SEBRING — A nighttime wind storm knocked the power out at Avon Park Correctional Institution in 1976, leaving Correctional Officer Chip Valley in complete darkness in a dormitory among 200 inmates.
It was the first time at the correctional facility that Valley experienced “intense fear” because he was at the end of a wing far from the officer’s station.
Valley, a Sebring resident, described this experience in chapter four “Power Outage” of his book “A Whole Other World ‘Life in the Shadows of Prison.”
The book is based on Valley’s observations and experiences during his 28 and a half years at Avon Park Correctional Institution, where he retired as a captain in 2011.
Valley calls it “biographical fiction” based on real-life events. All the names have been changed and the time frames have been altered.
The main character in the book is Vietnam veteran Bobby Carter.
The book’s description on Amazon.com states that the job changed Carter’s personality.
“He gradually becomes numb, suspicious, untrusting, critical, aggressive and callous to all people in general to survive working in this whole other world,” according to the book description.
Valley said Carter, “pulled most of his strength in having custody of his daughter and eventually a son, and getting to raise them as a single dad. That was the best thing to keep your mind straight after working a day or a night in that type of environment, to come home and get yourself focused again.”
Valley said he has a good memory and would tell stories about his work experiences to friends and family members.
“They would always tell me you need to put that on paper because they were amazed by the stories,” he said.
Valley started writing his story by hand and then bought a laptop and completed the 200-page book in about a year.
Valley explained his fear during that night the lights went out.
Someone can work in the prison environment around murderers without getting hurt because the inmates fear that someone will see them and tell on them resulting in additional prison time or a death sentence, he said.
“When you take away the light, there are no witnesses anymore, there is nobody to see anything,” Valley said. Anyone working in that position would realize they are in a vulnerable situation.
Chapter seven “The Wolfman” tells of an inmate who believed he was a wolfman, Valley said. Every full moon the inmate went berserk.
Valley was a karate instructor in Orlando before he became a correctional officer. A photograph in the book shows him demonstrating a high kick to his opponent. The photo caption reads, “First degree black belt, Bobby Carter throwing a front kick in 1975.”
Valley said others who worked in prisons said he told it the way it was without being offensive.
A former warden commented that if spouses would read the book it may stop many of the divorces because they would understand the stress and everything their husbands go through as correctional officers, he said.
There are many divorces and suicides associated with the job because of the stress that comes with it, Valley noted.
The book includes brief reviews by Sebring Police Chief Thomas Dettman, retired Florida Department of Corrections classification officer Ed Lynch and Florida Department of Corrections Regional Director Randy Tifft.
Dettmen commented, “As a law enforcement professional for over 40 years, I recognized that Chip Valley has ‘nailed down’ the harsh realities of prison life in his very first fictional novel. This work begs for a sequel.”
Lynch said, Chip Valley has scored an A-plus with a true depiction of prison life and environment in his very true and exciting book.
Tifft commented, A realistic portrayal of the trials and tribulations faced within the prison life.
A Brighton Publishing press release states that “A Whole Other World” is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other leading eBook retailers nationwide.
The print version is slated for release in late 2014 and will be available through Ingram, the world’s largest book distributor, and on-demand worldwide via Espresso Book Machine, according to Brighton.