19-year prison guard counts days to retirement, reflects on life
Unlike most men who’ve spent 18 1/2 years at the Nevada State Prison, Ken Broadway gets to walk out the gate every night.
He’ll retire in April after 19 years as a correctional officer in the old stone prison on Fifth Street. He’s spent a lot of time behind the same bars as the prisoners.
“I’ve seen ’em come and go,” he says. “I’ve seen ’em come in here, get out and come back. In receiving, I tell those guys, ‘You liked our hospitality so much you had to come back.'”
Many inmates have been there longer than him.
“Some of them say, ‘I remember when you were a fish. You were a new guy -I helped break you in.'”
There’s a special relationship between a guard and the inmates, he says.
“It’s not an actual friendship relationship. It’s a working relationship. I show them respect, and I expect respect in return.”
Broadway, who also tested to join the Nevada Highway Patrol when he applied for the corrections job, notes a difference between two types of officers.
“When a trooper pulls someone over, and they approach that car, they have no idea who they’re dealing with,” he says. “Here, when I walk up that hill, I know that the people in blue are the bad guys.”
Broadway, who turned 60 on Nov. 14, was born and raised in Texarkana, Texas. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1960, and did two tours in Vietnam, in 1966 and in 1969. He doesn’t talk about that much, but it’s clear the corps has shaped his life.
He does push-ups and sit-ups to stay fit, and he’s one of the only guards who still wears the old “Smoky Bear” drill-instructor hat. And the corps, he says, helped him become more comfortable with the shotguns guards use.
“I was born and raised on a ranch in Texas, and we used weapons there. And of course, the Marine Corps gave me a little insight on weapons. The training we got here, too, taught me about the use of force and when to apply it.”
When guards in a tower see a fight in the yard, they’ll fire a shot in the air then shoot bird shot (hundreds of small pellets) at the feet of the prisoners if they don’t stop fighting.
Broadway recalls a time when a group of inmates stepped off a red line they were supposed to be standing on. He commanded them to stop, fired a warning shot then fired at their feet.
“They learned in a hurry that Officer Broadway would not hesitate to shoot – and they know that now,” he said.
Broadway has worked almost every post in the prison.
“From the rank of sergeant down, there’s no place I haven’t worked here, except the mail room,” he said.
He’s even stood guard over inmates in the “last-night” cell next to the death chamber.
“You see him in there, and you think, ‘The next night, at midnight, he’s gonna be dead,'” said Broadway, scratching the short hair on the back of his head. “And you think about that.”
Sometimes in that wing of the prison, he’ll walk through spooky cold spots in a warm hall.
“Just the size of this room – a real cold area – and comfortable everywhere else.”
But Broadway, described as a “hard, strong, motivated individual” by Associate Warden James Baca, keeps a level head.
He’ll do nice things for inmates when he chooses, but never gives them anything they ask for.
“An inmate is out of line asking an officer for a favor,” he says. “Officers have been compromised that way.”
After he retires, Broadway will sell his Dayton home, move back to Texas with his wife of 41 years, Pat, and golf.
“And get a little piddly job that makes me feel like I’m still needed yet is mellow enough that if I don’t want to go one day, I won’t have to.”
Contact Karl Horeis at email@example.com or 881-1219.