Seasons Greeting from Gary Klugiewicz.

Shelly Sandry asked me to write an article for the December issue of the Wisconsin Department of Justice Training & Standards Bureau’s Jail Newsletter on the topic of my favorite jail Christmas memory. I have posted my submission below. It demonstrates how treating people with dignity by showing them respect can change a defensive atmosphere into a supportive one – even when interacting with persons with mental illness who happen to be incarcerated.

Let me know what you think in the comments section.


Christmas Time inside a jail has different meanings for different classes of people. For the staff, although they have to work, it is often a pleasant time filled with Christmas parties, off time planning, and Secret Santa gifts. For the inmates, on the other hand, it is a much different time filled with loneliness, isolation from love ones, and depression based on knowing what they are missing. My favorite jail Christmas memories are of the Christmas parties that the Special Management Team gave for the mentally ill inmates in their care & custody.

In the 1990’s I was assigned to the Milwaukee County Jail as a shift supervisor. Val Ranft, a psychiatric social worker, and I were in charge of the Special Management Team comprised of Special Management deputies and psychiatric social workers. At that time, we had 350 mentally ill inmates incarcerated in our Jail. I was extremely proud of the difficult and often thankless task that these deputies performed. Needless to say, the deputies in this program took a lot of gentle hazing from their fellow deputies. I remember them being told that SMT really stood for Some More Thorazine. Our response was that SMT stood for Simply More Talented. Current training spends a great deal of time explaining the need for developing empathy – seeing through the other persons eyes. These SMT deputies did this year’s before it became popular.

They lived the Platinum Rule: To treat people like you would like to be treated under identical circumstances. What if you or a loved one were mentally ill and incarcerated in a correctional facility? How would you want to be treated? The answer that you would come up with is that you would want to be treated with dignity and shown respect. This is exactly what our SMT did.

At Christmas time, we would hold a Christmas Party for our SMT inmates. We would bring in food, treats, and soft drinks. We would decorate the Special Needs area for the moment. We would bring in Christmas music and have a Christmas Party. Even today, this would be pretty extreme but in the 1990’s it was ground breaking. There are some who I am sure will say that this type of behavior is totally out of control. It may be but it is my hope that if I ever fall from grace, develop mental illness, and end up in jail that I am in the custody of SMT members. To all my former and current SMT deputies, correctional officers, and psychiatric social workers, have a safe and blessed holiday season.

You are Simply More Talented.

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