October 21st, 2009, is a significant day for Warwick’s Dennis Papa -- it marks the 50th anniversary of his first day on the job with the Rhode Island Department of Corrections. To commemorate that important date in his personal history, Dennis will return to the RIDOC for a tour of the Donald Price Medium Security and Minimum Security Facilities, where he spent the bulk of his career, for tours and an informal meeting with Corrections Director A.T. Wall, beginning at 9:15 a.m. Former colleague and RIDOC Warden Ron Brule, who retired in 1996 after 31 years of state service, will join him.
Mr. Papa, like many long-term RIDOC employees, has dozens of fascinating stories about his years at the ACI, which was a far different place when he came than it is today. He was a member of the first Training Academy class in 1960 and he still has the notes he took during the sessions. They include information about the Department’s herd of cattle and how much beef was produced from the herd. He recalls General Paul Sherman, then head of the Department of Social Welfare, under which the Department fell at the time, coming in to instruct the class.
Papa had completed classes at Bryant College when he came to the RIDOC seeking a job. After a 20-minute interview with retired FBI agent Harold Langlois (then Warden in charge of the ACI facilities), he was hired as a Correctional Officer and placed at the “old” Medium Security, which is now the Donald Price Medium Security Facility. Mr. Papa knew and worked with Correctional Officer Donald Price, sadly the last officer to be killed in the line of duty when an inmate stabbed him in 1973. The building has since been renamed in his honor.
A veteran of the Korean War, Mr. Papa returned to the Department from active military duty as an Associate Director. Some of the other titles he held during his tenure include Correctional Officer, Lieutenant, Captain, and Deputy Warden, and finally Warden. During his career he received letters from various Governors for his work and various projects he undertook to save the state money. When he retired in July of 1990, a huge party was held in his honor at Evelyn’s in West Warwick attended by many of the Department’s longest and best known employees.
Among his many accomplishments, Dennis designed the Department’s first patch, worn on Correctional Officers’ uniforms. In the process, he wrote to every other state requesting samples of their patches, which he still has today. He was around in 1971 when the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers was first formed so the officers and brass would have a collective voice. Previously, they were part of Council 70. He knew and worked with many of the “old timers” who would talk about the Great Depression when they earned $75 a month and lived on the grounds. The Department had a farm and employees were permitted to take home all the food they wanted.
He was on duty during the Blizzard of ’78 and recalls what a challenging time that was for departmental operations. During his tenure, there was 100% employment (on grounds) of Minimum Security inmates. He was responsible for the first contract with the Department of Transportation and the establishment and oversight of the first litter crews. There were about 300 inmates in Minimum when he retired (there are now more than 650). He left the same day former Director John J. Moran retired. He still has his badge – Badge #9, and several of his uniforms.
Members of the press interested in joining Mr. Papa on his tours and hearing some of his stories from the past are invited to contact Tracey E. Zeckhausen, Chief of Information and Public Relations, to arrange for clearance.