AUBURN, Maine — Travys Fecteau never leaves home without a ball cap.
In public, he uses it to hide his face when he spots people he met while working as a corrections officer in the Androscoggin County Jail.
“Most of the time, I wear my hat down low,” Fecteau said. “I don’t avoid people like the plague. You have to live your life.”
But he’s careful. He’s married, and he has a small child. He tries to create a wall between his work and his life.
“If you had a frustrating day at work, you don’t want to go home and complain,” said Fecteau, a rail-thin 25-year-old. “That’s what most officers say is the worst — separating work from life.”
Not that work is bad. It’s just different.
Inside the cinder block building on Pleasant Street in Auburn, there are few reminders of the life outside. Windows are scarce. The temperature rarely varies, and the air gets in only after it’s blown in from the roof, filtered and pushed through vents.
For the corrections officer, a workday means 12 hours of careful, deliberate work.
On most days, the population inside can be anywhere from 130 to 160 inmates, most of whom will sleep long hours and get up only for food, a shower or a few minutes of inmate-funded cable TV.
“Some people come to work here and leave after a couple of days, saying they don’t want to be screamed at,” Fecteau said. “I treat all the inmates pretty good, and they treat me pretty good. I follow the rules and they know what to expect.”
Though he’s a young man, Fecteau has already spent about six years on the job and risen to the rank of corporal.
He was taking an Intro to Corrections course at Central Maine Community College when he began his position at the jail. He matured quickly.
“I was raised to be a real polite kid,” he said. “I never talked back. I came in here. I’m only 20 years old, and I had guys screaming and cursing at me, telling me what they were doing in life when I was born,” he said.
He learned to be assertive and shrugged off the “rookie” calls.
“They’ll do what they can,” Fecteau said. “They spend 24 hours a day and every waking moment thinking about what they can do to buck the system and mess with us. That’s why we have so many rules in place.”
On a recent Tuesday night, Fecteau bounded through the jail, his long strides stopping to wait for the elevator to arrive or a locked door to snap open.
He escorted inmates to visitation, lent a hand at the booking desk and carefully distributed razor blades to trustees.
The disposable razors were each numbered and signed out along with a dollop of shaving cream. About 45 minutes later, they were collected and inspected to ensure that each double-bladed razor returned whole.
Fecteau was most popular when he arrived amid the trustees with a plastic tote full of odds and ends, purchased from the jail canteen. They included boxes of generic saltines, candy bars, bear claws and danishes.
One inmate had spent several dollars on two items: a bag of beef jerky and a bottle of cocoa butter.
No one swore. No one yelled.
The only audible reaction was a murmur of “Fecteau” as he walked in.
The inmates expect him to be fair, he said.
“I’ve had both a distant relative and friends in here,” he said. Once again, he feels he must maintain that wall between his personal and professional life.
“It’s definitely tough,” he said. They’ve asked for extra food or the use of a phone. And they were denied.
“I’m not going to break a rule for somebody,” he said. “That only causes problems and it is unfair.”