A Day in the Life: Institutional locksmiths keep doors open

Locksmiths Bryan Orr and John Sterne work together to solve a problem with an exit door at CSP Los Angeles County.

Locksmiths Bryan Orr and John Sterne work together to solve a problem with an exit door at CSP Los Angeles County.

These CDCR locksmiths are on call 24/7

By Juliana Burns, Intern
Office of Public and Employee Communications

It’s 2 a.m. and either Bryan Orr or John Sterne receives a call from California State Prison, Los Angeles County (LAC). An officer is locked in a room, and the prison needs the immediate help of an institutional locksmith.

It’s a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week commitment to be an institutional locksmith. When any prison lock fails, from a cell door to food port or office, it’s the job of Orr and Sterne to see it gets repaired.

“My wife understands that when the phone rings, I have to go,” said Orr.

The job of an Institutional Locksmith is demanding at any time of day.

Locksmith Bryan Orr helps a correctional officer at CSP Los Angeles County.

Locksmith Bryan Orr helps a correctional officer at CSP Los Angeles County.

“If it has a lock on it, we take care of it,” Orr said.

There are plenty of locks in prison with 200 to 230 locks in every housing unit, at five housing units in every yard. Orr and Sterne manage every lock in the prison, including padlocks for more mobile temporary fixtures.

Since a prison’s main purpose is to maintain secure facilities, any dysfunctional lock or lost set of keys poses a major security threat.

In one instance, a staff member lost a set of prison keys off-site. In response, the two locksmiths had to replace more than 1,500 locks and 692 key rings.

Orr was trained to tackle locks at a job prior to arriving at California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation seven years ago.  He started at the prison’s shipping and receiving unit and then was able to laterally move to an Institutional Locksmith two and a half years ago.

Sterne joined the team about a year ago after owning his own locksmith company in Indiana for 20 years.

Jammed locks are an everyday occurrence for the team to tackle. Whether keys break in the locks, or they break down because they get old, or an inmate has tampered with the lock by stuffing items in them, every day and every lock presents a new mystery to be solved.

“It’s never the same,” Orr said. “Your day can start off quiet and then suddenly get very busy with emergency fixes.”

Orr removes broken pencils, flossers, toothpicks, cardboard, glue and other items from the locks on a daily basis.

To tackle these mystery locks, the two come armed with an extraction kit made up of various hooks and extraction tools, and an extra lock – just in case.

Locksmith John Sterne helps keep the prison functioning at CSP Los Angeles County.

Locksmith John Sterne helps keep the prison functioning at CSP Los Angeles County.

However, the unpredictability of the job is what they said they like most about it. Orr said he loves that his job is “never the same thing and you get to interact with a diverse group of people.”

The fact that every day poses a new challenge is exciting.

“People can just call you and you’re there to take care of their needs,” Orr said

The two are the only people besides the Warden, and the fire department, to possess the prison’s master keys. They are ready to embrace every challenge with an extraction kit and a willingness to do whatever it takes to solve the problem.

Orr joked, “When you get locked in your office, who you going to call? Not Ghostbusters.”

Call Orr and Sterne.

Read more Day in the Life stories, http://www.insidecdcr.ca.gov/category/day-in-the-life/

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3 Responses

  1. R. Edwards Tuesday, October 6, 2015 / 8:30 am

    Lock’em up!

    Thank you.

  2. Mark Elliott Friday, September 25, 2015 / 7:14 am

    Bryan went above and beyond to help make our DRP modular building a success. Thanks Bryan.

  3. Armory Guys Tuesday, September 1, 2015 / 1:26 pm

    Oh, I bet the Ghostbuster jokes are off the hook! But for real, they are johnny on the spot. They handle business same day 99 percent of the time.

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