After appearing in season two of 60 Days In as an undercover inmate, Sheri was inspired to go back to the Clark county jail and work as a corrections officer. In the spin off series 60 Days In: From Inmate to Officer, A&E documents her return. We asked jail Sheriff Jamey Noel how Sheri’s return went.
A&E: Were you worried that the women inmates would remember Sheri as an inmate and resent her in her new role? Wasn’t it dangerous?
Noel: Sheri had worked in Corrections before becoming an undercover inmate. It gave a unique perspective, because when she’s telling inmates to do something, she knows what it feels like to be an inmate. She can also explain things to Corrections Officers, who have never experienced life as an inmate. She’ll be able to say “Hey, when they roll their eyes at you…” or “When this happens, it’s because of this.” That puts her at a big advantage.
A&E: Your reason for getting involved in 60 Days In was that you wanted to improve conditions, right?
Noel: It’s a continual improvement process. You never stop learning. And not just for me—this is a unique spot to serve the people at home watching.
A&E: Did you have your eye on recruiting Sheri knowing she was a former CO?
Noel: I casually asked about it in all the exit interviews. Some said “Hey I’ll think about it.” But Sheri seemed really interested. When a spot opened up I thought it would be unique to bring things full circle—not just where we’ve been but where we’re going. She’s going to be able to let me know, “Hey, this is where we’re at. This is how far we’ve come and this is what we still need to do.” I get it—there’s still a lot of work to be done.
A&E: She has a real human touch with the inmates. Was that part of your decision in hiring her?
Noel: She’s very understanding of what the inmates are going through because she lived with them 24 hours a day for 60 days. Whereas Corrections Officers are with them for eight hours, 12 if they work overtime, but then they get to go home. Sheri is one of the very few people that can honestly say that “Hey not only was I a CO here, but I was an inmate—undercover—here.”
A&E: In one episode she talks about how hard it is to re-enter society after jail.
Noel: Sheri said when she walked out, she just felt overwhelmed, even though she knew she didn’t do anything wrong. It was almost like she felt like doing something wrong to go back. She was one of the reasons we started a resource of providing release pamphlets. Now, when we release people, it says stuff like “Hey you’re going to be stressed out; you could be depressed when you leave jail. Here’s what can do to work through that. Talk to people, try to get a job.” It lays it all out, and says, “If you feel it becomes too much, here are numbers for the local mental health providers and Suicide Hotline and Veteran’s Assistance.” If you [leave jail] and are a homeless or indigent person, you probably aren’t going to have someone to call and pick you up. Now we give information about temporary transitional housing and what to do for food. And we changed our mental health provider because their coverage of an inmate stopped the minute they walked out the door. They probably had a couple of days of psych medicine, if they’re on that. They were told: “Go make contact with a mental health provider.” That’s not going to work for someone who has not got the ability to pay for it. Now, before they’re released, they have been signed up for Medicaid or Medicare; they have dates they are signed up for treatment. Because we know that when people continue medication and treatment, we’re less likely to see them back in jail. And it’s worked well. We’re one of the few jails—if not the only—in the state of Indiana where our inmate population is actually consistently 20 to 30% lower on a daily average than everyone else’s inmate population. Everyone else’s numbers are going up. To me, that’s the true test and the grading. I could sit here and say “Hey we have done all these wonderful things and Sheri’s really helped”—and she has—but that’s our grading scale.
A&E: What was the hardest part for Sheri starting as a Corrections Officer?
Noel: Sheri traveled quite a distance from Washington State to come here. Initially, much like rest of us when starting out, she wasn’t able to move her family out right away. This is just the generalized stress of law enforcement and Corrections work. It’s not the average job. It’s not a job that you can always just leave at work at the end of the day. It stays with you, the stuff you’ve seen and heard. When you’re in jail, you’re seeing people at the lowest point of their life. They’ve been arrested, they can’t make bond and they have to stay in jail. They don’t want to be there.
A&E: One of the other COs said she learned something every day. Is it about the process of keeping people in confinement or something else?
Noel: It’s both—keeping people confined and the stresses of dealing with an understaffed facility. Inmates pick up on every little thing. They’re going to try Sheri, too, that’s a normal part, not just because she’s new but because she was an inmate here. Somebody may perceive, “I’ve bled my heart out to you and opened up to you,” and they didn’t realize she was here undercover. They find that out and they think, “Oh no, she’s now a CO and now she’s telling me what to do, on top of it.” Some of the inmates, especially the bad apples, are going to feel betrayed by that – that’s just human nature.
A&E: What do you think the viewer gets out of seeing Sheri’s experience of going from underdog to being in charge?
Noel: When someone is in jail or prison, because of the nature of their background, they’re never going to be able to be a CO. It’s a unique experience for us and the viewer. And at the same time, she’s dealing with the stresses of a job when her family is not there to support her. I think it’ll be very interesting to a lot of our viewers sitting at home to watch her journey.
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