John W. Turner lives only about three miles from the Utah State Prison, where he spent many years working as a guard, deputy warden and warden.
Since his retirement in 1973, Turner has visited the prison only occasionally. But he still thinks about the now-sprawling institution, enjoys frequent contact with former prison staff and reflects on his 261/2 years of correctional work.Turner, 74, an imposing 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound gray-haired man, said his own philosophy about corrections and state policies that guided his administration of the prison over a total of 22 years may not work well with the current inmate population.
But Turner, who started working as a guard in 1948 at the former Utah State Prison site (now Sugarhouse Park), says he still believes in making inmates more responsible and accountable. And he believes that an emphasis on rehabilitation services for some inmates would be beneficial.
"Prisons defeat themselves. When you lock a man up, take away his freedom for so many years, then release him without adequate programs, he comes out no better prepared to handle his problems. Just locking someone up doesn't teach them responsibility," Turner said.
He believes that inmates should be required to work to support their own families or the families of those they have wronged or harmed. Inmates should do so either in an industrial program while in prison or in a job while on probation or parole.
"There are some inmates who wouldn't fit into this kind of program, and maybe incarceration is the only thing that works. But I think they ought to have the opportunity to work and pay something back."
Turner's philosophy evolved over many years. He grew up in a large family, worked on his parents' farm and graduated from Jordan High School, where he played tackle on the football team.
He served in the military during World II, worked as a dragline operator for the Bureau of Reclamation and as a tank mechanic at Tooele Ordnance Depot. His work in corrections came about by chance when he and a friend saw a sign seeking applicants for prison guard positions.
"We were both pretty good-size, and they (the state) hired us both," Turner said. He started work at the Sugarhouse prison site in early 1948, while his friend was assigned to the prison farm, where the main prison compound is now located.
In the early 1950s Turner, other staff and inmates moved to the present Draper site, where he was appointed deputy warden in 1952 and warden about 1958. Turner remembers breaking up prison riots, including disturbances in which hostages were taken and small fires were set in the prison. Sitdown strikes also were staged, and Turner recalls one riot in which he felt that his own safety was jeopardized.
"I was the deputy warden and the warden was out of town. The riot went on all night, with inmates knocking out the lights, setting a few little fires and taking several officers hostage. The inmates were armed and hard to deal with. They wouldn't talk to anyone else, but they would talk with me," Turner said, recalling how he walked through the prison darkness and into a spotlight controlled by people outside the prison.
Despite such hair-raising experiences, Turner said his biggest challenge was "trying to run the prison to please the public while at the same time trying to control inmates. Sometimes policies conflicted . . ."
Turner said he was able to settle most inmate problems rather peacefully. During his administration, an inmate greivance council was established, and programs such as work release, an inmate speaking program and other activities aimed at keeping inmates busy were started.
Since leaving prison he has been a Bluffdale city councilman, volunteer police chief and bishop of the Bluffdale 2nd Ward.
"When they (former inmates) have written or visited to tell me they had a job, were married and had a family or seeing other success in their lives it made it all worthwhile," Turner said.