"Funny you don't look like a warden." As the warden of a men's maximum security prison near Detroit, Michigan Ms Miller was to hear those words many times. THE WARDEN WORE PINK tells the story of her 20 year career in corrections, and introduces the reader to the best and the worst among prison administration, employees and prisoners.
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Tekla Dennison Miller
"The Warden Wore Pink presents an often humorous, occasionally tragic, but always illuminating account of prison life and the struggles of an exceptionally gifted woman to forge new frontiers in a previously all-male domain." From the foreword written by Perry Johnson, former Director of the Michigan Department of Corrections and Past Present of the American Correctional Association.
The memoir reads like an adventure story but teaches like a textbook. The story not only is about corrections but the struglles women had breaking into and moving up in a male dominated career still considered the most gender-biased of all law enfocement careers. Without wavering from her feminism or belief in human potential, Ms Miller clearly describes prison life. Her insights, humor and descriptions are hard to forget.
May 28, 1990
I maneuvered our sailboat, Wildflower, into slip number 9. The marina in Charlevoix, Michigan, had been our summer home for the past eight years. My husband, Chet, jumped from the boat to secure the lines shouting, "Flawless landing after a perfect day of sailing! Another ho hum day in paradise. Life is good!"
Our dock mate peered out of his companionway and yelled to me, "I just caught the tail end of the news, Something about Huron Valley Prison. Isn't that yours, Tekla?"
It was Memoral Day afternoon, and though I wasn't on call that weekend--the deputy warden was--a knot began forming in my stomach and my knees felt weak. I was the warden at the men's maximum security, one of two Huron Valley Prisons. And I knew without asking which prsion was in the news.
I watched Chet secure the lines, waiting for his reaction. He looked at me with his mouth turned down and shook his head. "Not again."
With a shrug, I shut off the engine, went below and grabbed my telephone card. As I jumped onto the dock, I told Chet, "Got to call in. Be back in a few minutes."
On the way to the pay phone on shore, all sorts of scenarios went through my head--an officer assaulted by a prisoner, a prisoner barricaded his room and had set it afire, an attempted escape, a suicide, drugs or maybe just a fight in the visiting room. Tempers always flared during the holidays. My hand shook as I dialed. Waiting for the phone to ring, I looked out at the dark green rolling hills surrounding Lake Charlevoix. An afternoon breeze accompanied the kaleidoscopic northern Michigan sunset. The only other sound besides the ringing phone was the wind whistling through the masts of the sailboats at rest in the harbor.
When Deputy Bentley answered the phone, he explained with tension in his voice, "I was called at home at about eight this morning and told that a prisoner was holding Officer Lisa Reynolds hostage. It was Larner. He made a shank from a piece of the radiator in his cell and used it to grab her. He raped her."
I heard enough to know it meant dropping everything and getting to t he prison fast. I needed more details, and I needed to see if I could help Lisa Reynolds.
The anger that I felt as I listened to Deputy Bentley began to be replaced by feelings of helplessness, nausea,and guilt--guilt because I'd been on holiday when the crises happened, even though my presence at the prison might not have prevented either the hostage-taking or the rape.
After I hung up the phone, I walked back to the boat feeling a pain over my right eye. I ignored the sunset. I wondered if other wardens waded through these same haunting emotions, or if only women care too much. Are we weak and too quick to take the blame?
I was sure that the gruesome assault on a rookie female officer by an aggressive male prisoner would be the fodder for State Senator Jack Welborn's committee. Welborn, chair of the Corrections Committee, had been waiting for something to validate his oft-repeated contention that women should not run men's prison, especially a max, or, in fact, work in any position in a men's prison.
By the time our car entered I-75 at Gaylord, an hour from Charlevoix, the pain over my right eye had become a migraine. We were heading south, going toward home for Chet and the prison for me. I didn't want to face the extensive investigation that awaited me, but it was my job.