Vail Daily column: Walking on the wild side | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Walking on the wild side

James van Beek
Valley Voices

James van Beek

"The goal is to work my way out of a job!" — Greg VanWyk, captain, Detention Division

Success is defined by never seeing an inmate return. There will always be those who despite all efforts, can't seem to get enough of this place but most are people who just had a lapse of judgment; the one who got a little too happy during happy hour and decided to drive home; or the one whose anger got the best of them and they responded in an unintended manner. The more serious, are those whose behavior they themselves don't understand, due to an undiagnosed or ignored psychological or physical condition, which may cause erratic behavior, that leads them to illegal activity.

Upon arrival at the county jail, we first determine space availability. While there is adequate square footage in our new facility, we have personnel constraints that reduce the number of inmates we can accept. Going above that amount must be transported and housed elsewhere, at an inmate per diem county expense. Those that can stay begin their transition back to a "normal" life immediately. We introduce behavior modification, counseling, addiction awareness, skills development, emotional support, medical sustainability and even nutritional awareness. Upon release, we connect them with community programs that assist with necessities such as housing, childcare, job training, support groups and other essentials.

We also engage the community through programs and individual volunteerism. Once people are involved and see the difference they make in the lives of those they encounter, they frequently ask about career potential. These are exactly the people we want.

The Detention Facility is staffed with some of the most amazing and diverse people you will ever meet. Each brings a unique skill set and are professionally trained to address the multitude of issues we face. Many have received national certifications.

Upon arriving at the facility, the detainee is usually quite fearful and part of our job is to make the transition as smooth as possible. From containing the violent repeat offender to securing a young pregnant woman or disoriented homeless person, we strive to quickly complete the legal requirements, and identify of special needs.

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There's paperwork and notifications to relevant parties. A medical evaluation, to assure their health and wellbeing are protected, and to arrange for prescriptions and restricted diets. We secure their personal belongings, so they don't lose something of value. We do a placement evaluation for optimal safety and success. We identify their contact person, so loved ones don't worry, and pay special attention to those who have no one, because often their best break in life begins right here.

The first morning is the most stressful and can lead to depression. They're in a small space with a shared pod of strangers, and no freedom. No cell phone, no laptop, no Starbucks, no walking the dog, no kids to wake up, no coworkers to joke with … no, to a lot of things. They begin to wonder if this is who they have become, someone who must be locked away from society. How they will ever face their family and friends?

Deputies are experienced at helping detainees adjust and begin identifying issues that led to incarceration. They are the doorway to an extensive partnership of medical, social and community-based organizations, which help inmates overcome the challenges that landed them there. Sometimes, it's as simple as just taking the time to listen to an inmate's concerns about their lives, families, jobs, finances — things we all face. Other times, it's just watching a movie with them to relieve loneliness.

The sheriff's office has amazing resources, from social services, to medical professionals, career advisors, faith organizations and others. We even offer the ability for certain inmates to continue working, while under our guidance, which helps them to retain their job, and cover some detention expenses.

However, we cannot ignore the challenges of working with repeat offenders, many who are extremely aggressive and violent. For them, incarceration is a way of life, and it presents safety issues for both the inmates and deputies. To provide a secure environment, special precautions must be taken, often at risk of injury to detention center personnel. It's vital that we access a situation and contain any danger immediately. Even a momentary lapse can produce grave results.

Members of the Eagle County Sheriff's Office believe they have answered a calling to serve. We are willing to put our own lives at stake, for the protection of our community. While we are prepared to face danger at any time, due to the wonderful lifestyle that we all share, we can focus a huge part of our work on building programs and establishing relationships that will further enhance the quality of life for everyone that lives or visits this incredible place we call home.

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff.

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