When A.J. Arave became deputy warden at the Idaho State Penitentiary in early 1981, he was assigned an office still burned out from an inmate riot seven months before.
"It was empty," he said. "No furniture, no equipment - nothing."Arave spent the next seven years on the front lines of Idaho prison battles, from the cellblock to the courtroom. But since last July he has been a man without a prison.
He was warden at the penitentiary during a violent uprising in maximum-security Unit 8, when a federal judge ordered changes to relieve crowding and ensure inmates' civil rights, and when notorious game-warden killer Claude Dallas cut his way to 11 months on the run, then was found innocent of escape.
Arave left that job six months ago to start over, but this time with more than a charred, vacant office.
Armed with his experience and a stack of American Correctional Association guidelines, he has been busy weaving an intricate, ironclad latticework of standards and practices to govern the maximum-security penitentiary being built near the main prison south of Boise.
Arave will be its warden when it opens next fall.
"I've learned a lot," the tall, crew-cut, slow-talking warden said recently. "Hopefully, we've built in some safeguards against repeating some of our past mistakes."
There are plenty of opportunities. Even a $30 million prison designed with advanced security features and state-of-the-art technology can be a monument to Murphy's Law when it's inhabited by 320 of the state's worst criminals.
And Idaho is looking for more than a warehouse in its new penitentiary. Arave has been instructed to design and coordinate secure, round-the-clock facilities, schedules and jobs for inmates, guards and support staff, all to the strict requirements of ACA certification.
Most of all, it has to work.
"Everything has to be imagined without the benefit of having it right there in front of you," he said. "But it's exciting when you think about being able to pick your staff and write your policies, and you can weed out all the things you disliked about other facilities."
To help Arave, the state Department of Corrections assigned one administrative assistant and Capt. Jerry Redmon, who will be the new prison's chief of security.
They are developing some 500 specific prison policies and literally thousands of detailed job descriptions for staffing 25 posts three shifts a day, seven days a week. Each post, shift and day is different, and each requires two or three pages to describe.
Dealing with everything from the physical plant and fiscal management to key design and solvent disposal has left Arave with mixed emotions about his temporary role.
The mountain of paperwork also has left him with blurred vision and bifocals.
"I find it on one hand refreshing but on the other hand tedious," Arave said. "It's a breather from being on line with a bunch of inmates. But I've got to admit, on some days I wish I just had an existing facility. There's a lot more to it than I ever dreamed."
And less time.
The prison is scheduled to open Oct. 15, and Arave must have everything ready by Aug. 1 to leave enough time for training. That means delivering innumerable prog-ress reports, interviewing about 300 people to hire 101 correctional officers and 46 support personnel, repeatedly fine-tuning policies and keeping an eye on construction.
All that while a new Corrections Department director, who has yet to be named, is brought up to speed. As one of the department's senior officials, Arave will be called on to help.
But that's not to say the job is without its rewards. Imagine an entrepreneur setting up his own business, a manager picking the players and the park for his own baseball team, or an artist designing his own gallery.
Arave has felt some of that as he watches his prison take shape.
"It's just going to be a 1,000-percent improvement over what we've been used to," he said. "I think satisfied is an understatement."