from the inmates. He believes the close contact helps to stave off altercations.

"We don't use the word `guard' anymore," said Schaefer. "[Now] if something happens you can be more pro-active rather than reactive."

Juvenile section --For the past 90 days Schaefer has worked in the juvenile division of the facility, usually considered the most difficult. "It's a rough section. I feel I can get through to some of these young kids. I try to let them know that for the most part they've just hit a bump in the road. I treat them with some respect."

The detention center --Close to 1,200 men and women are held at the facility. About 60 percent of the inmates are awaiting sentencing. Most of the others are serving a sentence of 18 months or less.

Night shift --It's considered the easiest shift by many because there's little movement during that time. But Schaefer said it's hard to get adjusted to the hours. "You never seem to get enough sleep."

First night --"I'm sure everybody's a little nervous the first time they hear the [detention center] doors close behind them. But I think anyone who accepts this job has got to realize there's some danger involved."

Communication --His years in the food industry have served to hone his people skills. "I think I learned how to talk to people."

The good --It's a challenge. "Every night there's something different."

The bad --Mandatory overtime. Because he's considered essential personnel, he sometimes must remain for an extra shift with little notice.

Philosophy on the job --"Try to leave your personal life outside the doors. It's almost like you have to put your game face on."

Nancy Jones-Bonbrest Special to The Sun

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