Nevada’s Department of Corrections (NDOC) is by far one of the best paying correctional officer jobs in the U.S, paying 32% above the national average for correctional officer salaries, with plenty of openings, almost unlimited overtime hours for those willing to sign up for it, and a big turn over rate due to the agency’s inability to retain employees. NDOC’s turn over rate is mainly a result of under staffing, which subs-consequently places a greater workload on current staff, forcing many, such as my self, to quit out of safety concerns due to the dangerous nature of the work demanding adequate staffing, and requiring that officer’s be attentive and physically ready to respond to spontaneous situations which are expected of a prison environment.
A job as a Correctional Officer can be a great stepping stone for those looking to go into law enforcement, or even those considering the field of Corrections as a career. The demand for Correctional staff is great, the upwards mobility is there, as is the pay and benefits. Especially in Nevada.
This is my story of working as a Correctional Officer at a Maximum Security Prison in rural Nevada, for the Nevada’s Department of Corrections.
In 2015, I started working as a Security Officer at a casino in Stateline, Nevada, which is located in the Lake Tahoe area. I was initially hired as a casino Security Officer for Montbleu Resort Casino & Spa, which was at that time owned and operated by Tropicana Entertainment, which in 2018 was bought by El Dorado Resorts, Inc. In 2016 went to work at Harrah’s/Harvey’s Lake Tahoe, which was just next door, owned and operated by Caesars Entertainment, and in 2018 was also bought by El Dorado Resorts, Inc.
Security was a step in the right direction, as at that time I was pursuing a career in law enforcement, and most particularly wanted to be a cop. When I wasn’t working security at the casino, I was going to school and taking on security and law enforcement related training, attending the El Dorado Sheriff’s Citizens Academy, and putting in applications to different law enforcement agencies. In 2016 I got my big break and was invited to test out for the Correctional Officer Trainee position for the Nevada’s Department of Corrections, specifically at Nevada’s only maximum security prison which is located in Ely, Nevada.
Because the Ely State Maximum Security Prison, or Ely State Prison (ESP), is located in a small rural town called Ely, Nevada, which is about an 8 hour drive from where I resided at the time, the testing for correctional officer, which included a physical fitness test, a written test/psychological exam, and a panel interview, and background investigation and drug screening would all occur on the same day, as many of the applicants for the job were travelling from a long distance away.
The physical fitness test, which I had trained for months in advance, consisted of; 20 push ups, a vertical jump of 15 inches, an agility run in 20.4 seconds (Illinois agility test), a 300 meter sprint in 1:14 minutes, and an a 1.5 mile run in 17:37 minutes. I passed the physical fitness test, then the written exam, followed by a panel interview, then finally the drug screening and fingerprinting which was necessary to initiate a Nevada State and FBI background check.
It was about 3 weeks after testing that I received a call from the hiring department in Human Resources, notifying me that I had successfully passed all prerequisites for employment, and that I had been selected to continue the employment process, which would require me to relocate to Ely, Nevada to begin orientation and on-the-job training, after which I would be required to successfully attend and complete the Nevada’s Department of Corrections Correctional Officer Basic Training Academy in order to receive what is known as Category III Peace Officer POST Certification.
Category III State Certification Exam. Nevada Commission on Peace Officers’ Standards and Training.
In the State of Nevada, law enforcement certification is divided into 3 Categories, that is Category I, II, and III. With Category I being necessary for peace officer patrol jobs such as Police Officers, Sheriff’s, and Highway Patrol; Category II is reserved for investigative positions such as Gaming Agents, and Investigators which are working in a law enforcement capacity (ex. Attorney General’s Office, Private Investigator’s Licensing Board, etc.); and Category III being specifically designated for custody positions such as Correctional Officers.
I began my employment with Nevada’s Department of Corrections sometime March 28th, 2016. The first several weeks consisted of orientation, which is basically filling out and completing all forms necessary to begin the on-boarding process, and some basic training which would further prepare trainees for the on-the-job training which was to follow. Its funny too, because during that time I was contemplating going to work for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as a Transportation Security Officer (TSA) at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, and about a month or so into my work as a Corrections Officer, the TSA called me with a job proposal which I then turned down due to just getting the job position with NDOC, but would’ve accepted the position with DHS had they contacted me sooner.
