For Sgt. Gafken, a job was more than money. First, it had to be an escape from tedium. And one day, while browsing through a newspaper, a job advertisement caught her eyes a job as a jail guard.
Long tired of work at a local insurance company, Gafken, who declined to give her first name, applied for a guard vacancy in Monroe Country Jail in downtown Bloomington nine years ago.
"I told the jail commander I was bored," Gafken, a strong-looking blond woman, recalled, smiling. He replied, "I guarantee you are never gonna be bored here."
She took him at his word. There are always enough novel things happening in a jail that "you wouldn't have the ability to get bored," she said.
But escape from monotony comes at an expense. Working in a jail is a demanding and challenging job, to say the least. Two of her colleagues have been killed outside work in the past, and she senses a certain kind of danger in dealing with inmates, some of whom have serious criminal records "and things going on in the back of their minds."
That underlines the uneasy nature of the relationship between inmates and jailors, which, in turn, highlights the importance of guards' being trained to interact properly with inmates to avoid tensions.
To prepare guards for learning how to act in a jail environment, they are put through a one-week orientation course. But when Gafken started her job in July 1999 she was only trained by following another sergeant around. Anyone over 21 with a high school diploma or GED and a decent criminal-offence record can be a prospective guard, or correctional officer, the term officially used.
Former inmates, and citizens familiar with Bloomington jail, have mixed feelings about the way guards treated them in jail.
"Generally, if you respect them, they will respect you," said Mark Clayton, 42, who has been to jail seven times for alcohol and drinking.
That is a statement not everyone would agree with.
Hal Taylor, president of New Leaf New Life, an organization that holds rehabilitation programs for inmates in the county jail, criticizes guards for being "punitive and tough." He identifies some of the problems with guards as "losing things, failing to communicate messages and slowness in getting to inmates when there is a problem." New Leaf New Life's rehabilitation program is funded by Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, a government-supported agency.
"And then there is no real functional way (for inmates) to complain," Taylor said. "You complain to a guard or chaplain and they pay no attention."
He believes guards need training in management and attitude and should be "more pleasant" toward inmates.
Jennifer K. Mickel, 48, who was held in Bloomington jail for 19 hours last June on charges of disobeying police orders, said guards ignored her repeated demands for medical attention, water and food. She suffered blows to her head as she fell down during encounter with police.
It took her 16 hours to get some "freezer-burn food" and eight hours to get water.
"The guards treat you as if you were already guilty while they are just processing you," Mickel said, still upset.
Jail Commander Bill Wilson declined to comment on her allegations, saying jail officials had looked at her claims but \could not substantiate them.
"If there is something life-threatening going on, response is quick," he said.
Jail overcrowding and inadequate numbers of guards have overstretched the jailers' ability to deal with inmates effectively. While originally designed for 124 inmates, the jail population stretched to 280 persons during the first week of February. It currently has 55 guards but needs 67, the commander said.
As concerns about jail-management systems continue to grow nationwide, experts say guards and other jail stuff need better training programs to be able to respond more efficiently to increasing challenges.
"The first thing that needs to happen is to make organizational change to support the use of correctional officers to do more than simply controlling inmates," said Jody Sundt, an assistant professor in IU's criminal justice department. "Train in a way that not only emphasizes security but correctional rehabilitation."
She urged higher pay for jail employees to encourage people with better professional skills to work there, since current low salaries have largely kept those kinds of professionals away.
For many guards like Gafken, the job has a bit too much excitement, risk and complaint. She says it has left its durable marks on her worldview.
"Working here (in jail) has had a negative impact on my perception of society and the world," she said with some hesitation. "You know, you start thinking about the adverse effects life has had on some people and it just doesn't make you feel good."
Mohammed A. Salih can be reached at .