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May 4, 2012

Limestone Correctional Facility’s Mitchem retires

— Monday marked the end of a long but distinguished career for Billy Mitchem, warden of the Limestone Correctional Facility in Capshaw.

Though he had been with the Alabama Department of Corrections for 31 years, Mitchem served two stints at the prison, the first of which was as a captain from 1986 to 1994. After briefly serving as director of Decatur Work Release and deputy warden at Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Mitchem returned to Limestone in 2001 as warden.

“It was great, the people were great and we had a great relationship with the sheriff’s and police departments,” Mitchem said. “Our main objective was to keep the citizens safe, and we did a good job.”

Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely, who was one of many in attendance at a retirement party held for Mitchem at Greenbrier Barbecue on Friday, praised the warden’s abilities.

“I hated to see him retire because he’s been in corrections for a long time and was an outstanding warden,” Blakely said. “He was one of the most capable, most consistent and had the respect of his employees. The people at Limestone Correctional will miss him.”

Also at the retirement party was Kim Thomas, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, who presented Mitchem with a certificate of retirement. A loyal University of Alabama football fan, Mitchem was also presented with a Crimson Tide jersey that reads “WARDEN” on the back.

Jimmy Patrick, who serves as Warden II at the prison, served under Mitchem for five years and described him as “a good person to work for.”

“He was a good mentor,” Patrick said. “I walked into a well-run institution; it was a good working atmosphere.”

Dorothy Goode, who also serves as Warden II, said she met Mitchem while employed at Decatur Work Release.

“He’s been part of my life the whole time,” she said. “He’s very stern but fair. You couldn’t ask for a better boss.”

Tracie Runions, who works in the warden’s office, described Mitchem as “a fantastic person” to work for.

“He was very dedicated to his job and expected the best from everyone,” she said.

Mitchem said he was proud of his career at the prison, which included the implementation of the state’s only pre-release program for inmates with 90 to 120 days left on their sentence. The program pairs inmates with teachers, social workers and volunteers in an effort to reintegrate them back into society.

Mitchem also encouraged inmates to receive training through trade school classes, taught by instructors at Calhoun Community College, and to enroll in substance abuse programs if necessary.

“You deal with negatives every day (at the prison) with very few positives, but when you’re out walking around and people say, ‘Hey warden,’ and they want you to meet their family, that’s rewarding,” he said. “I would sometimes get postcards from guys saying they appreciated what I did, and that’s also rewarding.”

When asked about Goode’s comments that Mitchem was stern but fair, he said it was an accurate observation. He said it was important for him to be fair with everyone, whether it was an inmate or an employee.

“I always felt like if you’re fair, you’re making the right decision,” he said.

Brian Corbett, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Corrections, said he did not know when Mitchem’s replacement would be named, but added it would be an internal hire.

“There are two other wardens who are there now, and (the prison) will continue to operate as normal,” he said.

Mitchem said his immediate plans include “just chilling out a little,” though he plans to continue teaching criminal justice part time at Calhoun Community College. When asked if he planned to go back to the prison and visit on occasion, he said he has every intention to.

“I’ve told everybody that Limestone has the best staff of any prison in the state,” he said. “They’re a great bunch of people, they work hard and they were loyal to me. They’re my family.”

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