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FCI-Berlin Warden Esker "Lee" Tatum

FCI-Berlin Warden Esker "Lee" Tatum Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
December 04, 2013
BERLIN — FCI-Berlin Warden Esker "Lee" Tatum arrived in the Androscoggin Valley on Monday, Nov. 4, to become the second warden to head the medium-security federal correctional institution on the City's East Side, close to the Milan town line.

He explained at an interview in his office on Friday, Nov. 22, that he has already set very specific goals that he hopes to meet in 90 days, which is almost the end of Feb. 2014, both for himself and the 263 staff members now on site.

This is the first time that Tatum has held the warden's post; he most recently served as the associate warden at FCI-Fairton, N.J.

Four of the facilities in which he served earlier were also undergoing activation, Tatum pointed out. FCI-Berlin is, in essence in an extended activation phase since it remains less than half full.

Tatum's first 90-day goal is to ensure that FCI-Berlin is compliant with the 531 accreditation standards of the American Correctional Association.

These standards apply to all aspects of activity in a correctional facility, including food service, conditions of confinement in special housing, inmate counts, use of force regulations, sanitation, and life safety, Tatum explained, proudly noting that the federal Bureau of Prisons operates the best correctional facilities in the world.

The warden also said that within 90 days he would like FCI-Berlin to be staffed at the facility's full complement of 342 Bureau of Prison employees — or as close to that as possible. "It's important to set a goal and then to be moving toward it," Tatum said. Building staff numbers means bringing in more employees than are "changed out" due to promotions, he explained.

Tatum's other 90-day goal is to "crank it up" and fill the prison to its capacity by having appropriate inmates redirected to FCI-Berlin. The total inmate count stood at 567 on Nov. 22, of whom 95 were assigned to the minimum security Satellite Camp (SCP), a.k.a., "work camp."

FCI-Berlin is designed to house 1,152 male offenders in the main medium-security facility and 128 inmates in the work camp, making a total of 1,280 inmates.

Tatum explained that he is still familiarizing himself with all that the facility offers.

He has held "town meetings" with the inmates on hand to talk to them about his expectations and to field questions, and, of course, he has held staff meetings with the Leadership Group, including 15 Department heads, 13 lieutenants, and other supervisory staff. "The Bureau of Prisons has policies, procedures and values in place that govern how everything is done," Tatum said.

Central to the all BOP operations is preparing inmates for their re-entry into society, the warden said. A re-entry coordinator plays a vital role plus the facility's training programs, including a 500-hour-long drug program that encompasses academic classes and behavioral training under the aegis of a psychologist, plus various vocational classes. Many inmates are incarcerated because of drug offences.

There are still opportunities for employment by those who live in the region, Tatum said.

Vacancies are listed online at USAJobs.gov, the federal government's official source for federal government jobs listings, job applications, and employment information. Some information may also be available at N.H. Employment Security (NHES) on Pleasant Street in Berlin.

The Talent Team has morphed into the Community Relations Board made up of civic leaders and representatives of local law enforcement, state corrections, both local SAUs, White Mountains Community College, and NHES.

When asked whether there he had had any surprises when he came to Berlin, Tatum replied that he had not expected such beautiful mountains and picturesque scenery and, like most BOP staff members who have relocated here, has been delighted to find that the Androscoggin Valley has a rich culture and history of its own, so that it is not a "pop-up" community that has sprung up around a federal facility.

He had made an exploratory trip to Berlin in mid-September and found it to his liking before applying for the post.

Tatum looks forward to taking up some local sports, very likely snowshoeing and ATVing. "I like the woods," he said.

Tatum bought a house on Norway Street in Berlin, but his wife of 31 years plans to remain living in Delaware, where she works in the insurance industry. Their 24-year-old daughter expects to graduate this spring from the University of Delaware where she has focused on women's studies and domestic violence issues.

Tatum grew up in Trenton, N. J., a city that looks south to Philadelphia, making him an ardent Phillies and Eagles fan. Sports memorabilia provides a homey touch to his ground-floor office that commands of a view of the distant mountains.

After graduating from the University of Greensboro (NC), Tatum spent seven years in the Air Force. The warden explained that when he finished his military service, his wife, whom he had met at college, saw a Bureau of Prisons ad and urged him to look into it.

Tatum started as a Corrections Officer and then became a case manager. He has moved up the promotional ladder, taking on increasing responsibilities at various jobs located in Brooklyn, N. Y., and Philadelphia, Penn.

The federal facility's first warden, Deborah Schult, Ph.D., a native of Billerica, Mass., received a promotion that resulted in her being posted to Washington, D.C.

On May 8, the Greater Boston Federal Executive Board for Excellence in Government recognized Warden Schult at a ceremony celebrating the success and achievement of federal employees in the region. Warden Schult received the "Executive of the Year Award," largely based on her leadership in the successful activation of FCI Berlin. The award recognizes a senior executive who demonstrates a strong commitment to the principles of public service, exceptional performance, integrity, and devotion to duty. FCI Berlin officially opened on Oct. 19, 2012.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat of Madbury who is on the Appropriations Committee, said in an informal conversation at the Omni Mount Washington Hotel an hour before this interview that she is one of a number of Senators who hopes to hammer out a two-year budget deal that would reduce the automatic cuts, including BOP funding, that are part of sequestration.

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