Why Howard Skolnik is a great choice to lead Corrections | NevadaAppeal.com

Why Howard Skolnik is a great choice to lead Corrections

Bob Thomas
Special to the Appeal

What a delight it was Feb. 3 to open the Appeal and read that Howard Skolnik is our new director of corrections. This brings to mind a bit of intrigue that took place in 1987 when I was one of your local assemblymen.

During my three terms in Nevada’s Legislature I served on some heavy-hitting committees. Perhaps the most challenging was being chairman of the Committee on Higher Education Funding. Battling with university and college presidents plus a battalion of academic special interests, all crying for more money, wasn’t a prescription for low blood pressure.

But the one I enjoyed the most was the Prison Industries Subcommittee that was given the task of expanding our insignificant prison industry programs. At that time, besides license plates, we had only one manufacturing operation, making water beds for a private company that marketed them to the public. It was a decent operation and several of our prisoners made extra money. We needed more. Moreover, we also dinked around with vehicle repairs, growing vegetables and prison clothing to what extent I can’t remember. But in comparison to other state’s prison industries we were a wart on a pickle.

So somebody got the bright idea that we should look at other prisons. We put together a task force of five that included Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen, Al Pulik and myself, and we headed to Colorado, Oklahoma and Illinois. All were reputed to be tops in certain industries employing large numbers of prisoners. We saved Statesville in Illinois until last because it has the best overall reputation for manufacturing a large variety of products and besides, we wanted to see the Bears play the Falcons – which we did. All prisons visited were maximum security.

In Colorado and Oklahoma we saw some doable projects but little to compare with Statesville. There, we saw fine office furniture being manufactured for use in all state offices throughout Illinois, and a number of other commodities and products, some of which could work in Nevada. They also made all the clothing for prison inmates and that included quite a variety given the climate changes just below Lake Michigan.

Anyway, heading over to see the clothing operation I was walking with the warden and he proudly pointed to his prison football team, which was working out across the way. I took a look and said “Good grief! Those guys are big enough to beat the Chicago Bears.” He answered, “Oh, they could beat the Bears all right, if they could only keep from fighting among themselves.” Then he pointed to a good looking inmate and said “Would you believe that this young man is the 23rd member of his family to do time here? In the ghettos, having been in Statesville is a rite of passage. You are thenceforth a big man in the hood.”

We arrived at the garment sewing section and saw dozens of inmates huddled over sewing machines intensely concentrating on what they were sewing. I stood behind one of them, slightly off to the side and I watched him for about five minutes when he turned to me and asked, “Hey, man … what you guys doin’ here?” I answered, “Well, we heard that Statesville has the best prison industries in the country so we came to see for ourselves. You guys have a great reputation.” He got a big grin on his face and said, “We does!?”

By the way, it was Saturday and later we learned that all of the working inmates we saw were supposed to have the day off but they volunteered to work for our benefit. Their attitudes were as good as you see in most private sector manufacturing plants. Their morale was obviously high. So at the conclusion of our visit we, of the all-knowing, all-seeing committee, looked at each other and not a word needed to be spoken. Each of us knew that if necessary – come hell or high water – we would kidnap the Statesville Director of Prison Industries. Howard Skolnik didn’t know it but he was coming to Nevada.

On the airplane returning to Reno we plotted, schemed, planned and made ready to recruit all of the muscle and resources we might need to make absolutely sure that Howard Skolnik was going to be the director of Nevada’s Prison Industries. In the interest of protecting the guilty, and taking the 5th myself, I will not divulge all that took place but by gawd we did it. You’ve never seen a group so focused on a single objective.

Now, the biggest surprise to me is that Gov. Gibbons has an advisor bright enough to recommend Skolnik for the Department of Corrections job. If Gibbons’ future appointments are as brilliant as this one I am going to be eating a lot of crow. Won’t be the first time. But in all seriousness, I want to congratulate Howard Skolnik on his outstanding record and for getting this appointment. The Department of Corrections will be in good hands.

• Bob Thomas is a former legislator and Carson City resident.