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Retired corrections officer authors book about life inside the prison walls at Green Bay Correctional Institution

Published: Dec. 1, 2020 at 5:13 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A retired corrections officer who spent nearly three decades working at Green Bay Correctional Institution is telling all in a soon-to-be released book.

It involves more than 150 interviews with former inmates and staff, covering everything from escapes and assaults to practical jokes to the effects of Act 10.

“There were times it was very fun to work here,” says author Joe Verdegan during our interview just outside the max security prison in Allouez.

Verdegan spent just shy of 27 years making his way through the gates of Green Bay Correctional.

In that time, the former journalist turned corrections officer has seen and heard stories unimaginable in most work places.

Some are unfit to share on tv, but all are in his book, “The Reformatory -- Tales from Green Bay’s Maximum Security Prison.”

“The worst thing that ever happened to me is I had a full cup of urine thrown in my face in the lower seg unit, but luckily, in close to 27 years, I responded to dozens of fights and I never got injured luckily, but a lot of staff have,” says Verdegan.

He interviewed many of those co-workers who shared stories of how dangerous the job can be, telling of times they were assaulted, stabbed or left with life-changing and even-career ending concussions after fights.

“You can earn your whole year’s salary in 30 seconds,” he says. “Denis O’Neill comes to mind, and so does Andy Boerst. Those guys are real warriors and heroes for doing that kind of thing.”

Retired officer Denis O’Neill, who we interviewed in 2017 after he was seriously injured in a fight, has his own chapter in “The Reformatory.”

“When I wrote the chapter on Denis O’Neill, I actually got emotional just writing it. The stuff that guy’s been through with this place, and then afterwards the fight he had just to get his disability,” explains Verdegan, shaking his head.

O’Neill also happens to be the one made famous -- at least inside the prison walls -- for tackling an inmate who escaped for about 45 seconds after making a rope out of dental floss.

“He was an all-state football player from Niagara. The guy who runs a 4.5 (second) 40 just happens to be on break near the front and he chased him down, so it’s a phenomenal story,” says Verdegan, smiling.

Verdegan also interviewed one of the inmates involved in that escape. He’s since been released from prison, but still lives in Wisconsin.

“He gave me a great interview and told his story on how they plotted and hatched this whole escape thing and how it all went down. The story of how they got the floss in is a pretty good one. I’ll save that for the book,” laughs Verdegan.

There is both tragedy and humor detailed in the book’s 59 chapters. Some of the humor comes in stories of pranks staff used to play on each other.

“We have those huge pillars in the rotunda. Well one of the things we’d tell new people to do is, ‘Hey, go out to the maintenance building and get the wrench to tighten down the pillars in the rotunda,’ and some new staff would bite on it.”

Verdegan also pens details of life before and after Act 10, which ended collective bargaining for most public employees. It created a much different environment now than when he started in 1995.

“The Reformatory -- Tales from Green Bay’s Maximum Security Prison” is available for pre-order at joeverdegan.com.

He’s also hosting the following book launches:

  • Lenny’s Tap in Green Bay Saturday, December 5 from noon to 4 p.m.
  • Silver Dollar Bar in Pembine Thursday, December 10 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Bosse’s News Depot in Green Bay Saturday, December 12 from 10 a.m. to noon.

The book will be Verdegan’s third that he has authored and will be published through Pedal Down Promotions in Manitowoc.

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