The Essentials: Jailer finds calling with desire to help others

Cheryl Owens / The Meridian Star

Ryan Hanner, a jailer at the Newton County Sheriff's Department in Decatur, was inspired to seek a profession in law enforcement while working as a sergeant at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Meehan.

When Ryan Hanner accepted the job as a jailer at the Newton County Sheriff’s Department in February he was unaware there was about to be a pandemic known as COVID-19.

Having previously worked as a sergeant at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Meehan, Hanner said he had a glimpse of how things were before COVID-19 and after. Changing professions was never an option, even though he knew the risks involved, he said.

“When the coronavirus first hit, everybody was scared,” Hanner said. “We didn’t understand it, what caused it, how you could get it, or who was infected. But because of our job we don’t get told to stay home because there is a virus. I felt like not coming to work because of this virus would put my co-workers and inmates in a bad place.

“It would be one less person to have their back. We have to be here looking over these inmates, making sure they don’t hurt themselves or hurt each other, stay in the building and don’t escape.”

When the virus first hit, Hanner, who is 22, said he worried about catching the virus, but his biggest concern was infecting his newborn son and wife.

“That worried me a lot because I’m a new father and at the time my son was only 3 months old,” Hanner said. “I was really worried about catching it at the jail and bringing it home to him because he is so young. I still have a certain sense of worry now even though we take all precautions before I even hold him.”

To keep from bringing the virus into the facility, all new inmates are screened before being booked in.

“We take their temperature first thing, then get them out of their street clothes and into an orange jumpsuit,” Hanner said. “Having to do a strip search is really the only part of the booking process where you are closest to them. Gloves were already a given and common sense, but it was a big adjustment to start wearing a mask.”

Hanner said as an added precaution once the inmates are booked they are isolated even though they may be asymptomatic.

“When somebody new comes in they won’t go back to a dorm full of inmates who have been here way before the pandemic,” Hanner said. “The person you bring in you don’t know where they have been, what parties they have been at, and what they have been doing.”

Being someone who has always wanted to help people no matter the situation, Hanner said being a part of law enforcement no matter what position he may hold is where he was meant to be.

“Ever since I was a kid I’ve always had a helping heart,” Hanner said. “If someone is in trouble I have got to go help them and be there for them. It doesn’t matter what situation I am putting myself in I just wanted to be there for people. As a got older I realized that was law enforcement. You stand between the peace and the chaos.

“You are that thin line and that’s what drew me to law enforcement.”

When asked what he would tell someone contemplating law enforcement as a profession – Hanner said his advice is to have a thick skin.

“You will meet people on a daily basis who hate law enforcement, they will call you names, but you have to let things like that go,” Hanner said. “Inside the walls it is even worse, but you have to earn their respect and once you do that it’s like going to Walmart.”

With all the risks of being an essential worker during the coronavirus pandemic, Hanner said he will stay in the profession because it is what he was called to do.

“I am a Christian and a firm believer in God, and I feel like this is what God’s plans are for my life,” Hanner said. “I’ve been trained extensively for this profession and trained to keep myself and others around me safe. Even though I am a jailer right now I would like to branch out and become a police officer one day – make that step to actually do blue line law enforcement.

“Like I said, I found my “fit” and I want to stay in it. I found what I love to do. what I am good at doing and I won’t let a pandemic stop me.”

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