MILWAUKEE — When many hear the word “warden,” they think of a big, burly type, no-nonsense man with a stern look. When FOX6 was invited inside the House of Correction in Franklin, we were not expecting what we found – both in terms of how it is run, and who is running it!
Nancy Evans is a warden of the county correctional facility in Franklin, and the downtown jail in Milwaukee. You would probably never guess she is in charge of over 3,000 inmates!
Don’t let her presence fool you. Someone made that mistake 15 years ago, just after she started as a correctional officer. “About a year after I started, one of the lieutenants came up to me and said that when the new groups walk through, they normally try to point out which ones they think won’t make it, and she said she picked me,” Evans said.
Evans said it makes her feel pretty good that she’s the lieutenant’s boss now! Evans says she may be laughing now, but the early days were tough, especially because Evans came to law enforcement from a background where she never needed a gun! “I’ve worked in a dental office, and the dentist I worked for was retiring, and a friend encouraged me to apply for this position. Honestly, I never really imagined this,” Evans said.
Evans might not have imagined it, but the mother of four was a natural for the job. She says she’s followed one rule on her way up the ranks. “I think as long as you treat the inmates fair, they understand that you have a job to do. They understand that you have rules to enforce,” Evans said.
Evans inherited that leadership style in large part from home. Raised primarily by her mother on the northeast side of Milwaukee, she was the youngest of eight children. “At one point I probably put limits on what I thought I could do, but I have learned not to do that,” Evans said.
That philosophy “no limits” is one reason Evans has been so successful, and also why she loves her job. “No day is the same. It’s not boring, and you never know what to expect. You’ve got to stay on your toes. My phone can ring at two o’clock in the morning, and I have to jump up and go into one of the facilities,” Evans said.
FOX6’s Mary Stoker Smith spent some time inside the House of Correction in Franklin – one of the two facilities Evans oversees. It was once called the “House of Horrors,” because of the poor condition that it was in, and because of the unstructured way it was run, but these days, it’s much different. Evans took FOX6 on a sweep for weapons, drugs and cell phones. “You have to have discipline, order, training and structure. You are dealing with an inmate who just doesn’t care about the rules,” Evans said.
No rules were broken on the day FOX6 was on hand for the sweep. No drugs, no weapons and no cell phones were found. The warden is pleased with the outcome, especially considering the House of Correction building was not meant to house those convicted of felonies. “The design of this place was for a low-level crime with a sentence with a lot to lose, and today that is just not what we see coming in the doors,” Evans said.
As you can imagine, there are a lot of tough personalities to control, which is why corrections officers are armed with tasers, and trained to use them. “You have to be on your top game, every day, and you need every tool available to you to operate this (facility) and to go home safely,” Evans said.
The incentives to go home safe are seen all around Evans’ office: bright smiles in pictures of her kids, and the story book she reads to her children at night. When asked what the future holds, Evans says she’s just learned to live in the moment. “I’m happy where I am. I am very happy in my professional life, in my family life, but I would just never say never to anything at this point in my life. I’m very happy with where I am,” Evans said.
Evans went back to school when she was 36 to earn her bachelor’s degree, and now, the mother of four is working on her master’s degree and expects to finish that soon.