After 23 years of service to Archuleta County, 20 of those years as the Archuleta County Detention Center’s first administrator, Capt. Mencor Valdez is hanging up his uniform — and the area birds will likely benefit.
Citing multiple previous heart attacks and a growing desire to spend time with his grandchildren, as well as to partake in one of his favorite activities — building bluebird houses — Valdez said his last day will be Sept. 3.
“It’s been fun. I have enjoyed every minute of it,” Valdez said. “I’m looking forward to retirement, but I am apprehensive, I guess, because that’s something I’ve never done before, so I don’t know how to do that. I’m ready to step out into that new life.”
Taking on new challenges is nothing new to Valdez.
Valdez’s service to Archuleta County began in the dispatch center in 1987, after which he worked with inmate transport until Archuleta County built its own jail and he became its first administrator.
Prior to the opening of the ACDC in 1990, a minimum security facility at the time, Valdez said Archuleta County transported inmates to anywhere beds were available in jails, oftentimes in La Plata County.
What began as a jail for “the town drunk, basically,” Valdez says the jail currently houses a wide array of inmates, from minimum security to maximum, involved in and allegedly involved in a wide variety of crimes.
And Valdez had to learn and adjust as the jail and his responsibilities grew.
“I never had a formal education in jail management. Almost everything we’ve done has been a challenge because I’ve had to self-educate ... in all aspects of jail management, and I’ve had to learn all of the applicable laws on my own,” Valdez said, adding, “When I started, I started with an empty jail, so I had the luxury of being able to do that.”
In learning applicable laws and how to effectively run a jail, Valdez also built relationships with his peers at other facilities as he learned from them and began to count them as friends.
In addition to learning as the jail expanded (it now holds an average of 30 inmates daily), Valdez faced the continuing challenges of operating the aging facility on a “shoestring” budget with his staff of 17.
Valdez noted that most of his fondest memories of his service to the county involve those people he has worked with, all of whom he will miss.
Despite the nature of the work, Valdez said he has success stories to take with him.
“We’ve had a few success stories that I feel like I had a little bit to do with, and I’m really proud of that,” Valdez said, remembering a young drug user who served almost a year in the facility before completing a rehabilitation program, followed by schooling. The woman now works helping others with their rehabilitation.
“That is one of the biggest memories that I’ve had that will stay with me,” Valdez said.
Though he won’t be a part of it, during the next 20 years, Valdez hopes to see a new, modern ACDC facility built, capable of housing maximum security inmates more effectively, in addition to those minimum security inmates that Valdez noted seem to be in the minority these days.
In the meantime, Valdez said he would like to see the current facility updated to include more security cameras for increased visibility throughout the jail.
While Archuleta County Sheriff Pete Gonzalez initially refused the idea of Valdez retiring and tried to talk him out of the decision, Gonzalez understands Valdez’s desire to provide his grandchildren with “good grandpa memories.”
“I truly am going to miss him and the service he’s provided to this community for the past 23 years,” Gonzalez said. “I’ll miss him as both a friend and a professional.”