A Day In The Life: Brenda DotterweichMarch 22, 2019
Story by Bill Powell
Photos by Traci Westcott
Inmates at the Dubois County Security Center can count on supper being the biggest meal of the day.
Kitchen manager Brenda Dotterweich, a woman who rises at 3:30 a.m. to get to the jail and who worries about kitchen operations when she is away, plans it that way.
Brenda realizes not everyone lodged in the jail has the luxury of a funded commissary account allowing them to buy snacks, hence the menus featuring stick-to-your-ribs meals at day’s end.
“It fills them up more,” Brenda says.
The county employee who has an 11-year-plus tenure cooking at the jail is openly proud to be working for her third sheriff (Terry Tanner, Donny Lampert and Tom Kleinhelter). Those years in the jail kitchen constitute a lot of calories counted and menus planned.
“I enjoy it here,” Brenda says. “I like it. It makes my day.”
The 1977 graduate of Jasper High School loves to cook, and remembers the first family meal she ever put on the table.
It was during her middle school years when her mother, Millie Merkel, had a beauty salon in the basement of their Jasper home. Brenda had three sisters and four brothers in the home at that time, and, on a day her mother was busy with a client, those boys were restless. She kept everyone occupied by rustling up a big pot of chili.
“I enjoy cooking,” Brenda says. “I always watched my mom when I was little. She had eight of us to feed.”
She went on to become a cook at a Jasper nursing home until, in 2008, she was hired on in the jail kitchen. She rose to kitchen manager a year and a half later.
Brenda rises at 3:30 a.m. each day to begin preparing breakfast at the jail by 4:30 a.m. Jail staff serve inmates at 5:30 a.m. and, by the time day-shift deputies arrive a short time later, the smell of giant fresh-from-the-oven sheet cakes invade the squad room as Brenda preps for lunch.
Each meal is a challenge, but Brenda enjoys putting her touch on everything from ribley soup to rigatoni. Her meal plans include noting what each cook’s tasks that day will be. Jail meals are served with heavy-duty plastic spoons that get collected and sterilized during trips through a dishwasher.
A pair of day cooks arrive at 10 a.m., which allows Brenda to ship food orders and otherwise finish her work before heading out the door between 1 and 2 p.m.
Brenda’s husband, Bill Dotterweich, heads off to work at OFS at 3 p.m. so she has just enough time to get something ready for him to eat. She is the mother of two adult children, has two grandchildren and stays happily focused on family.
“My grandkids and my kids are my pride and joy,” she says.
The kitchen manager’s day is not always done when she leaves the jail, though.
Brenda moonlights cleaning Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center’s Dale and Santa Claus clinics.
Wednesday, March 13, unfolded typically, with Brenda getting an early start, but it was value-added, too. Her gas gauge hovered near empty, so she had to fuel up between the jail and cleaning at Memorial’s Dale clinic. She did squeeze in almost an hour of sitting and talking with her husband, and went to visit her mother before preparing to start the cycle anew.
A living arrangement in her home exemplifies her giving nature. An acquaintance of her husband has resided with them for most of the past two decades and, for the past eight years following an accident, the man has relied on Brenda to increasingly help care for his needs.
At work, the current jail population topped 100 people this week, which kept the correctional kitchen hopping. Brenda, who plans out menus for inmates with dietary restrictions or religious requirements, says there are usually several inmates who are lactose intolerant. There were 103 inmates receiving meals Monday, and 11 of those plates were tabbed with special dietary needs cards.
And, when a jailer keeping close watch on someone with diabetes comes to her, items like peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches are whipped up on the fly.
“Every day is a challenge,” she says. “You just never know. We do have a lot of responsibility back here.”
Brenda must plan menus within budget constraints, but she says a new food provider that serves multiple southern Indiana jails is helping save money while adding a variety of new dishes.
“It all comes in bigger quantities,” she says, adding the new arrangement also gives her an opportunity now to include fresh fruit with meals.
The rigatoni meal is well-liked, Brenda says. It comes with a salad, bread, fruit and a beverage. Her chicken gumbo includes rice, cabbage, broccoli, sausage and chicken.
Her menu plans include notes for each employee describing what needs to be cleaned that day. In her years as kitchen manager, the jail has never had a critical violation. The only non-critical violation involved spoons left sitting upright in their slots instead of facing downward.
She says the county’s jailers and sheriff’s deputies “are fun to work with. There’s never a dull moment.”
“I enjoy working here,” she says. “When I’m off, I worry that something is going to go wrong. But we all work together here. The employees are great, and they pretty well take charge when I’m not here.”
Inmates are not allowed to help in the kitchen for security reasons. Brenda says she does hear from them, as complaints and even compliments are passed along by jailers. The jail’s female inmates, especially, will write notes complimenting meals and have them delivered, she says.
“Let’s see if I can find one,” Brenda says while being interviewed in her office adjacent to the kitchen.
Deputies who have the option of purchasing jail meal tickets might arrive at work to find leftover biscuits and gravy available in the kitchen. When she can, Brenda prepares a plate filled with fried eggs and another with sausage patties so deputies can grab a sandwich before transporting inmates to court or heading out on morning accident calls.
“We just punch their meal cards,” she says. “There’s never anything left.”
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