Sunday, April 1, 2012



Where do I begin? I guess at the University of Oklahoma Architecture School in the mid-60s.

But let me digress: I, Donald Cooke Voth, was born and raised in Oklahoma City. Dad always wanted me to be a doctor from the time I was a young boy. I had an aptitude for science and math but I never was very intrigued. Dad, a judge, always wanted to become a doctor, and I feel certain that he tried to instill that in me for that reason. I even graduated in pre-med at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. Then, I was accepted at St. Louis University Medical School. But when I got the bill for the cadaver, that stopped everything. It was an epiphany. I realized I really DID NOT want to be a doctor.

Then began a period of unrest and frenzy. My father got me a commission to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. I didn't want to do that either. And finally one fateful day, I confronted by father with the fact that I had always wanted to be an architect. I thought that the shit would hit the fan. But he accepted it finally. Mom was ALWAYS for me, no matter what. 

Then it was off to Oklahoma University for a Masters in Architecture. Thank goodness my father didn't cut me off. I flourished in architecture school.

During my second year at the University of Oklahoma's Architecture School, I was a summer worker. My professor/employer called me into his office one day and said, "How would you like to go to Washington DC to work next summer?"

I said, "That might be interesting. To work for the bureau of, what did you say?"

"Prisons! The Federal Bureau of Prisons. I've sent two students there for summer jobs and they have ended up staying there. They want an apprentice to come next summer."

I thought it over and decided even though it was prisons, that I might be interested in doing that. I would, at least, be living in Washington DC which might be exciting!

The next summer found me there, working. 

BOP Headquarters.

The architects from Oklahoma were very nice and helpful. The work was engrossing and fulfilling; the city, exciting. They asked me to come back permanently after I graduated the next year! I was unsure but very interested.

By Christmas, I still hadn't made up my mind. They sent me to the Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, for a 
look-see and interview.
The people there could not have been nicer and it was actually very interesting. Although when that front grille-gate slammed shut with me inside, there were some doubts.

But I ended up deciding to work at the headquarters in Washington. It would be an actual supervised apprenticeship and I figured a bird-in-the-hand was worth two-in-the-bush.

So that started my 32-year career with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, US Department of Justice.

Overall, it was fascinating, exciting and fulfilling work

   ---that I dedicated my life to.

I always lived on Capitol Hill, where I could walk to work.

I wrote a comprehensive book on the subject of secure adult prisons. This took a lot of time out of a year of my work life, but I am very proud of it. It sold many copies through the National Institute of Corrections. It was very influential on future prisons throughout the world.

There are four prisons I would like to tell you about. On these four (and others) I worked with architects to design from the ground up, literally. Each one took about a year and a half of my career to accomplish.

Next, the first one of the four: Butner, North Carolina.


Caliban said...

I always enjoy hearing how people began their careers and the decisions they considered in the process. In the end, it is better to do what you want to do than live someone else's dream. You were right to do that.

Don Voth said...

Thank you Robert. It did work out well. My father was finally very proud of me.

Anonymous said...

Morning...I just read your blog concerning your circuitous route to your career path. Most people don't have a clue, out of high school, what they want to do. You, on the other hand, always seemed to was just getting your father to come around that took a while..:0)

Thanks for sharing...Bob

Don Voth said...

Thanks Bob for reading my blog. Yes, I knew from high school!