BY LINDA SUTTER
Steve Wentz was a sergeant at Pelican Bay State Prison for many years. He retires only to commit suicide. The next day well known Sergeant Daryl Webster takes a gun and ends his life. And now another retired employee, Swick, was found to have hung himself.
The worse part about working in a correctional facility such as Pelican Bay State Prison is the fact that true emotions are never shown much less talked about because of the line of work. At the end of a days’ work most officers go home and stay in their house. They don’t socialize with anyone which is the nature of the beast in that line of work.
As a retired officer after working 17 years at Pelican Bay State Prison, I found it particularly difficult when I was forced into early retirement to find a niche where I would be happy and live comfortably. It took me three years to accept I was no longer working. I found retirement to be isolating, unrewarding and boring. I was restless during that time and travelled quite a bit to fill the void. When you are in total isolation that is when you begin to feel that there is nothing left in life and that nobody cares not even your family.
I forced myself to start going to the YMCA just to listen to people interacting. I would go to the gym twice a day for 2 hours each time, not always to work out but to read the newspaper and watch others so I would not be home alone. I started going to church and although the congregation was so large that it was hard to meet people, it was another way to fill the void of loneliness. Finally I found a new home, began the much needed work on it, started gardening and got back to my friends where we try to make a difference in our local government.
Recently I’ve talked to other retired employees and as we brain stormed ideas of what could be done to help future retirees transition into their new way of life , one of us said, “We should develop a program to present to future retirees on what to expect when you retire.” It sounds like a great idea, but the response to that idea was, “The institution wouldn’t want to take responsibility for that”.
I can understand that perspective, in the sense that there is little compassion for officers as they walk the toughest beat and no compassion after they retire. But the fact still remains Officers are committing suicide a lot lately and people need to be more conscious of their friends or employees. Because there are always telltale signs before a person commits suicide. For some reason no one wants to take the extra step as a Correctional Professional because although it may not affect anyone personally it does affect the family members left behind. No one deserves to feel like their life does not matter regardless of what their status is at the prison.