A year after reaching the apex of his career at Pelican Bay State Prison by being officially appointed as warden, Greg Lewis is on his way toward full-time freedom.
But it’s turning out to be a hard job to leave behind. Lewis, 50, will continue overseeing the prison and will help train whoever is chosen to replace him. He expects to leave the post for good by October.
“I have a group of very dedicated individuals that work at this institution,” said Lewis. “That has been the most rewarding aspect” of the job.
Following his official retirement in April, Lewis took a one-month break before returning.
“I’ve always been committed and dedicated to this department and that’s why I (returned), so there wouldn’t be a break in leadership,” said Lewis.
Also helping with heading the prison is chief deputy warden Clark Ducart, who has been at Pelican Bay since it opened.
The vetting process for a new warden is extensive, lasting a couple of years. Lewis didn’t get the official appointment from Gov. Jerry Brown until two years after he had been holding the keys to the prison.
Being gatekeeper of Pelican Bay is especially grueling due to its notoriety, amount of litigation involved and media attention, Lewis said.
“It’s going to take a person who’s motivated and knowledgeable in those aspects,” said Lewis.
He expects a decision to be made for the acting warden position within the next two months.
“I thoroughly enjoyed living in this community,” said Lewis. “The prison has always availed itself to supporting mutual aid requests and I see that continuing in the future.”
Lewis rose through the ranks of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He became a correctional officer when he was 24. He first came to Pelican Bay as a sergeant in 1994 before transferring to Salinas Valley State Prison, where he spent most of his career rising to the rank of chief deputy administrator.
“I grew up in here,” said Lewis. “I’ve watched the department evolve, so to speak.”
The advent of prison technology has played a significant role toward increasing efficiency and safety of inmates, staff and the community, Lewis said.
“All we had was a whistle and what was between your ears,” said Lewis of the earlier days.
The department has since equipped its correctional officers with stab-proof vests, self protection devices such as mace, batons and other less-lethal weaponry, as well as computers, said Lewis.
“I never touched a computer until 1994,” he said.
His job as warden has been a 24-hour-a-day commitment until recently. He realized how intense his job was when he returned from a 30-day hiatus.
“The first day back I was mentally exhausted,” said Lewis.
He will soon have time for the projects he has been putting off, like upgrading his cabin, travelling and taking the hunting and fishing trips he had always envisioned.
In addition, “I already have a list of projects from my wife,” said Lewis.