Action News 5 Investigates: Mamma's House - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Ursula Madden

Action News 5 Investigates: Mamma's House

In the eighties, the Shelby County Jail at 201 Poplar was known as "The Glamour Slammer." 

By the late nineties, inmates were calling it "Thunderdome."

Now, the jail has undergone another transformation.

James Coleman, the chief jailer at 201 Poplar, is the man at the top.

"For years it was thought you had to be this big brute with no brains," he said.

Coleman's staff is made up of mostly woman, who keep the jail going 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  In fact, women make up nearly 75% of the jail's total staff. 

Not all the women there are deputy jailers, but many are.

The jail's new annex is spilt up into common areas, known as pods, surrounded by living quarters.  In each pod, there is one deputy jailer for 64 inmates. 

Sgt. Cheryl Bernard says it often takes courage to enter a pod full of inmates.

"You have to go in and let the inmates see that you have control of yourself," she said.  "And once they see that you're okay, then they're ok."

Bernard has been on the job for 31 years.

"Woman do a good job," she said.  "We take our job very seriously."

According to Coleman, when women first started working in jails years ago, male corrections officers weren't sure what would happen.

"We used to think when I was a corrections officer that we were going to have to protect the female," he said.

But Coleman found that women have a lot of resolve.

"These were women who came in who had just raised a household at home, so they understood how to talk in a proper manner to a little knucklehead," he said. "How to correct, and still maintain their dignity.  And these ladies came in and held their ground."

Today, women jailers are still holding their ground, even when prisoners get out of line.

"The gang bangers want to come in and run the pods," Bernard said. "You get two or three GD's or Disciples and they want to fight to take control of the pod."

Bernard admits that occasionally she gets cursed out by inmates, but she says for the most part inmates are respectful, and she believes that's because she's a woman.

"Overall the females get better behavior out of the inmates than the men do," she said.  "We do a pretty good job.  Inmates look to you as a mother figure sometimes."

And when inmates don't treat her with the same respect they treat their mothers, "Back-up is in the hall," Bernard said.


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