NSP guard retires after 32 years. | NevadaAppeal.com

NSP guard retires after 32 years.

JIM SCRIPPS

Nevada State Prison just became a darker place with the retirement of 32-year veteran guard Lewis Bowman.

During his record-breaking three-decade tenure, Sgt. Bowman, 63, has seen all of the ups, downs and growth in two of Nevada’s toughest prisons. Now, he says, the stress of life inside prison walls is in his past.

“I’ve been through it all,” he said. “I went through the riots on Valentine’s Day 1981. I was taken hostage with a .38-caliber pistol and for a couple of hours my life was in the inmate’s hands.”

Bowman coaxed the inmate into releasing the weapon. The inmate was later transferred to an out-of-state prison. “I was back at work the next day,” he said.

In a field where most men retire or leave early, Bowman’s stretch is extraordinary. The previous career record was 30 years, he said.

“Most of them only stay for a little while,” he said. “It’s a hard job to deal with. We are in there just waiting for a fight, for something to happen. And then it does and we have to deal with it. It’s the waiting that gets to you.

“Before I changed shifts, I would get ulcers and everything. A lot of the guards drink because of the stress. I feel so much better already. Other guys said ‘you won’t realize how much better you’ll feel’ and I didn’t.”

Bowman also said gangs were a problem until recent times. “Before the new guys arrived, the gangs were running Nevada State Prison. Now the institution is running the institution.”

One of the best developments he has seen in recent years is a practice of transferring known gang members to other institutions periodically. Without personal ties, it is more difficult for the gangs to form and become a threat to inmate and officer safety, he said.

“We always knew who the gang leaders were,” Bowman said. “Now they just ship them away the minute they cause trouble.”

Other changes include a giant leap in the size of the prison population. When he started at the prison in 1968, there were 220 inmates. Now there are 1,300.

Bowman retired in February. His plans for the immediate future are to help his wife, Donna, through a recent illness and wait for her to retire from her job in the Secretary of State’s Office, which should be in about three years.

“Then I’ll do a lot of fishing and work in the yard,” he said.

Bowman said he will miss the variety of working in a prison.

“One thing about this job is that it is something different every day,” he said. “But the only thing I’ll really miss is the schedule; getting up every day and going to work.”

Son Rich is carrying on Lewis’s legacy. He already has worked eight years in the Nevada prison system.