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Saying Goodbye: Warden Ludwick Retires from Iowa State Penitentiary

Emily Woodbury

After nearly 42 years serving Iowa and Michigan prison systems, Iowa State Penitentiary Warden Nick Ludwick retires January 30. 

On retirement

"I've been asked if I have any regrets in my career, and my answer was 'Yes, I have one, and that is that I didn't come to Iowa sooner,'" he says. "This experience has been that positive of an experience for me."

I challenged them to manage adversity, to manage change, I thanked them for their behavior while I was here. - Warden Ludwick

Ludwick often refers to the positive "vibe" experienced at the penitentiary - a vibe he says helps keep the peace at the facility. He says that atmosphere didn't come naturally--he's worked hard over the years to create relationships with his staff and offenders.

"I never forget the fact that my guys have victims, but as a warden and as an administrator of an institution, I can't judge an individual by what he or she did. Their sentence is the punishment. Our jobs are very akin to mayors of a community."

Ludwick feels it is important to say goodbye, and to make sure the transition goes smooth when incoming warden, Patti Wachtendorf, steps into his role.

"When I knew I was leaving, I called out 30 of the most influential lifers we have here. We met in the school," Ludwick says, referring to the room where inmates take classes, "and I had every ethnic group represented - many of the guys 20, 30, 40 - one individual has been here 60 years." 

He told them, "'I want you to know that I'm leaving, I want you to know that I expect you to support my replacement, as much as you've supported me.' I challenged them to manage adversity, to manage change, I thanked them for their behavior while I was here. Those are the types kind of relationships that you need to establish as a warden."

On the corrections system's financial future

Governor Terry Branstad has proposed a $15 million cut to the Department of Corrections. House and Senate negotiators worked out a deal to reduce it to five-and-a-half million. Ludwick says he’s unable to say what that means, as the number may shift again.

“Those talks are still ongoing in regard to the total impact on the agency and the respective facilities, community-based corrections."

Ludwick says that budget numbers often change during the course of a year. He says administrators are always adjusting for deficits. 

In this River to River interview, host Ben Kieffer talks with Warden Ludwick about his time managing the Iowa State Penitentiary.

Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River