FAIRBANKS — Some jobs bring a person up-close and personal with the worst in people, as any cop or lawyer can probably tell you. It stands to reason, then, that a courthouse security guard encounters hostility on a daily basis. Just ask Jerome Witty.
Witty, 52, has been working the security gate at the entrance to the Rabinowitz Courthouse for the past 10 months. A transplant from Houston, Texas, Witty said while most of the people he’s met since moving to Fairbanks last fall are “really nice people,” he often encounters the flip-side of that on the job.
“Some people just don’t like following rules. If we say ‘well, you need to take your belt or shoes or whatever off,’ they don’t like it. The safety we try to provide in here is not so much for the people coming in, it’s for the people who are already in. You have parents, kids, judges and lawyers. And everybody just wants to come in, do our jobs and leave everyday. And people come in here with attitudes,” Witty said.
Visitors often attempt to enter the courthouse with weapons, Witty said.
“We have signs on the front door, on the middle door and on that column right there by the X-ray machine with a list of what you can’t bring in here. And people, they read the signs, they walk right on in and they’ll throw a knife on the table and say, ‘What do you want me to do with this?’ And we tell them, ‘We want you to take it out or we’re going to have to throw it away. They get mad because they have to go down the street to put it back.” Witty said.
Knives are the most common weapons Witty and his colleagues encounter, but sometimes there are surprises.
“One lady had a pistol — a .38. Big gun. And believe it or not most of the people who come in here with weapons are women. And first thing they’ll say is, ‘I forgot,’ or, ‘Oh, I’ve been looking for this knife for a long time,’” Witty said.
No matter what type of situation he encounters while on the job, Witty greets everyone with quiet reserve and unfailing politeness. Frequent visitors to the courthouse often receive a small smile and a welcoming bob of the head.
Witty had several careers before becoming a security guard. One of eight children, he joined the Army in the 1980s because it was a good career opportunity.
“My parents at the time could not afford to send me to college. I have one brother and six sisters — myself and my brother went into service and most all my sisters went to college. One of them is a lawyer, one’s a nurse, one’s an insurance agent and one’s an executive secretary for the aviation department in Washington DC,” Witty said.
Witty spent seven years in the Army serving in Germany and Korea, and then three in the Army National Reserve. After leaving the service he did road and bridge construction until a back injury and subsequent surgery put him out of work for four years.
“A large piece of steel fell on me. It was a bad thing, but it turned out to be a good thing. I couldn’t do that kind of work anymore so I went to truck driving school and became a truck driver. That’s what I did for 14 years before I came up here. I drove for companies and was an owner-operator. I drove until about three days before I came up here,” Witty said.
Witty said he’d never been to Alaska before he agreed to move to Fairbanks so his girlfriend, Lillie, could be near her mother and siblings. He said while he had encountered cold weather in Germany and Korea, it didn’t quite prepare him for Alaska.
“Up here it gets real cold and it stays for a long period of time. That’s the difference, and it’s a real bad cold. I’ve been saying (to Lillie) all throughout this past winter, ‘Have you lost your mind?’” Witty said.
Despite the cold Witty doesn’t have any plans to leave Alaska. He said while he eventually hopes to get a job with the Alaska Department of Corrections, for now he’ll continue to work at the courthouse because he likes his coworkers and the variety the job presents.
“You meet a lot of interesting people,” Witty said.
Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7590.