Lewis-Clark State College alum Lynn Guyer knows he’s not a conventional guy. When most individuals retire, they enjoy the quieter, more relaxing life. If they decide to come out of retirement and go back to work, it’s usually to a fun job without any stress.
Guyer laughs when he hears that. Guyer retired in May of 2016 after 13 years as warden of the North Idaho Correctional Institution in Cottonwood. The facility can hold up to 414 male inmates, most of which have been given a retained jurisdiction sentence.
This fall, he decided to come out of retirement – as the warden of the Montana State Prison, which means he now oversees more than 640 employees and nearly 1,500 inmates in a 68-acre compound near Deer Lodge, Mont. The prison has three compounds, one each for low-risk and high-risk offenders, and then one for locked housing.
So much for cushy and stress free.
“It has a pretty good-sized learning curve,” Guyer says of the new job. “But it’s a great job and totally different from the correctional institution at Cottonwood. There are a lot more responsibilities here, but I’m really enjoying the challenge.”
Guyer says his interest in the position grew after he first heard about the opening. His wife, Susan, was actually the person who pushed him to apply, even though it meant moving away from her hometown and several family members around Cottonwood.
“Sometimes circumstances just present themselves and you can’t resist,” Guyer says. “My wife and I are raising our 5-year-old grandson. I didn’t think I would be a dad again at 54, but circumstances do arise.”
It’s circumstances like these that have helped Guyer throughout his life. He was born and raised in Weiser, Idaho, about 75 miles northwest of Boise. He started his college career at Boise State, but he didn’t do well there.
“It was my fault for the failure,” he says. “Also, I didn’t have anybody pushing me at that point. That’s what I needed.”
He decided to give college another try and enrolled at LCSC in the early 1980s.
“I remember Ken Allwine was my advisory from the criminal justice program,” Guyer says. “If I missed a class he would come over to my room at Clark Hall and would want to know where I had been.”
That kind of support, however, helped Guyer make the Dean’s List his first semester.
“It was much more of a personalized experience for me and student-driven,” he says about LCSC. “That really helped me get through.”
Guyer says he enjoyed the criminal law classes, which helped him land a position with the Lewiston Police Department as a volunteer reserve officer. He also worked for the Washington County Sherriff’s Office in Weiser one summer. The experiences helped him see that being a patrol officer wasn’t for him, so he started to pursue corrections.
“The education I received at LCSC was tremendous,” he says. “For such a small school, we had some really extraordinary professors. They were dedicated because they could have made more money somewhere else, but they loved what they did and it really did prepare me. When I was at Cottonwood, I had the opportunity to come down and talk with the criminal justice classes every year at LCSC. That, to me, was sort of a way to give back because of what the college did for me.”
Guyer says he enjoys looking through his old photo albums of his time at LCSC, which included a year on the basketball team as well boating outings for the dorm students.
“I lived in the dorm the whole time and I fully believe kids miss out experiencing what that is like because you get to know so many people,” he says. “You get to know the professors and because the classes are fairly small, you get to know a lot of the students as well.”
He laughs about the old campus, remembering the days when Clark Hall only had a phone booth and non-air conditioned rooms.
“I remember you had to close the door to the phone booth because you didn’t want the guys to hear you talking to your girlfriend,” he says. “There was condensation on the inside of the glass because it would get so hot in there. And the old gym is gone with a much nicer facility there now.”
In 1986, prior to his final semester, Guyer began work at the Cottonwood facility as a corrections officer. He wound up leaving school for a year before he went back in the fall of 1987 to finish his degree in criminal justice and minors in psychology and sociology.
Following graduation, he began his 30-year career for the Idaho Department of Corrections. He started at the Nampa Community Center as an employment development coordinator. He later was a probation/parole officer in Caldwell and then the district manager of probation/parole in Twin Falls. He spent the final 13 years as the warden in Cottonwood.
Guyer says there were still some employees at Cottonwood that he knew from the first time he worked there in 1986, and that he got along with them well.
“I’m very people oriented,” he says. “It’s just a matter of getting to know people and having them get to know you.”
Guyer says the typical non-violent inmate comes to the Cottonwood facility for a year to be evaluated. The inmate will go through a program that includes education and evaluation, and is closely monitored. Once the year is complete, Guyer and his staff would make a recommendation on whether the inmate was a good candidate to be placed back into the community on probation rather than be further incarcerated.
“It was like a small contained town,” Guyer says of the Cottonwood facility. “We had our own water well and sewer. I was also the mayor and I had to make sure the rights of the offender were being observed with both state and federal laws. You just make sure they are treated right.”
The inmates also did community service projects in the Cottonwood area.
Guyer also was heavily involved with the Cottonwood community while living there. He served on the school board for nearly seven years and then was elected to the city council and served for about eight months before he resigned to take the Montana warden position.
As warden, Guyer admits he’s entering a new political arena. Not only is it a different state, but it’s at a different level. Guyer said he worked with local legislators while in Cottonwood, but the warden job is amore involved with the state legislature, including presentations to various committees.
“It’s a new challenge and I’m really enjoying it,” he says.