VIRGINIA BEACH -- I had never held a pair of official handcuffs, and the ones handed to me by a Virginia Beach Deputy Sheriff were heavy and industrial strength.
I was working as a deputy sheriff at the invitation of Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle.
Deputies wear black uniforms that make them look like Virginia Beach Police. Even I had on a black sheriff's deputy uniform and it had my name stitched above the left pocket -- Joe Flanagan. Underneath it said 'Joe's Job.'
When I was given a tour, I thought food service might be a good place to work -- helping prepare food and delivering it to the 1500 inmates that occupy the city jail. But the sheriff had other ideas.
I was placed in the Security Housing Unit or SHU. Along with more than a dozen other deputies, my job was jail cell inspections.
Inmates are handcuffed, removed from their cells, frisked and told to stand up against the wall. Then my group goes in and checks the cells for contraband, hard objects or anything that might be against the rules.
"This is the place where inmates come who have had behavior issues. This is not a good place to be and it should be that way to discourage bad behavior among the inmates. The SHU is where the rubber meets the road because if you can't control this environment then you can't control the entire facility," said Sheriff Stolle.
I was told to squeeze mattresses and shake the sheets and blankets. Some were on steel bunk frames and some were just on the floor where an inmate preferred to sleep. Each book had to be shaken. Pages were flipped to make sure nothing was tucked away deep inside. Laundry bags had to be felt and personal hygiene goods had to be inspected. This process goes on each and every day and takes about two hours.
There are 450 deputies in the jail and this is just part of their daily routine.
I started Joe's Job in 1986 and this will go down as one of my most interesting stories.