Behind locked doors
Law enforcement veteran is named detention deputy of the year
September 13, 2008
A heavy locked steel door, with big bold words warning visitors against having tobacco or firearms, stands entrenched as a line of demarcation for Moffat County Sheriff’s Office corporal Mike Malley.
Three to four nights a week, just before 6 p.m., Malley arrives for his shift at the Moffat County Public Safety Center, approaches the jail door and forgets who he is in the real world.
He has to.
“The doors close, and you know you’re in here,” Malley said. “The person (inmates) see me as has to be very matter of fact. Everything is pretty much business.”
Outside the door, Malley is anything but.
He is a short, balding, jovial 60-year-old with an easy smile, quick laugh and a sharp, ironic sense of humor.
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But none of those personality traits can come through the door with him.
Inside the door, Malley is a custodian of more than 100 inmates – in jail for offenses ranging from “stealing a candy bar to murder” – and he and other deputies are outnumbered by more than 35 to 1.
Rule No. 1, Malley said of working in the jail, is coming through the doors with no fear.
“If you do, they’ll eat you alive,” he said. “I’m Irish anyway, so I’m stupid, and have no sense of fear.”
Rule No. 2: mutual respect.
“It’s nothing more than understanding personalities and body language,” Malley said. “If you can do that, you won’t have any problems – unless you want to have them.”
It hasn’t taken Malley, who has more than 15 years’ law enforcement experience, long to adjust to working behind locked doors. He’s been at the jail for 18 months and was promoted to corporal after six months; he’s also in charge of training other jail deputies on operations.
Although a relative short-timer, his work has been noticed by his peers and supervisors.
Last month, Malley was named as the Sheriff’s Office 2007 Detention Deputy of the Year. A Sheriff’s Office letter explaining Malley’s selection praises his “outstanding effort and dedication.”
“Mike is always ready to help out where needed, and he is an effective mentor to the less experienced deputies,” according to the letter. “His helpfulness and positive attitude to not only his occupation, but also to life in general is an example to which we all should strive to duplicate.”
Originally from New York, Malley comes from a long line of Irish cops. He has worked a variety of jobs during his years, from floor sales at an auto lot, to managing real estate properties, to driving a delivery truck.
He’s no stranger to life in the family business of law enforcement, either.
Malley’s previous law enforcement stops were at the Freemont County Sheriff’s Office, where he was a deputy, and the Canyon City Police Department, where he worked as a patrol commander.
“I don’t think anyone realizes what it takes to work at a jail,” he said. “They see the TV version – lock ’em in and go to sleep.”
Reality is more complex.
Malley and other deputies work 12-hour shifts. They make rounds once every 30 minutes to inspect the prisoners.
“Our major job is to see that they’re taken care of medically, fed, exercised and put to bed by 11 p.m.,” he said. “And to see to it that no one hurts themselves or anyone else.
“What we do in the jail, we take care of people nobody wants on their front lawn.”
Part of that care and supervision includes dealing with hostile inmates.
“Do we have confrontations?” Malley said. “Absolutely. You should have been here last night.”
Malley explained an incident earlier in the week during which an inmate was upset after the corporal locked down part of the jail for an hour.
“He came uncorked and started throwing stuff around,” said Malley, who warned the inmate that if he kept acting up, he was going to be put in restraints.
The inmate’s response?
“He said ‘You better get more than just you,'” Malley said.
“I said, ‘OK,'” he said, and called for police and Sheriff’s Office deputies to assist. The inmate calmed down.
Knowing how to defuse a potentially dangerous situation perhaps is more important than any of the protective gear and equipment detention deputies carry, Malley said.
“I’m not going to wrestle with 26-year-old kids,” he said. “It’s not in me. But, nobody’s going to roll over me.
“The idea is, I’m never going get hurt. I’m going to opt for other people to help me. : You have to use common sense, because common sense scares these people to death. You have to think one step ahead of these people at all times.”
After his 12 hours are up, when the clock reads 6 a.m., Malley heads back out the steel door, past the line of demarcation, and into his life in the world. He knows it won’t be long before he’s back, though.
“It doesn’t phase me,” he said. “It doesn’t take very long to find out who has the violent tempers, and if you can understand personalities and body language, you’re going to survive quite well.
“How you walk and carry yourself makes all the difference in the world. Self confidence is all it takes.”