By Lucas Vader
On the north end of Delta there’s a prison. It’s called the Delta Correctional Facility, and to previous long-time warden Steven Green, there’s an important distinction in that title.
After 20 years of being the warden at the Delta Correctional Facility, Green retired on Jan. 31. With that, he left a two-decade legacy of never taking that word, “correctional,” for granted.
“The main emphasis, the focus of corrections is to keep the community safe by keeping these convicted felons incarcerated, but there’s another side to it as well,” Green said. “When you take away somebody’s rights and freedoms, you also take responsibility for their welfare and their wellbeing and you have to provide an environment that is safe for the person to do their time.”
For Green, there was even more to it than that, an extra layer to just physically guarding the inmates. “You don’t just want it to be dead life so you get very involved with providing appropriate opportunities for them to change,” he said.
While he’s been the facility’s warden for 20 years, Green’s career with the Delta Correctional Facility goes back further. He started out as a correctional officer 15 years earlier.
“What [correctional officer] is is what people typically would call a guard, though that’s a term that we kind of shrink away from because there’s kind of all the pieces of it,” Green said. He explained that, beyond basic guard duties, correctional officers have the important role of interacting with the inmates on a daily basis, knowing who they are, knowing to what amount of security they should be incarcerated and to be a part of the corrections process.
Green’s long-term stand at the facility began somewhat unexpectedly for him, though law enforcement was in his family history. His great grandfather, Ray Lockhart, was the Delta County sheriff from 1932-1946.
“I never intended to be in corrections,” Green said. “I graduated college in 1984, I was working in a warehouse. The opportunity came up to go be a correctional officer and I said, ‘Well, this is better than working at a warehouse as a career.’”
Green didn’t know what the role of a correctional officer entailed until he started. Partly with a determination to make a difference in his new job and partly with his great-grandfather sheriff in mind, he progressed up the chain of command, becoming the warden in 1999. Until January, he was at the top, and he shared his passion for aiming for the true goals of a correctional officer.
“My emphasis after I became a warden was dealing a lot with my staff,” Green said. He pushed the notion that the prison wasn’t just a bleak end of the road for every inmate, but that it was instead what the title said it was — correctional. “It became a fulfilling job for them as well,” Green said. “And it might sound silly, but I think warden was the most fulfilling thing I could have done with my life.”
Of course, as laws changed, as legislature developed over the course of 35 years, Green saw a great deal of change in the way prisons were run.
“From 1984, society became a much more sophisticated society, and with that, the Department of Corrections also became much more sophisticated organizationally,” Green said. Certain regulations came in as sorts of experiments. Some stuck around and some didn’t.
Green recalled one particularly memorable change in 1999, while he was acting warden. That change, which was an order at the state level, was to take away tobacco.
“That’s actually a conflict of public health, that we can control everything else in their lives, we should also be able to control the intake of a substance known to be unhealthy, and this case, it was tobacco,” Green said.
The change caused a riot. “They started trash can fires and various things,” Green said. “There were 480 offenders there, roughly, and they were running all over the yard, screaming and throwing rocks. It kind of looked like what you’d see on TV, resembled a riot.”
Correctional officers got the situation under control quickly, and the inmates settled down under lockdown.
Green was always of the belief that the amount of security for each inmate was a balance. They needed to be secured enough that they wouldn’t leave and cause danger to the community, but also found it important to minimize the amount of deep, hard-core, hopeless institutionalization when it would be an overreaction.
“I only wanted the amount of control, the amount of rules and regulations, to keep everyone safe but not to further the institutionalization — get them to be responsible for their own decisions, back in their own lives,” Green said. “So it’s kind of a balancing act.”
That, along with setting goals for actual corrections for each inmate, was the basis of Green’s philosophy throughout. His last day was Jan. 31, and he went out ready to retire. He was acknowledged by the Colorado Department of Corrections on that day and celebrated on the department’s social media.
As for the cake that celebrated his career and his retirement, it read, “The Legendary Warden Steven Green Is Breakin’ Free!”