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Story and photos: Ricky J. Carrasco
Robert Ochoa requested the “Old Glory Memorial” park for his shoot, not just for himself, but to remember his fellow soldiers who came before him. Such respect is what surrounds Ochoa in his daily life, before as an Air Force veteran, currently in his position as captain and Chief of Security at the Otero County Prison Facility in Chaparral, New Mexico, and on his down time as a biker. He looks the part of each role, but with a sense of pride and humility that is necessary in his professional and personal life.
I started the interview with what interested me most, his position as chief of security for a large privately owned prison that houses a wide variety of inmates. “The hardest part of my job is the inmate population, in that we really don’t know what we have. You may have inmates that are here for a simple crime, but may have a history somewhere else. I’m not here to punish them. I’m here to house them for the duration of their sentence and make sure they’re safe. My primary concern is inmate and officer safety, making sure that everybody goes home at night.”
The prison houses 1358 inmates who includes US Marshall inmates, military inmates and sex offenders. The facility is piloting a new sex offender treatment pilot program.
Ochoa started at the prison as a security guard after his service in the security forces in the US Air Force and has worked up the ranks since then. He talked about the need for intelligence and that respect, especially in his officers. “My best COs are the ones who are street smart and aware. It’s not as bad as it looks in the movies. If you respect the inmates, they’ll respect you back. You can’t be the big guy off the streets assuming you’ll get respect right away because there’s another 1000 inmates who have a say in that. We have fights, of course, but they have to live with each other. There is a peer pressure to do right by the inmates because if a section gets in trouble, they’ll come looking for you.”
He recalled one time where he ran into a former inmate at a night out with his family. “I never would’ve remembered him, but he remembered me. They either remember you for the really good, or the really bad. Thankfully, he remembered something good because he introduced me to his family. I took it as a big compliment, but you always have to remember they’re people with entire lives outside of the prison walls.”
That respect also goes in his extracurricular activities. Ochoa has been working through the prison with the local Special Olympics program for the last 7 years. He works to do fundraising of various sorts, especially with the Law Enforcement Torch Run, that raises money for the actual sports, trips, equipment and other expenses with Special Olympics.
He informed me that the next Special Olympics is at Tiger Stadium at Alamogordo High School. “We help to organize it and my officers go that day in full uniform. When we pin the kids or give them their medals, they take it as a huge honor. My officers and my family have found that the kids are so cool. They’re awesome and it really is a fulfilling duty. They’re just regular kids who need a little help.” The next Torch Run will be May 2nd at Chaparral Elementary.
Ochoa, who is new to the biker world having ridden for less than two years, now uses his bike as his daily therapy from, and for, his various responsibilities. He has a ’97 Softtail that he’s completely rebuilt with new paint, graphics, wheels and chrome. “I waited to get the bike until I was a little older and wiser. I ride the 40 mile daily commute to and from work. I’m always thinking about work, but the bike takes a little more concentration to ride. It takes my mind off my worries. Once I hit that straightaway… (He gives a big smile). Anything at work that raises my blood pressure, the ride calms me down on the way back. That way my kids and my wife don’t have to deal with it.”
He likens the relationships to in the biker community with his time in service. “I served 4 years in the Air Force. When you see someone in uniform in the military, you know what they are and what they do and that they’re your brother. At work, it’s the same thing. You’re going to have to rely on him and vice versa. Now on the bike, it’s still a brotherhood. I may not know whomever, but as long as we have that bike in common, we have a common ground.”