Peace Inside The Gate

As soon as you show up to work and go through the gate, you have to be on.

Photograph by Tegra Stone Nuess

MATTHEW ZELLER, 51, has worked for the Oregon Department of Corrections for 23 years as an officer, lieutenant, and now sergeant at the Santiam minimum security facility in Salem. In 2013, after 19 years of accumulating job-induced stress, Zeller felt “broken” and desperate to quit. When he learned of a DOC-sponsored class on mindfulness, he overcame his initial skepticism and enrolled. Now, Zeller, who describes himself as being “on a road to recovery,” periodically teaches and cofacilitates mindfulness classes for his coworkers.

Tell me about the challenges of your job.

As soon as you show up to work and go through the gate, you have to be on. You’ve got to watch everything around you, because you never know what’s going to happen. You’re dealing with inmates who are fighting or injured in an accident. You’ve got verbal aggression and contraband. I never relax inside the facility. Even when I’m off work, it’s hard: My wife knows that I can’t sit in a restaurant without being able to see the door and everybody in the room.

That’s a lot of stress.

I used to go home, and I was so tired. My chair and the TV were it. I didn’t…

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