Jackson County

Jackson County jail opening emotional for those who worked with its namesake

PASCAGOULA -- Dispatchers and deputies hugged and shed tears, remembering Bruce Evans at the opening of the new Jackson County jail that is named for him.

Evans, who was killed on duty in 2000, was the heart of the event.

The Evans family, the children now adults, arrived in a limo.

One deputy, who was at the scene when Evans died, said it was hard to attend the jail event because it brought back such memories. A man fleeing the law swerved and hit Evans' car and pushed it into him.

But there were good memories, too.

Maj. Ray Bates said, "Evans was fun to work with because he was always upbeat. He'd make you have a better day. He had a way of putting levity on a bad situation."

The Sheriff's Department excellence award also is named for Evans.

The city street has been renamed and the jail address will be 65 Bruce W. Evans Street. Sixty-five was his badge number.

Joe Nicholson with the Pascagoula Police Department told the crowd Evans encouraged people. Through his actions, Nicholson said, he taught others how to treat people -- with dignity and respect.

Excited about the prospects

County and city law enforcement officials were excited Thursday about the prospect of the $27.5 million, high-tech jail. It can hold 752 inmates and lets a central control room look into the cells and day rooms. Officials showed it off in an open house after a morning ribbon-cutting.

There are about 300 inmates in the county jail today, but that number is likely to grow. Supervisor John McKay said the building is designed for 30 years down the road, and because it meets federal and state prison standards, the county will be able to house prison inmates when it has extra room.

Getting paid to house state inmates is something that can help defray costs, McKay said.

The county has been criticized for changing the jail's design years into the project, but McKay said law enforcement believes in this one, with individual locking units.

Jail chaplain on board

Gary Shirley, a retired Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College instructor, gave the invocation. He is the county's first full-time jail chaplain, paid through Good News Jail and Prison Ministry and sanctioned by Sheriff Mike Ezell.

Shirley said he's been doing the job since August at the old jail. He will make the transition next month to the new jail when the staff moves in and inmates arrive.

He said he's establishing a mentor program, conducts one-on-one discussions and gives out Bibles.

"There are a lot of depressed people in jail," he said. "I sit and talk with them."

Shirley offers religious course work and coordinates volunteers who will be coming into the new jail, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery.

"We want to get a life-learning program started," he said, "an exit strategy for inmates."

Construction on the 104,000-square-foot jail began in February 2014. Its modular steel cells, designed to withstand 150-mph winds, will allow inmates to be sheltered in place during a hurricane. Inmates do not go outside for exercise, jail director Michael Wright said. All exercise areas are within the jail walls. New, tall fences being installed on the north side of the jail with razor wire on top are creating areas were inmates can be evacuated in case of an extreme emergency, such as a fire.

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