Ely State Maximum Security Prison, located in Northern Nevada, and just several hours away from Utah, is Nevada’s only maximum security prison and was designated to house the most dangerous and notorious offenders in the nation. I say in the nation, because the Nevada’s Department of Corrections is a part of what is known as “Interstate Compact,” which is a partnership and coordinated effort between correctional departments nationwide, whereby inmates are swapped and exchanged among departments for various reasons (ex. protective custody, disciplinary, etc.). So, for example, if ESP has inmates whom are well behaved, the prison can decide to exchange that inmate in return for inmates from outside the state whom officials from another state may want to transfer for their own departmental reasons.
ESP is also where Nevada houses their death row inmates, and is said to currently house approximately 1,183 inmates, with the inclusion of minimum custody inmates who make up for a small portion of the entire prison population, with those minimum custody inmates being housed outside of the maximum-security facility, and within the confines of their own designated minimum-security living quarters.
Ely State Maximum Security Prison also houses notorious criminals, such as Jose Vigoa, a cuban-born, soviet-trained commando and mastermind of the Las Vegas robberies which included five world-class Hotels and three armored trucks, netting the criminal mastermind and his crew about $3 million in cash which was never fully recovered, and caused the death of two armored truck drivers. And, of course, former UFC MMA fighter War Machine, who was charged with multiple felonies for the beating of his former girlfriend Christy Mack, for which War Machine was sentenced to 36 years to life with the possibility of parole.
I had the opportunity to meet Jose Vigoa on several occasions during the month of April, 2016, when I had worked his housing unit (Unit 5). Funny thing is, I didn’t know who he was when I met him, with his wrists in mechanical wrist restraints, and his ankles in shackles, as I escorted him to and from his scheduled daily activities. Vigoa is currently serving 4 life sentences with no possibility of parole, plus an additional 306 to 760 years for his Las Vegas heists.
During my time employed as a Correctional Officer at Ely State Maximum Security Prison, I have worked just about every post and housing unit within the confines of the maximum-security prison, which included inmate housing, search and escort, and tower post. Daily activities would consist of supervising inmates, facility security, cell searches, and inmate escorts. On a side note, I joined NDOC at an interesting time as there was a change in leadership as the department had a new director, James Dzurenda, whom most recently resigned from his position to pursue better opportunities after 3 years of serving as the director of NDOC.
The change in NDOC leadership at that time was a big deal, especially since the new director was democrat and had previous experience working on the east-coast for correctional departments in Connecticut and New York. Being that Nevada is pro-gun, especially places in rural Nevada, such as Ely, there was a shift in energy all throughout the department which was the consequence of a correctional officer related shooting which took place just several years prior, and caused the death of a handcuffed inmate in a NDOC operated detention facility in Southern Nevada. This, coupled with on-going lawsuits against the department, and the new leadership’s stance on firearms, all firearms where to be taken from within all Nevada prisons, including ESP.
Correctional Officers were furious, as the facility was already understaffed, and there were talks about opening up the prison, whereby inmates whom where normally on lock-down would be allowed to roam designated areas of the prison freely, for activities such as recreational time, leaving correctional staff without adequate security or gun coverage when fulfilling their daily job commitments and obligations.
Most correctional staff understood their job and did it well, with your usual misfits who made up a small fraction of the entire workforce for that location. I enjoyed working with most of my co-workers, with the exception of the few aforementioned, as such posed a serious risk to prison security, mainly so due to their horseplay and unprofessional behavior. I recall one day, after we had just been trained on Tool Control, one of my fellow co-workers, who was also a trainee at the time, managed to get his master key snatched up by one of the inmates after leaving the key unattended on the edge of a food cart during feeding time, with the slot to an inmate’s cell wide open. The master key is also the slot key, and is what opens up every slot to every cell. It was hilarious because no one got hurt, but could have definitely had a much different outcome. The problems in that facility really stemmed from bad leadership on behalf of a few superiors, whom we will not name, including an Associate Warden known as “the little man with the platform shoes,” or as I called him “Napoleon.”
Some called me “Grey Eagle,” while others referred to me as the “Black Dolphin,” and even “The Russian,” but whatever and wherever I was, I became familiar with the work early on, and by the time the academy came, I knew the basics of my skill and trade, and was optimistic about the job, looking forward to attending the correctional academy.
Pre-Service Training/POST Basic Academy. State of Nevada Department of Corrections.
