Surrounded by the green hills of Kentucky lies the Logan County Detention Center, where 115 inmates are housed inside the gray painted walls and glossy floors. Eight deputy jailers patrol the halls charged with keeping the peace. With a racing heart but serious presence, 21-year-old Ashley Chilcutt stands as one of Logan County’s newest deputy jailers.
Chilcutt, a junior studying English, arrived home from her mission in Hungary with plans to attend BYU-Idaho in six months. During the six-month waiting period, Chilcutt’s father suggested she apply to work as a deputy jailer at the same jail he was working for. Without a car and knowing her dad could give rides, she decided to apply.
Chilcutt arrived at her interview and the staff gave her a tour of the jail and conducted an extensive background check.
“They do the background check to make sure you are not there for the wrong reasons,” Chilcutt said. “They make sure you don’t have a history of harming people because the point of becoming a deputy jailer is not to exert power over people.”
According to the Logan County Detention Center website, there are nine requirements that applicants must pass before being considered for employment. Some include being over 21 years old, having a high school or GED diploma, a valid driver’s license and passing a drug test.
Despite the requirements, the new deputy jailers do not receive a lot of training before working with the inmates.
“I thought I would have more self-defense training when I started out,” Chilcutt said. “I had pepper spray training and a little bit of weapons training, but handguns were not allowed to be back with the inmates. Weapons are not how we take control of situations.”
When the deputy jailers needed to calm down inmates and take control, they will warn them verbally. If the inmates do not heed the warning, the jailers will use soft hand techniques, like holding their arms behind their backs. If the inmates are still being disobedient or resisting, they are pepper-sprayed. Once restrained, the jailers are required to wipe the inmates’ eyes and faces.
“We don’t want the spray to stay on their face,” Chilcutt said. “It is very painful, and we are not there to torture anyone.”
Chilcutt felt out of place after coming straight off her mission to working at the jail. she felt the skills she acquired as a sister missionary in Hungary did not transfer well into her new job.
“I knew that my size, my gender and my demeanor at the time would work against me in terms of gaining respect from the inmates,” Chilcutt said. “I think that’s important because unless the inmates respect you, they are probably not going to comply when you give verbal warnings.”
Being a young female working in a jail was one of the biggest struggles for Chilcutt.
“One thing I did not anticipate was the way I would be looked at when I walk in a room,” Chilcutt said. “I felt disrespected by the inmates a lot of the time and I tried not to let that get into my head. I knew that if I let it get to me, I would be a lot less focused.”
To overcome the challenges, she would be very serious with them.
“I made sure that the inmates would not single me out,” Chilcutt said. “I felt like if I were to become conversational with them, then it would have been so hard to get any respect.”
Being a deputy jailer was, as her dad put it, her first “big girl job” and felt it was a big change to adjust to. Over the six months of working for the detention center, Chilcutt felt her confidence grow and her ability to have a serious presence strengthened even when facing ridicule and adversity.
“At first some of the police at the courthouse thought I was playing dress-up, but they learned quickly that I was a new hire after they saw me day after day doing my job,” she said.
Chilcutt took each opportunity to prove herself to those around her by pushing through her own insecurities and doing what was asked of her. The personal growth that came with being a deputy jailer made all the struggles worth it for her.