Trustees become ‘unpaid county employees’

Trustees become ‘unpaid county employees’

RANDALL COUNTY, TX (KFDA) - Randall County Sheriff Joel Richardson says a quip has been making the rounds at his office that goes something like this: It seems as though it's getting harder to arrest good help these days.

Richardson insists with a chuckle, "It's just a joke."

Indeed, the county is making ample use of the men and women incarcerated at the county jail to perform tasks not only within the confines of the lockup on South Georgia just south of Hollywood Road, but in the community as well.

The sheriff's office relies on trustees -- inmates who volunteer to do work for the county -- after they've been cleared by the sheriff and after they've been vetted to ensure that they are trustworthy enough to be assigned to work details outside the jail walls.

Randall County's use of the trustees is more extensive than it is in Potter County, where Sheriff Brian Thomas said his department has difficulty finding enough inmates who qualify as trustees.

"We have people who get sentenced to community service," Thomas said, "meaning that the judge will sentence someone to work off their punishment." Those who are sentenced to such service are at the mercy of the court, said Thomas. "A judge can find someone in contempt of court if they don't comply with the sentence -- if they fail to show up -- and then send them back to jail," he said.

Randall County finds plenty of work for the inmates incarcerated in the jail, said Richardson, who explained that inmates must "volunteer to do the work. We cannot force them."

Each day the department sends crews out to perform work for the county and for the City of Canyon, Richardson said, explaining that trusties work for the street, parks and sanitation departments in Canyon.

To qualify as a trusty, according to Richardson, an inmate cannot have been convicted of a violent crime, or of a crime involving resisting arrest or evasion and cannot have been convicted of assaulting a public servant.

"Almost all the trustees in our program -- maybe 90 percent of them -- are in here on drug charges," Richardson explained.

Richardson said any government agency that wants to "employ a trustee" must send a supervisor through jail certification training. State law, he said, requires all jail trustees to be supervised by certified corrections officials. The certification involves a drug test, a complete physical, a background check and then completion of a three-week corrections officers training program, followed by a state-mandated test.

In addition to working for Canyon municipal agencies, trustees are assigned to perform custodial work at the musical "Texas" in Palo Duro Canyon. "They might do some minor plumbing" at the Pioneer Amphitheater, Richardson said.

Trustees also work for Snack Pack 4 Kids and for Sharing Hope Ministries, according to the sheriff.

Richardson said the county puts trustees with certain skills -- electricians, carpenters and welders -- to work on major construction projects. "The hangar out here was built by trustees," Richardson said of the aircraft hangar used by the county and by the Department of Public Safety to house a helicopter that is deployed for aerial surveillance.

The pre-fabricated hangar was delivered to the county and trusties assembled and secured it for use, Richardson said.

Female trustees do "mostly work in the kitchen or do cleaning." The heavier construction jobs are reserved for the male inmates.

Richardson said the county currently has 20 to 30 inmates who are classified as trustees.

Trustees appreciate being told "good job, well done," Richardson said. "Maybe in their life no one trusted them, no one taught them a skill," he added.

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Zach Seideman is a 28-year-old Amarillo resident serving a sentence for probation violation stemming from a drug possession charge.

He is a trustee who is assigned to work "in admin," meaning the suite of offices where Richardson and his senior staff members are employed.

Seideman wears blue-and-white scrubs, meaning he is able to leave the jail complex on work details. The trustees who wear green-and-white scrubs, Seideman said, are confined to the secured area.

Seideman, who said he has "about a year left to serve" in his jail sentence, describes his daily duties as "getting the office ready for the sheriff, making coffee and just keeping the place looking nice." He said he works from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. six days a week. Seideman said he usually has Sundays off.

Seideman said his 14-hour days keep him quite busy.

"I take pride in what I do," he said, adding that "the sheriff has high expectations. I want to make the sheriff proud and this work gives me a sense of purpose."

Seideman said all the trustees live in quarters separate from the rest of the general jail population. "This is jail, man," Seideman said with a slight chuckle in response to a question about whether non-trusty inmates are envious of those who have earned special privileges.

"The only interaction we have with the general (jail) population is when we see them in the halls," Seideman said, explaining that "we have separate rec rooms" and mess halls.

"If you're willing to change your life you can get blue-and-white status," Seideman said, vowing that he intends never to "break the law again" once he's released from county custody.

"The work I do here makes me feel good. The sheriff puts his neck out there," he said, "and we want to be sure we do the right thing."

* * *

"The trustees like getting compliments for a job well done," Richardson said. "I think they take great pride in trying to please us. My hope is that it makes a difference for them when they leave.

"These folks are tired at night and when they work hard during the day, they go to bed each night and hopefully get a good night's sleep," Richardson said.

"If you do something stupid," he said, "you just don't want to sit there in your cell thinking about it."

Richardson said the trustee program at the jail "is saving Randall County a lot of money" that it doesn't have to spend hiring outside contractors to do certain tasks.

"These are non-paid county employees," Richardson said of the trustees.

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