New Folsom State Prison Warden Mike Evans is a self-made man.
No typical track exists toward becoming a prison warden, said Evans, 62, who took over Dec. 1 at the ancient institution in Represa.
“It’s not like becoming a doctor, or an actor – you don’t plan on it,” Evans said. “People come to it through various routes.”
Still, it’s a good bet few wardens duplicated the route Evans took.
“I’m pretty much self-educated,” he said. “I do have an associate’s degree from Cosumnes River College in criminal justice, but most of my education comes from copious reading of books. Not much fiction recently, although I’ve been through the classics. I re-read Shakespeare regularly – John Donne, Milton. I have a fascination for psychology as it relates to the human condition.”
Evans’ previous post was warden for four years at the former Soledad State Prison, now called Salinas Valley, where gang membership is almost compulsory among inmates. Before his time, even the guards had a gang, called the Green Wall, according to the Monterey Herald.
Evans has boiled down almost an aphoristic comment on the psychological aspects of an institution that incarcerates.
“Angst creates negativity in the dynamic between the keeper and the kept,” he said.
Evans had “a lot of non-college training in leadership,” he said. “I’m credentialed by Phi Beta Kappa as a leadership facilitator. I want to develop the down-the-lines to assume leadership.”
Salinas Valley Prison lately has devoted time to community-oriented programs, Evans said.
“There’s the ‘Code 4’ diversion program in the community, to interact with at-risk youths,” he said. “And, it’s not unusual to see a law-enforcement Explorer post, but we had one of the few corrections Explorer posts.”
Inside Salinas Valley Prison, Evans said, the institution under his four years of leadership was able to accomplish “stabilization of the mission.”
“It had been very violent, with a significant turnover of wardens and top staff members,” he said. “We undertook a tremendous expansion of mental-health operations, discovering, for example, that certain psychotropics could be used effectively in that climate, with no high heat.”
With any luck, Evans said, his tenure at Folsom will be one in which the public loses a stereotype of the prison, of corrections officials and of inmates as a closed, secretive system that encapsulates evil so that the public doesn’t have to deal with it.
“Although, it’s part of human nature to be attracted to that which is sinister, and dark,” he said. “One of my missions is to provide a more transparent environment. I don’t want to turn it into Hollywood North, but legitimate inquiries and access by the public are important.”