Ready to exchange cells for sails |

Ready to exchange cells for sails

William Ferchland
Jim Grant/Tahoe Daily Tribune Sitting on a chair from an old Heavenly Sky chairlift, Don Fife and his wife Shirley take a break from packing before they set sail for Mexico.

Don Fife plans to sail the San Francisco Bay after spending 20 years at the El Dorado County Jail.

Sgt. Fife retired from his duties as administrative sergeant at the jail, where he was responsible for organizing and separating inmates.

“In a county jail you have a whole mixture of people all the way from murderers and drug dealers to your local drunk,” Fife said. “It goes the whole gamut in county jail.”

Fife has been around bars and flour for half his life. He was an army baker in Germany during the Vietnam War and when he returned he worked in casino kitchens. He used his culinary skills for a year at a medium security prison near Sonora. He was the prison baker. Twenty inmates helped cook.

“At times it could be pretty scary because you know everybody in prison has a different agenda,” he said.

From speaking to him, the 52-year-old has always seemed to eye his retirement. He joined the sheriff’s department’s jail staff in 1984 seeking better benefits.

Figuring he was a bit old for patrol and liked the calmness of the jail, Fife stayed at the jail where deputies don’t carry batons or guns.

“You don’t have weapons in there because if two or three (inmates) jump you they’re going to get your weapon,” he said.

The jail was “pretty much dungeon like,” Fife said. Improvements in 1990 helped improve conditions. Earlier this month county supervisors approved 32 new beds, an earmarked need for the past five years.

Fife’s longevity at the jail helped Lt. Randy Peshon ease into his role of commanding the jail.

“He was willing to walk into my office and say, ‘You’re wrong’,” Peshon said.

Fife had good words for his former boss.

“He’s an exemplary mentor,” Fife said. “He brings a whole new light to that jail where it can be real positive.”

For a retirement present, staff presented Fife with a captain’s chair for his 40-foot sloop. The boat isn’t stored at Lake Tahoe because of its size. Fife plans to travel to Mexico, New Zealand and other locations with his boat.

“I’ll be spending more time on the boat,” he said.

– E-mail William Ferchland at

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