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Innovative prison commemorates 25 years of service

Friday, September 11, 2020

ALVA, Okla. – You could spend hours, maybe even days flipping through the photos and news clippings. But it’s the people who tell the real story of Bill Johnson Correctional Center in Alva. 

“The Bill Johnson Correctional Center is something that Alva needed, that northwest Oklahoma needed, that the whole state of Oklahoma needed,” retired Judge Ray Linder said.

There was plenty of opposition. Swaying a small, safe community to approve a prison work camp was a towering challenge. 

“Not everyone was for it. There were some would didn’t think it was right for Alva, Oklahoma,” Citizen’s Advisory Committee member Jane McDermott said.

Alva got on board, but community leaders still had to persuade the Department of Corrections. 

“We had to go to the Department of Corrections and take all the aces we had,” McDermott said. “We can win this poker hand.” 

The Charles Bill Johnson Correctional Center finally broke ground in 1994. The facility officially opened the next year.

“I was there when the first van pulled up for orientation for the trainees,” Warden Janet Dowling said. “The warden was very clear, these guys were there to make a difference in their lives, to make a change.”  

The inaugural staff created the original “Regimented Treatment Program.” It was a learning experience for everyone. 

“Once we got through that very first year then the rest started thinking maybe there is something to this,” retired Chief Randy Parker said. “The treatment program, with the work, with the education and the vocational training just fit together.” 

ODOC employees were eager to join the team at Bill Johnson. 

“You hear the Director and people from the local community talking about the goal of what would be there and I decided back then I wanted to be part of the process,” retired staffer Jose Salinas said. 

Launching a new facility was a monumental. Teamwork was a critical component to their success. 

“The staff really worked together well," Randy Parker said. “The facility is still there because the staff works together."   

Since the inception, Bill Johnson has maintained a family-like atmosphere. The staff has always found time to squeeze in a little fun. 

“The warden wanted the cussing to stop,” Parker said. “So we put a quarter in a mason jar anytime someone cussed. It paid for our Christmas party.”  

Bill Johnson Correctional Center is among the longest, continuous running substance abuse program in the state.  

Discipline, accountability and cognitive programming have always been the cornerstones to the unprecedented success here.  

“It has made a lot of difference in people’s lives,” Citizen's Advisory Committee member Freelin Roberts said.  

It’s also had an impact on the men and women who have dedicated their lives investing in others. 

“It helps if you buy into the process," Salinas said. “If you know you make a difference, not just for the offender. It affects their family, your family. You can’t beat the feeling. If your heart is in it, it’s very rewarding.” 

On this 25th anniversary, a surprise party and special dedication was held for the woman who boldly took the reins in 1995. 

“She challenged all of us to be better,” Warden Becky Guffy said. “Janice Melton exemplifies all that a good leader should be. And for that, we are dedicating this building to you.” 

"Thank you for this honor," Melton added. "I cannot wait to see what you all can do in the next 25 years." 

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