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Sowers chose between prison and police careers

May 24, 2000|By MARLO BARNHART

In 1977, Rod Sowers was trying to choose between careers with the Maryland State Police or the Maryland Division of Correction.

Now the assistant warden at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, Sowers took the first offer and for the past 23 years, hasn't regretted his decision.

"I had just gotten married and bought a house and I didn't want to have to relocate," Sowers said, knowing that in the state police that would be almost a certainty.

He attended the DOC academy and began working as a Correctional Officer I in March 1977 at MCI in Hagerstown.

When the state police contacted him, Sowers stayed put, convinced he had made the right decision.

Now 45, Sowers has moved between MCI and the nearby Roxbury Correctional Institution and back again to MCI.

The contrast between those two institutions is remarkable, he said, describing MCI as a "Jimmy Cagney" kind of prison and RCI as having the newer college campus look.

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"MCI is all enclosed and really looks like a prison," Sowers said.

When the Maryland Correctional Training Center opened across the road, it had the newer housing unit style of prison architecture, Sowers said.

Then came RCI, which incorporates the housing units but with a huge campus green area in the center. The site is surrounded by high fences with razor ribbon along the top.

After five years at MCI, Sowers took a position at RCI in 1983. The MCI riot of 1991 took him back to that troubled prison for a year of rebuilding.

Lloyd 'Pete' Waters came in as warden that year after the riot, Sowers said. "He has a unique style ... things were back to normal quite quickly but still that first year was tense both for staff and the inmates."

Dozens of inmates and staff members were injured in the riot and the prison had more than $1 million in damages.

"I went back to RCI in 1992 and became security chief in 1994," Sowers said. He stayed until he was reassigned last fall to MCI and the position he now holds, again under Waters.

The warden, assistant warden and security chief are the top officials at any prison. Responsibilities are broken down between them.

As assistant warden, Sowers deals with programming, case management, food service, training, education and security.

"Security is one area that is everyone's concern," Sowers said.

The job of corrections isn't getting any easier, Sowers said, noting that prison populations are growing both locally and nationwide.

"There are a lot of decisions to make, lots of standards to meet," Sowers said. "It's a very challenging career that can be quite stressful."

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