On June 8, 1995, I was appointed to the position of Superintendent of Eastern NY Correctional Facility. I had been appointed by the Acting Commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services, and former Superintendent of Eastern NY Correctional Facility during my earlier tenure at this facility, Mr. Philip Coombe, Jr.
I immediately felt the awesome responsibility for the running of a maximum security institution with 1,440 acres of land; 1,237 inmates; 600 employees; a $22 million budget, and a history of being the best institution in the New York State Department of Correctional Services system. It had been challenging working with Superintendent Coombe to estabi ish. Eastern as #1, but the task of maintaining the #1 status seemed an impossible one. I pulled up in front of the facility on my first day and looked up at the massive stone structure. This impressive architectural wonder commanded respect and gave a feeling of permanency. It had always been clear to me that this was a special institution, with a long history that equally deserved the stamp of permanency and remembrance.
Five years later, I am just beginning to understand some of the factors that establish Eastern NY Correctional Facility as a leader within the Department of Correctional Services system. First and foremost, Eastern NY Correctional Facility has a veteran seasoned workforce, both uniformed and civilian, who respect the inmates. The staff members are not only seasoned, but they understand the concept of working as a team. There have never appeared to be divisions between civilians and uniformed staff or between line and supervisory staff. They work together and function as a well-oiled machine. The reputation of the facility for meaningful inmate prograrns and the lack of inmate idleness are second to none. Academic and vocational offerings, prison industry, and work programs are complemented with guidance and counseling, recreation, religious activities and self-help groups. Inmates are encouraged to take positive leadership roles. It is made clear that violence, gang activities and drugs are not tolerated. Thirdly, Eastern NY Correctional Facility offers inmates a tension-free atmosphere with a great deal of space. (Forty percent of the 23 acres inside the wall is dedicated to the large recreational yard.) Lastly, and maybe most importantly from an inmate's perspective, is the institution's proximity to New York City from which 85% of the inmate population originate. Inmates' families can drive up to Eastern for a visit with their incarcerated loved ones, and be home in time for dinner.
Shortly before my arrival, Robert Mitchell, the previous Superintendent, had encouraged several employees to research the history of the facility. I continued his efforts, and with the help of numerous employees and several retirees, we set out to prepare for the celebration of Eastern NY Correctional Facility's first one hundred years. Hours and hours were spent compiling the material, artifacts and pictures that had been saved or retrieved over the years. This massive effort has resulted in a booklet and a video that tell the history of the facility, the forces that shaped its character, the story of its staff and inmates, and challenges that have been met.
Though Eastern NY Correctional Facility is, in essence, a "community" of its own, the centennial preparation process has reminded us of the many ways that we have been, are and will continue to be connected to the surrounding community. The institution has always served as a major employer, a purchaser from local businesses, and a source of free labor for nonprofit organizations. To this day, Eastern NY Correctional Facility's inmate crews paint and help maintain firehouses, churches, little league fields and cemeteries. The crews are also called upon to help with emergencies such as forest fires at Minnewaska State Park. Inmates from Eastern organized the Delinquency Intervention Program in order to deter at-risk kids from a fate similar to theirs. Our administrators and employees have a long-standing tradition of active involvement in community affairs, business associations, fraternal organizations and local government. The concept of a correctional facility as a good neighbor got an early start at Eastern and has grown stronger as the years have passed.
The question can always be asked, "Why observe a centennial?" What meaning does that have or could that have for a correctional facility? Why go through all of the planning, building, renewal, research and extra hours on the part of many? The words on the new employee-designed plaque on a monument at the facility's entryway provide our best answer:
In commemoration of our centennial year, the employees of Eastern honor our tradition of "family" by herein remembering the dedicated public service of all those who have preceded us. Let the record reflect that they worked hard, answered when duty called, were good neighbors and friends ... that they made a difference.
We believe that this 100 years of surprisingly rich and well-documented history is worthy of acknowledgment, commemoration and sharing. We are proud of it.
David I. Miller