A lifetime of memories

Don Reynolds

Don Reynolds


by Clarke Davis
Don Reynolds retired many years ago from his job at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, but the memories are always fresh.
One night, for instance, he didn’t arrive home at his usual time and his wife, Carol, was concerned. Before he was able to call her to explain, she picked up the evening paper to see a photo of him peering over the prison wall during an attempted prison break.
Nine prisoners had attempted an escape and two had been able to get extension ladders to scale the wall and were hanging by ropes on the outside, one shot in the knee.
“They brought a fire truck out from the city to help get them down and back inside the prison,” he said.
Reynolds came home to Winchester in January 1955 after serving four years in the Air Force spent mostly in Germany. He wasn’t sure what he would do, but if he couldn’t find a good job he had no objection to signing up for a longer career in the Air Force.
A brother, Lewis, was working at the penitentiary and told Don that it was “not too bad a place,” paid well,  and provided good retirement. Don took the exam, passed it, and within two months was a corrections officer traveling daily to Leavenworth.
The prison officials wanted the employees cross-trained so they could fill in wherever needed.
Don always got there plenty early, mostly to enjoy time with his fellow workers, but also to be prepared never knowing for sure what job he might be assigned.
About a year after he took the job, he became a key room officer issuing keys. The room was located in the lock shop where he spent time with a locksmith and began learning his trade. When the locksmith would go on vacation, Don would do his job and when he retired Don became the locksmith. That job lasted nine years and had some perks along the way.
The Associated Locksmiths of America proved to be a valuable organization that met for a week once a year and had training workshops, which both the Bureau of Prisons and the local penitentiary thought worthwhile.
So wherever that convention was held, Reynolds would take his family along and then connect a two-week vacation onto it.
Being a locksmith did not exclude Reynolds from being picked to transport prisoners around the nation to other prisons. First he was one of the armed guards providing escort service to the old Kansas City airport, but he was soon trained to drive the bus.
Those bus trips varied from ElReno, Okla., and Terre Haute, Ind., to as far away as Washington state. On the long trips they had to book jail space at night for the prisoners along the way.
“They called me up one afternoon and said, ‘You’re going to Alcatraz tomorrow,’ ” he said.        That was a  train trip to the federal prison that rested on an island off the coast of California — and this one proved interesting.
On board that train was one of the Anglin brothers. Clarence and John Anglin were bank robbers notorious for being the only ones to successfully escape from Alcatraz along with Frank Morris. However, it’s still a mystery whether or not they survived and got to shore.
They were in the Atlanta Penitentiary where they had tried to escape and Reynolds remembers one of them trying to escape while at Leavenworth. He described these large, 6-foot high containers that transported bread from inside the prison to the camp on the farm where it was used to feed prisoners outside the walls.
One day the container appeared to be heavier than usual and took two people to lift it onto the truck. The guard on duty wondered why it was taking two people instead of the usual one. He pulled some of the trays of bread out and one of the Anglin brothers was hiding in the center of the container surrounded by bread. He didn’t make it outside that day.
It wasn’t long after this incident that Don was told he would be taking a train trip to the West Coast.
Six officers transported 12 prisoners on that train trip. The sleeper car had two double compartments that slept six prisoners each and another compartment for the officers. The car was far forward on the train so no one else could enter. The prisoners were never out of handcuffs and leg irons.
“We were on six-hour shifts for the two and half days it took to get there,” he said.
The same officers would return with a dozen prisoners from Alcatraz. But of greatest interest to Don was the locking system at Alcatraz. He got to take time to see how the system was set up and worked. Like Leavenworth, all the cells in a row could be locked or unlocked from the main control, but at Leavenworth, to unlock an individual cell an officer had to take a key to that cell door. At Alcatraz, an individual cell door could be unlocked from the control room.
For 13 months it was Reynolds’ job to hire and fire inmates who worked in industry — the various factories in the prison.
“We had a shoe factory, furniture factory, print shop, and brush factory,” he said. “They could make everything from a toothbrush on up.”
He said it has all changed now and that private enterprise complained about some of these industries competing with them, but it was a way for the prisoners to make some money.
But if they failed to toe the line, if there were any complaints coming from the supervisors, then it was Don’s job to fire them.
His last three years were spent in the machine shop rebuilding the locking system in C cell house. He rebuilt all the controls and rekeyed the cells.
Reynolds was able to retire when he was 50 years old and that was 35 years ago. He then worked for the American Vending Co., restocking the vending machines in Atchison and other smaller communities. Currently he assists the Becker-Dyer Funeral Home and sells Hutton Monuments.
Carol had a career at the former Jefferson County Memorial Hospital as an assistant physical therapist and later worked for a private practice in Leavenworth.
Don is a 1948 graduate of Winchester High School, having grown up on a nearby farm with five brothers and five sisters. He and two brothers survive. Carol was an Easton native but attended Winchester High School.
The couple raised two daughters, Debbie, who resides at Alexandria, Va., and has one daughter, and Donna, who lives at Allentown, Pa., and has two daughters. The Reynolds have one great-grandson.

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Posted by on Jun 16 2016. Filed under Featured, The Independent, The Vindicator. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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