Senior Spotlight: Former jailer Brian Buegler reflects on his career

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Brian Buegler (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

Brian Buegler first came to Cullman from New Jersey to go to college at St. Bernard. He started school there in 1968 and graduated in 1972 with a degree in mathematics. He worked at Cullman College and Roadway Express in Tarrant, but before long, his career would take a strange turn.

As a member of the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office Reserve, he got an offer that would allow him to stay home and not commute to Tarrant each day.

Buegler explained, “Sheriff Roden asked me if I wanted to come home, Wendell Roden did. I said, ‘Yeah, why? It depends on how much I get paid.’ I gave my notice to Roadway and the rest was history.”

Roden asked Buegler to run the jail, which he ended up doing for 27 years before retiring in 2006 due to health reasons.

Buegler said, “It was a very interesting job and I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. It was the 70s and the jails in the state were run differently. I had to go to school and become modern, or up-to-date, on corrections. I had no training in law enforcement. I was not certified, so I went to the academy while I was in charge of the jail.”

When Buegler began, he said, the jail was out of date and he had to work hard to get modernized facilities.

“We had lawsuits, but they were frivolous,” he said. “I did the best I could with what I had.”

According to Buegler, the greatest need in a new jail was the ability to better supervise those in custody. When time came to build a new jail under Sheriff Tyler Roden, he said, he and Roden traveled to Wisconsin and visited a jail with a design they both liked.

Buegler explained, “I had a part in the construction in what I thought was necessary like meeting rooms for substance abuse classes and AA. Preachers would come in. In the jail, it was designed to have cameras and recording devices. Each cell block had a room where employees worked, and they could see everything at a certain angle. It was designed to handle all types of inmates.”

He added, “The city joined us, and we had the city inmates and federal inmates. We didn’t have them until we had a new jail. We had a better way to watch people and (it was) safe enough for people to work in like myself.”

Buegler said drugs and alcohol abuse kept the jail full, and had it not been or that, his job would have been quite dull.

“In the old jail, we would have to parade them through the courthouse to see the judge. Now, they can do arraignments through closed circuit televisions.”

Food was another improvement Buegler was happy to see.

“We had excellent food service in the new jail. The sheriff and I would go out and buy bargains. The farmers at the farmers’ market would sell us potatoes and things. The bread company would sell us bread. We did everything we could to save a buck to help the county commission. The cost to feed them at the new jail increased because the number we could house increased.”

The one inmate Buegler said he will always remember is Doyle Hamm.

He said, “He went to the Anderson Hotel and shot and killed the hotel manager. He was on a shooting spree, but the ABI found him. Dangerous people, and Doyle Hamm was one of them.”

Hamm was convicted of the murder of Patrick Cunningham in 1987.

Buegler has also seen how alcohol and drug abuse can destroy families. He recalled a time when he had a father, son and grandson in the jail at the same time. During his time in law enforcement, he said, he saw the implementation of programs designed to help those battling addiction: Rehabilitation, GED classes and other counseling to name a few.

“You’ve gotta show them a better way of life,” he said.

Throughout Buegler’s room at Westminster Assisted Living, he has artwork given to him by inmates from his career as a jailer.

Buegler does speak openly about the stress of the job but said his wife Janice was a “godsend.” She worked as his clerk. She passed away of cancer in 2010. He admits that he didn’t take care of himself like he should have, and he suffered a stroke.

Despite the stress, he said, “I don’t regret anything. I’m proud of what I did. It might have caused me to have a stroke or two, but it was worth it. If I had to do it all over again, I think I would.”

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Christy Perry

christy@cullmantribune.com