The inmates were just doing what they thought they could get away with, and when Deputy Warden Tom Bona threatened to "shake them down," they laughed.

"You come on up the stairs if you think you can," they yelled to Bona.The inmates figured there was no way the wheelchair-bound officer could get up four flights of concrete stairs to make good on his threats.

But Bona doesn't see himself the way others might.

After the challenge, Bona went into the control room and told two officers to carry him up the stairs. They did, and Bona kept his promise to "shake down" (search) the inmates.

"They never bothered me after that," Bona said matter-of-factly. "They kind of know if I tell you I'm going to do something, I do it."

That kind of resolve helped Bona adjust after he was in a car accident 12 years ago that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Leaving his job as a correctional officer never entered his mind.

"I was just determined that I was going to continue with life the way I always had," he said from his office at the Point of the Mountain. But he admits that being a captain and spending more time in managerial-type work made his adjustment much easier.

"If I would have come back as a correctional officer, it would have been somewhat difficult," he said. But not impossible - at least not for Bona.

Bona has become a fixture at the Draper prison during his 25 years there. He has a quick wit hiding beneath the gruff exterior that commands the respect of both inmates and officers.

Inmates see him as a man who means what he says and who doesn't take flak from anyone. Officers see him as an advocate and a "straight shooter." Both groups say he is among the best at solving problems.

Bona said balancing his role as a staff advocate and as an administrator is sometimes tough. But his years of working graveyard, swing shifts and holidays are not easily forgotten.

"I've always wanted to make it better for staff," he said. "I never forgot that I used to be one of those little guys. I never forgot my roots."

Bona found his way to the prison when he was laid off from a road construction crew. He applied for a prison job to get him through the winter.

He never went back to his construction job and he doesn't regret that decision.

"There are always new challenges," Bona said. "The challenge that you want to make things better. The challenge that you might help somebody get their life straightened around."

Determined and confident, Bona said the personal changes he had to make after his accident were hardest.

"Accepting you are paralyzed is easy," Bona said. "Accepting you can't do things and that you are used to doing without thinking about is harder."

Especially the little things, he said, like reaching a cupboard or going up a curb.

But Bona said he doesn't know how to quit, so he adjusted.

When a doctor recently told Bona he had only a 20 percent chance at surviving the cancer that is now spreading through his lungs, he said he would focus on the positive.

"I'm not going to focus on that 80 percent that's bad," he said. The only adjustment Bona plans to make for the cancer is to retire on April 1.

"My life's changed drastically before," he said. "So it's probably a little easier for me to deal with than some others. I don't know what `give up' means."