MACHIASPORT (NEWS CENTER Maine) -- Imagine giving nearly half of your life to a job and one day, with no warning, it’s gone – that’s exactly what happened to JJ Tibbetts, who thought he’d retire as a Downeast Correctional facility employee but is now left scrambling to start over and says he was told to just ‘file for unemployment’ by a Department of Labor employee.
“I’m upset, I’m mad,” Tibbetts said. “How can you not be mad? You know we’ve worked hard to see it get pulled and taken away from us.”
Governor LePage shut the prison down abruptly Friday morning. Employees who were working when it happened say Maine State police and members of the SWAT team came in the dark of the night, fully armed. The prison was budgeted to stay open until June, so employees were not expecting it to shut down three months early.
“I’ve always been told you want a state job, benefits, great insurance for your family, fair pay,” Tibbetts said. “You know it’s kind of shaking my faith in my career.”
The 46-year-old says the decision is hard to swallow. He has worked for the prison since 1994 and was due to retire in a little over a year. He says he feels betrayed by the Governor and how he chose to handle the situation. Now, Tibbetts says he and the other employees are left cleaning up someone else’s mess.
“I’m bitter about the whole place cause I know the people down there did a good job and I know everybody worked hard,” Tibbetts said. “There was a certain sense of pride about the place and it just seems like everything has been stripped away from us.”
The Maine Department of Corrections acting Deputy Commissioner Ryan Thornell said to NEWS CENTER Maine in an email:
“The state has provided the employees with current DOC and other state agency employment information; the Department of Labor and Bureau of Human Resources have deployed Rapid Response services to the employees, meeting with them on Monday.”
However, Tibbetts says the only solution he was given was to file for unemployment. “I had questions on retirement and stuff but those couldn’t be answered and I really wasn’t told if there was a possibility of me working in the state,” Tibbetts said. “I don’t want to file for unemployment, I’ve never been unemployed in my life, I’ve never filed for unemployment in my life, I’ve always worked.”
Tibbetts went on to say “Everything seems to be in the air and I don’t really seem to have answers.”
According to Thornell’s in his email to NEWS CENTER Maine:
“Most of the prisoners, 47, were relocated to Mountain View Correctional Facility; 8 prisoners were moved to Maine State Prison; 5 prisoners were moved to Maine Correctional Center, and 3 prisoners were moved to Bolduc Correctional Facility,” and “at this time, only current vacancies are being requested to fill – we have not added any new positions at other Department facilities.”
In the end, Tibbetts says he hopes giving over half of his life to the job will count for something.
"If you work somewhere 23, 24 years, obviously you’re working towards retirement," Tibbetts said. "I think I’ve earned it, you know I want to finish it out, I want to finish up my years in corrections."
The 39 employees that were let go are only being put on administrative leave until March third., even though the prison was budgeted to stay open until June. According to Thornell, that money will now be treated as cost-savings and the all other funds will be distributed to cover additional services to prisoners at the receiving facilities.