The correctional academy was led by Instructor and Sergeant Mathew Roman. Now, Roman is one great man, having worked for Nevada’s Highway Patrol, and as a Deputy Sheriff for Lyon County, former military, and with security contracting experience for the U.S. Government, he was one of the best training officers I have ever had, and someone I greatly admire and look up to until this day.
Starting early June, and for the next 8 weeks, Roman would lead my academy, which consisted of 14 new cadets, during which time we learned departmental policy, state and federal law (Nevada Revised Statute), criminal investigations, evidence handling and chain of custody, defense tactics, firearms proficiency, inmate transport, and other subjects which mainly dealt with procedural guidelines which all correctional officers are expected to follow.
The academy is probably the most fun you are going to have working for Nevada’s Department of Corrections, as you are paid for all academy training, and learning new topics, especially in the field of law enforcement, is always fun and exciting. This academy in particular was especially interesting, as due to the facility’s under-staffing, academy trainees were required to work during academy training. This often meant that all cadets, myself included, would often work after completing our daily academy training, with the academy sometimes being put on hold, requiring trainees to work “on-the-job” training in order to compensate for the shortage of correctional staff.
Nevada Department of Corrections Correctional Officer Basic Academy. July, 2016.
One thing you learn from the academy is teamwork. Without teamwork, there is no workforce. It was bout 4 weeks into the academy that all trainees had to re-test and pass the entry physical exam which was required during the initial hiring phase. It was also during this time that we were undergoing defense tactics training, during which we would jog daily around the outside perimeter of the prison, with one lap around the prison equaling 1.5 miles. I remember that all cadets treated the jog as if it were a race, running to see who could finish before the others. This is where we learned teamwork, as our Instructor, Senior Officer Adams, at that time would make us re-do the run but only this time we would run all together and in formation. This was a valuable lesson as you really learn to appreciate one another, and realize that in a setting like that you are all one team. Nevertheless, I still remember Sergeant Roman’s words, where he taught us that “you will have more problems with your co-workers than you will with inmates,” and he was on to something there, as when anytime you let egos get involved, people clash and conflicts arise.
I never really had any major issues with inmates, with only a few occasions where I had received threats, one of which resulted in me giving the inmate a write up, subjecting him to further disciplinary action, the idea of working in a “maximum-security” prison actually turned out to be safer than any other correctional setting, as during those times the facility was still on lock-down and there was some gun coverage, even after the director gave the orders to remove certain lethal munitions from all Nevada prisons.
Category III Peace Officer Sworn Oath of Office.
July 29th, 2016, I successfully graduated from the correctional academy, and all graduating cadets met for our graduation ceremony, where we were greeted by top-level prison officials, including the director of Nevada Department of Corrections, James Dzurenda, where we were then sworn in and badged by none other than “the little man with the platform shoes.” We then had dinner and took the rest of the day off, and expected to report for duty the following working day as scheduled. It was a great time, and a real feeling of accomplishment. I worked the following day, after which I had some 4 days off before I would return to work and begin a new full-time schedule. I would say that one of the greatest things about working that particular job, besides the option of making additional money working overtime, is that although the shifts are usually 12 hours at a time, Correctional Officers are given 3 and 4 day weekends, with the length of days off alternating each following week.
Without going further into detail, August 11st, 2016, due to the change in departmental politics and policy, and some conflict of interest, I placed an immediate transfer with the folks in Administration, and had a word with “the little man with the platform shoes,” in an attempt to expedite my transfer to another facility, which was unsuccessful, thus, I resigned from my tenure as a Correctional Officer, and just like that, within several days, I moved back to Lake Tahoe.
Working corrections was probably the best work experience, in that I continued to build on what I had learned working casino security, that is; discipline, organizational structure, chain of command, standard procedure, etc., and although I quit before really getting my Correctional Officer career started, putting in my resignation was probably the wisest choice at that time.
But for anyone who is looking to pursue work as a Correctional Officer, or any position within the field of corrections, I would encourage you to do so, as the work experience is invaluable, and will definitely change your perception on our society. And if you do decide to go with Nevada’s Department of Corrections as your employer, it is definitely not the worst choice out there, but just take heed of these words and be prepared, because the hours are long, and the work is hard, though plenty, so when you do, just keep your head down and go through the motions like everyone else, and if you make it through the academy, you’ll be very surprised.