Mary Buchanan, food service supervisor at the Moffat County Jail, stands Friday in the jail’s kitchen. The Moffat County Sheriff’s Office named Buchanan its Civilian Employee of the Year in 2008 due to her friendliness and willingness to help.

Photo by Scott Schlaufman

Mary Buchanan, food service supervisor at the Moffat County Jail, stands Friday in the jail’s kitchen. The Moffat County Sheriff’s Office named Buchanan its Civilian Employee of the Year in 2008 due to her friendliness and willingness to help.

Moffat County Jail food supervisor emphasizes quality meals, treatment for inmates

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Mary Buchanan dishes a spoonful of noodles on a tray Friday in the Moffat County Jail kitchen. Buchanan, the jail’s food service supervisor, has worked at the jail since June 2006. She said she tries to treat inmates the way she would like to be treated.

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Mary Buchanan, 62, works in the kitchen Thursday at the Moffat County Jail.

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Mary Buchanan prepares lunch Friday at the Moffat County Jail with inmate Sean Egbert. Buchanan works with three inmates throughout the week to prepare meals at the jail.

When Mary Buchanan was interviewing for her position at the Moffat County Jail, she was asked a hypothetical question.

How would she handle seeing a person in church one day and in jail the next?

“I said, ‘I hope no differently than I treat them in church,’” said Buchanan, the jail’s food service supervisor for almost five years.

As far as she knows, she’s done just that.

Buchanan, 62, is responsible for planning, cooking and delivering meals to the jail’s population and staff. They are tasks she accomplishes with the help of selected inmates.

The inmates she works alongside have bestowed upon Buchanan a nickname that touches on culinary humor.

They call her “The Marynator.”

“For the most part, I guess I just treat them as I’d like to be treated,” she said of the inmates. “So far, I haven’t had anyone really that’s been hateful or nasty to me, so I’ve been fortunate.”

Buchanan began working at the jail in June 2006. She got her start as a professional cook twice each week at the Elk’s Club in Evergreen in the late 1990s, and later cooked at several private hospitals.

Before going to work at the jail, she was a janitor at St. Michael Catholic Church.

“I was cleaning, which I enjoyed, but I enjoyed cooking more, so I wanted to get into the cooking field,” Buchanan said. “This came open, and I happened to have been lucky and gotten it.”

Buchanan arrives at the jail at 5 a.m. each weekday. In the early morning hours, she prepares breakfast and works on paperwork and logistical issues.

“I need that time to relax and figure out how I want the day to go,” she said.

On Fridays, Buchanan and her crew also pre-cook weekend meals so food can be heated up and served on Saturdays and Sundays.

In addition to cooking meals, it’s left to Buchanan to make a weekly food order, either through a vendor or what is on sale at local stores, and make sure the kitchen is up to standards of both the state’s health department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which she said is stricter than the health department.

An inspection from ICE takes roughly three days to administer, she said.

But, in her five years, she takes pride in having only one write-up from the health department, which was because of a dented can an inmate put back on a shelf.

Within several hours of arriving each day, she has a crew of three inmates working with her to help prepare lunch and dinner.

The jail’s current population is about 40 inmates, but the cook has to be flexible enough to provide meals for staff, new inmates and others that may come in throughout the week.

Buchanan said when she first started work, she worried that her laidback personality would allow inmates to take advantage of her good nature.

“You have to be stern at times and let them know who the boss is and tell them, ‘No, this is how we’re going to do things’ because some of them will want to try to take over and run things,” she said. “I have to put my foot down and say, ‘No, this is my kitchen and we’re doing it my way.’”

While she has her stern side, inmates who work for her are quick to praise her.

Jeromy Vigil, one of the inmates working for Buchanan, called the food service job a privilege.

“Most of the time, we’re sitting in the back in our cells, which gets really monotonous and unfulfilling,” he said. “Working here is just a privilege. It keeps you busy.”

Inmate Wade Chriestenson said kitchen work is the most desirable job in the jail, which he credited to Buchanan’s personality.

“She’s not a guard, she’s a citizen, so she treats us like people,” he said. “It’s nice to come in and see a smiling face.”

The praise doesn’t end with a few nice words from inmates, either. In her office, Buchanan has a white binder full of artwork and colorful thank you letters from inmates. It’s praise she’s proud of.

“To get (positive feedback) from the inmates is pretty hard,” she said. “They usually don’t compliment you unless they really like what you’re doing.”

She’s also been praised by co-workers and was named the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office Civilian Employee of the Year in 2008.

In a letter she received with the honor, she was praised for having a “big heart” and a willingness to go out of her way to please people. The letter also noted her ability to work within a strict budget and accommodate inmates with dietary needs.

Not all inmates get a chance to work in the kitchen.

Any interested inmate has to get the approval of both Buch-

anan and jail administration. Buchanan also speaks with guards and pays attention to inmates when serving meals.

The screening system has led to few problems.

“If it’s somebody they feel wouldn’t be an asset to me, would give me problems, then no, they’re not going to let them come in,” she said.

Buchanan plans the menu two weeks at a time and runs it by a dietician to make sure meals are nutritionally sound.

But, falling in line with treating inmates the way she would want to be treated, she tends to have some fun with holidays.

On Easter Sunday, for instance, inmates will be getting ham, sweet potatoes and cake.

“When I go to the store, people that are behind me, if I happen to take inmates with me … they’ll say, ‘Why are you buying that (quality) stuff for inmates?’” Buchanan said. “That’s not for me to say that they shouldn’t get that.

“I don’t think I should hold nicer meals back from them just because they’re … inmates. That’s not for me to say or for me to do. I’m just doing my job.”

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Comments

native_craig_guy 3 years, 3 months ago

Wow, it sounds like jail is such a nice place to be. Maybe we need Sheriff Joe to come up here and remind these folks that people in jail are being punished and should be fed the bare minimum of nourishment to keep them alive. Moffat County can't pay its bills but we have nice meals for our criminals? While there is no reason to abuse the inmates, remember that the people who are in our jails or our prisons are there to serve a punishment and pay their debt to society, not to get special treatment. I think that we need a sheriff like Sheriff Joe, maybe then we would actually have a handle on the illegal immigrant population here in the county.

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InJustice 3 years, 3 months ago

I have to say that I find it reassuring that the individuals at the public safety center are thinking about more than just themselves. The inmates may be just that to some individuals in this community, however, to others they are Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers, Husbands, Wives, Sons, Daughters, Girlfriends, Boyfriends, or friends. These "inmates" are humans just like you and I and they deserve to be allowed to serve their debt to society without the ridicule from individuals whom have never had to deal with this type of situation from the outside of the glass or from the inside.

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native_from_nevada 1 year, 5 months ago

I am from nevada and i got sent to craig colorado for 11 months... This jail most certantly does not need to be more harsh towards the inmates. While being in moffat county i had the privelage to go to school at the community college and there i recieved my GED. I attended AA's and NA's meetings. I worked in the kitchen full time and laundry. Being treated with respect from all the employees in the jail was awsome! i had hope in there. Till this day its been over a year since ive touched alcohol. and im still attending school to become a nurse. Oh and i love Mary :) she is the sweetest woman in the world:) thats all i have to say.

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native_from_nevada 1 year, 5 months ago

like i said u have to give respect to get it. Just because your an inmate does not mean u have to be treated like a dog. dont get me wrong, The inmates that did act like idiots did get a punishment. lock down, privaleges takin away. and in time you did see them improve on their behavior.Because they do want to be better. Ive seen people come and go in there. Mary if your reading this please e-mail me. raechelletom@gmail.com ;)

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