GREENVILLE —Paul McKinnon has witnessed many changes at the Montcalm County Jail in his 25 years there.
McKinnon, 59, Greenville, recently retired as a corrections officer.
He had worked in retail management, but decided to switch jobs. He was hired in 1987 after he heard about an opening at the jail from former Greenville Department of Public Safety Director Gary Durham.
“I had no background in law enforcement at all when I was hired in at the department,” McKinnon recalled.
“It’s been interesting,” he said. “The jail’s grown so much. In 1987 they housed 87 inmates. Now they house 200. When I first started, inmates were allowed to smoke in the jail. After a few years, that was cut out. We did all our booking procedures and fingerprinting by hand with ink. That’s all computerized now. There’s been a lot of advancements in technology and hiring practices.”
McKinnon learned how to deal with inmates and their different personalities over the years.
“Once they’re incarcerated, they have no one to talk to really,” he said. “Sometimes they just want to talk. It’s just a matter of taking time out of your day and talking to them. As a CO, you’re everything from a mental health worker to a counselor.”
McKinnon has noticed changes in the inmates in the jail today compared to when he first started.
Most inmates used to be local,” he said. “You’d see generations of them coming to jail for 25 years. Now the economic times have changed. We’ve got a mixed bag of inmates from out of county and throughout the state. Those types of inmates like to test you. They say, ‘I’m a state prisoner, you’ve got to treat me different.’ The key is to treat them all the same. If you treat them equally, you won’t have as many problems.”
Of course, there are always fights within the walls of the jail.
“Everything has high value, whether it be an argument over a television program they’re watching, a commissary item taken from them, like a candy bar, everything has high value and is extremely important to them,” McKinnon said. “They have very few possessions, both in jail and on the outside. We immediately step in. Usually the fights are very short-lived.”
McKinnon said he is looking forward to spending his retirement with his wife, Diane, three children and seven grandchildren. He enjoys nature photography. He is also in the process of restoring a lighthouse on Middle Island in Lake Huron near Alpena.
“I will miss the people I worked with,” he said. “It’s like a law enforcement family. We all understand each other because we know the job, we know what we have to go through.”
Montcalm County Sheriff Bill Barnwell has worked with McKinnon since the start of McKinnon’s career. Barnwell also worked with Deputy Randy Hansen, who also recently retired.
“On behalf of myself and the entire Sheriff’s Office, I would like to congratulate both Paul and Randy for their faithful and outstanding years of service to the community and to this agency,” Barnwell said.
Both Hansen and McKinnon were recently honored for their years of service at an open house hosted by the sheriff.
“Both were exemplary employees who perform their respective duties in a very professional manner,” Barnwell said. “We will miss them both immensely and wish them all the best in their retirement. They certainly have earned the right.”