First Person Singular | Robert James Beach

“I have two kids. If you have kids, picture the way they fight when they don't get a piece of pie exactly the same size. Now multiply that times a hundred million.

“Most of these guys have never held a job, they've just been running drugs, out hustling on the street, so they don't have the work ethic that you or me have. You can't just tell them to get to work. You have to get down there and work with them; show them how.

“Most inmates didn't graduate from high school. They have never felt like they're a ‘big deal.’

“We keep the knives strapped onto the tables. In a restaurant or another setting, if you lose a knife, say it accidentally gets thrown away, it's not that big a deal. But here, if a knife is missing, nobody leaves until we find it.

“We used to have recipes on blue index cards in a box. Mary Goodwin and I developed our own recipes and we took out a lot of salt, ending up with a heart healthy menu. A lot of our clientele is African-American, and they are predisposed to hypertension. We want to teach good eating habits that maybe they'll keep when they get out, maybe not.

Major Beach On Katrina:

“Living in New Orleans, hurricanes come and go. Usually they make a turn and go to Florida. People thought that was going to be the case with this one, too. It was just a regular weekend at the Beach house. I was out mowing my lawn when the phone rang and it was the sheriff. He told me to turn on my TV.

“Being sheriff's deputies, we don't evacuate. I called Mary to make sure we had enough supplies and sent my family to a relative's house in Mississippi. The water was rising in the streets, but it still wasn't a big deal. We never panicked throughout the entire thing. We went to generator power and started slicing every piece of meat for sandwiches. We had plenty of bread.

“Then the power went out completely. Water was coming up to the edge of the loading dock. Then the roof started peeling off like a can of sardines. We put the food higher and higher up on the shelves (not realizing that it would ultimately all be lost).

“The water in the kitchen came up to right above my knees and I'm 6'1”. By then, probably 1,200 people had waded in from the street to take refuge. We slept out on the veranda.

“The inmates were very upset. They rioted in five of the jails. I lost 30 lbs. in five days. I call it ‘the Katrina Diet.’ It was very stressful times. I'm very proud of the kitchen staff and what they did in the days after the storm. They were heroic.

“The Department of Corrections came down en masse with buses and boats and bulldozers, and we had to move 7,000 inmates, ten or 12 at a time, to the Broad Street Overpass to be evacuated.

“We came back a week later and my home was destroyed. We went from the Jetsons to the Flintstones overnight. There was no way of contacting anybody and we stayed in a shelter for three weeks. We got tired of that, so we went home and my two sons, Sam and Max, started gutting the house. The Marines helped. All of our stuff was piled in the backyard. There were no doors or floors.

“I always thought the Beaches were a tenacious bunch. I never thought I could've lived through something like that and not come out crazy. You rely on your friends and family.”