More than 1,000 residents of this corner of the Eastern Shore, where unemployment stands at 22 percent, applied for jobs this week at a medium security prison to be built here in Somerset County.
State corrections officials, no strangers to crowd control, were nontheless taken by surprise at the onslaught of applicants. So many people--more than 700--showed up Wednesday in nearby Princess Anne for interviews that the doors had to be opened a half-hour early to let in the crowd.
But only a smattering of perhaps 100 people showed up for an afternoon session today at the local Crisfield high school.
County Commissioner Phil Gerald blamed the lower turnout this afternoon on the banner soft-crab season, the best in his memory, which has kept every available Crisfield hand busy for the last two weeks.
"Everybody's been out either soft-crabbing or working in the packing houses," Gerald said.
At tonight's session, with the watermen back on shore, more than 200 people lined up in the first half-hour for interviews.
By contrast, today's job market seemed premature. Corrections officials are seeking about 750 high school graduates to man the new 1,500-inmate prison when it opens in 1987.
When it approved the site, the state assured residents of Somerset County that they would get priority in hiring. The two-day job market was designed to familiarize residents with the jobs available and to get some in the employment pipeline at training sessions and at prisons elsewhere in the state, so there would be experienced local workers available when the new jail opens.
To those from this marshy crabbing and oystering mecca who attended today's session, the prospect of state paychecks and benefits was appealing.
Shelia James, who works at a Mrs. Paul's frozen food packing house, said she would apply for five or six different jobs at the jail, ranging from corrections officer (guard) to maintenance and supply worker.
She and her friend, Deborah Leatherbury, who is laid off from the Campbell's Soup company, said the job they want most is corrections officer, which, at $14,600 a year to start, pays the best and includes retirement after 20 years.
"I just want me a good, steady job," said Leatherbury. "I liked my old job, but they lay you off so much. Somerset County doesn't have anything as far as steady work and good work," she said.
To assure prospective applicants that there is no bias against hiring female guards, the state included among its 40-odd counselors a woman guard from Jessup, Sgt. Donna Pivonski.
Pivonski said being a female guard in a male prison is tough at first, "but if you're sincere about what you're doing and the prisoners can see you're trying to help, it works."
Pivonski said the day before at the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore campus in Princess Anne was nonstop work. "I must have interviewed 40 or 50 people myself."
Many, she said, were college students close to a degree. "It made me appreciate my job security," she said.
Public information officer Beverly Marable said the state wants to hire about 450 guard prospects immediately and send them for training in Jessup. They would then be farmed out to other state institutions, including two new ones scheduled to open soon in Baltimore and Hagerstown, where they would work until the Somerset prison opens and they could be transferred home.
The facility here was opposed by some local residents when it was proposed, but Gerald, the county commissioner, said many were under the mistaken impression that "it would be a work-release, with prisoners walking out and robbing and raping. That was a wrong assumption. It's a medium-maximum security prison."
He said the opposition came "from people who didn't need a job." Gerald said that in Somerset, where the average income is just over $6,000, the state's wage scale of $10,000 to $14,600 "sounds good."
But one prospective employe, Jayvan Styles of Marion, said the state could have found other ways to create jobs in Somerset besides bringing in a jail, and argued that while local residents were promised priority in hiring, state regulations prevent such favoritism. "We still have to take the test and get on a waiting list," he said.
And at least one applicant said if he gets a job, he'd prefer the lower-paying one.
"I'm interested mostly in a maintenance job. I don't particularly care for work as a guard," said 21-year-old Donald Windsor, an unemployed Army veteran. "If it came right down to it," he said, "I don't think I'd have the nerve to shoot anybody."