Jail's administrator retires after 33 years
A 33-year career in corrections was just the thing for Deb Marculis.
“I just loved working with the inmates,” she said.
While she continued to enjoy her job, the Allegan County Sheriff Department captain said she knew it was a good time lo leave, as her department was about to switch to a new jail.
“It’s time to retire,” Marculis said. “I’m old school and you know it’s time to retire when you call yourself old school.
“I think it’ll be a great new facility and I think with a new facility it’s time for new leadership to come in.”
Working as a corrections officer involves communication as much as anything else,” she said.
“Listen,” she said. “You have to listen to them. Most just want to have someone listen to them for a few minutes.
“Obtain the facts, make a decision and carry out that decision. Be fair, firm and consistent. You don’t argue with the inmates, you go through those steps.”
People’s image of jail inmates may or may not reflect the reality Marculis has dealt with in her career.
“They’re just people—the same people who we meet in our communities,” she said. “Mostly people are here because they made a bad decision, and I haven’t met anyone who never made a mistake.”
An Otsego High School graduate, Marculis lives on family land within a 6-mile radius of her siblings. She had the experience of living in a small strip of Pine Grove Township which is part of the Otsego school district and has Otsego addresses, though it’s in Van Buren County.
“When I went to Van Buren County to get a marriage license, I had to argue with them for a half hour.”
She came to the sheriff department through a job placement program affiliated with Davenport College and began working as secretary for then Undersheriff Robert Hill. That led to an opportunity to become the county’s first female corrections officer.
“A year-and-a-half in, the undersheriff said one of the COs wanted Thanksgiving off and asked if I would work in the control room,” Marculis said. “...I just never left corrections.”
Over her career—she was the second-longest serving current officer behind Undersheriff Jim Hull—Marculis said she’d aimed to just do the job that needed to be done.
“It wasn’t that I wanted to make a difference, exactly,” she said. “I just wanted to be the one who treated the inmates fairly, firmly and consistently.
“Give them some structure and give them some tools they can use outside of jail.”
A few times, she did hear from people who’d say she helped them turn their lives around.
“Through a career, you do get notes from people who you made a difference with and they are successful people now,” Marculis said.
Inmates rely on the corrections officers to tell them when to get up, when to eat, when to go court.
“I don’t think people can understand what it’s like to be in jail and have your whole day dictated to you,” Marculis said.
Programming and working with inmates in small groups to get to them to understand what got them into trouble is prized, but it’s hard to do.
“There’s never enough money for programming, even thought it’s one of the biggest things that we know makes a difference,” Marculis said. “It is staff-intensive, but if those people could supervise themselves, they wouldn’t be in jail.”
Becoming jail administrator in 2002 wasn’t totally a positive thing, she said, though she appreciated the opportunity and encouragement from Undersheriff Jim Hull and Sheriff Blaine Koops.
“I’m not working with inmates anymore, I’m working with budgets and staffing,” Marculis said.
As the first woman to hold most of the ranks in the sheriff department, Marculis said she never had any ambition to be a trailblazer—just to do her job.
“I just assimilated in,” she said. “I think a lot of the guys thought I was one of the guys. It wasn’t about that for me.
“It was just about the job and I loved the job.”
She especially thanked Hull and Koops for supporting and believing in her.
“They had confidence in me and they didn’t micromanage me,” Marculis said. “I owe a lot of my success to them.”
She said she was proud of how much she has stressed training for the corrections officers under her command, typically getting them 80 to 120 hours of training per year, well above the state’s requirement of 20 hours.
“We have one of the best-trained staffs,” Marculis said.
She said the new jail’s biggest difference would be that it gave corrections officers the ability to split up inmates much, much more than they had now.
“There are so many different tools they’ll have now,” Marculis said.