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Career of West Virginia Penitentiary corrections officer inspires book


The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. — The career of one of the first women to work in the North Hall at the former West Virginia Penitentiary served as the inspiration for a book, released earlier this month.

Author C.J. Plogger, from left, contributor Jordan Gray and corrections officer Maggie Gray welcome visitors during a book signing Thursday at the former West Virginia Penitentiary.
(Photo by Alan Olsen)
Written by Charles “C.J.” Plogger, “Life at The West Virginia Penitentiary: The Story of Maggie Gray” details the highlights of Gray’s time working at the penitentiary, from 1987 until its closure in 1995, after which she continued working with the Department of Corrections. Gray said she started working at the penitentiary at the age of 42, as the option wasn’t one she received growing up, but soon found it to be a great fit for her.

“This is the kind of career that, when I was growing up, they didn’t offer in school. Women were supposed to be teachers, nurses or secretaries,” Gray said. “I started when I was 42, and I knew from the moment I walked in the door that this was what I was supposed to be doing my entire life. I loved the job. It was hard, it was nerve-wracking, exhausting, but very worthwhile.”

What stood out to Gray was the violence among inmates. In the eight-year period she was employed at the penitentiary, Gray estimated that 15-20 inmates were murdered, and countless more attempts made. The gruesome sights of these attacks has remained with her.

“Not all of them died, and some of them you wonder how they actually lived through that,”she said “I’ve seen them with their throats slit and their bellies wide open and you wonder how they lived, but they do.”

After her time working at the penitentiary, Gray has worked with the Northern Regional Jail off and on, training the next generation of corrections officers. She encourages anyone seeking a rewarding career to consider doing the job she loved.

“If anyone’s looking for a career opportunity, corrections doesn’t pay a lot, but they have good benefits, and we need you. We’re desperate for people,” she said, noting part of her duties with the DOC involves assisting in training new hires.

Gray wanted to dispel the notion that corrections officers, especially at the former penitentiary, acted to bully inmates into compliance.

“There was only retaliation when we were attacked — then you had to do what you had to do to control the situation and keep people from getting hurt, staff and inmates alike,” Gray said. “There were days you could walk through a housing unit, and it was just like walking down the street.”

In addition to her work with the Department of Corrections, Gray also works as a tour guide at the former penitentiary.

Plogger, also a tour guide, told Gray’s story with assistance from Gray’s granddaughter, Jordan Gray.

“These stories are 100-percent real coming from a woman that worked in the prison until closing day. We aren’t talking fiction. What we are talking is actual things that did happen,”Plogger said.

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