N.C. Department of Correction--Correction News--February 1998

The wizard of Combined Records, Hazel Keith, Retires after 46 years

Wake Forest - Hazel Keith, the feisty, lovable manager of Combined Records who many inmates revered like the Wizard of Oz with all her time calculations, retired in January.

Following eye surgery last August, Keith's doctor said she shouldn't continue doing the heavy reading that her work required. She reluctantly gave up the job that she has loved for 46 years.

"Hazel Keith is an icon to us," Correction Secretary Mack Jarvis said. "She did a fantastic job maintaining accurate records while helping judges, DA's, inmate families and correction folks understand the sentencing calculations. She will be sorely missed."

Keith began working for the department in 1951, taking a temporary secretarial job that paid $1,440 a year. After just a couple of weeks, a woman resigned in Combined Records and Keith was hired for the steno job. At that time, prisons were under the Highway Department, and 25 people worked for the Division of Prisons located in the basement of the Highway Building. The prison system had about 5,000 inmates.

In Dec. 1955, the division moved to the Randall Building which was only two stories high. The third floor was later added for the Parole Commission.

When Keith was promoted to clerk, she asked her boss if he was trying to get rid of her, because she loved doing shorthand. However, in her new job, she was able to put her math skills to work and began calculating inmate time, a job she truly loved.

Back in those early days, Combined Records used slide drawers to keep all the inmate records. Computations were done by hand and the FBI reports had to be typed and copies sent to the units.

In 1978, Keith was made manager of Combined Records. She said that after working so long, she could tell if something seemed fishy or funny. One inmate had been given life for a breaking and entering, and Keith knew there was no such term for a B&E. She called the Forsyth County Courthouse where it was discovered that someone had forged the commitment papers.

Sometimes judges would call Keith from the courtroom to ask about sentencing calculations. Her favorite was Judge Robert Hobgood of Louisburg.

"Hazel Keith is the quintessential authority on sentencing laws," Judge Hobgood said. "She knows more about the sentencing laws of North Carolina than any other human being." Hobgood said Keith could answer any questions about the last five sentencing laws with the snap of a finger, and that she was able to convey that information so gracefully, that, "She made you feel like you knew it after all," Hobgood said. "Her knowledge of the system is irreplaceable. If Hazel Keith says it, it must be so."

Director of Prisons Dan Stieneke agreed, saying, "As long as I have been with the Department, the name Hazel Keith has been synonymous with organization, efficiency and dedication to duty. Ms. Keith has effectively managed records for this agency from note cards to digital technology."

"When we went to computers, I figured I wouldn't even have a job because the computer would take over," Keith said at her Wake Forest home. "But, we had to go back and check behind the computer system."

Recently, when the longest serving inmate, Frank Wetzel, asked who had calculated his time and was told it was Hazel Keith, he reportedly said, "It couldn't have been her because she was here when I got here."

Although Keith worked in the shadow of Central Prison, she never passed through its gates. The only prisons she ever visited were Caledonia and Johnston. Keith was too busy calculating inmate time.

"I just loved it so much," Keith said. "It was a challenge. It helped me mentally."

Keith has a new focus in her life. On Dec. 30, Keith became a great-grandmother with the birth of 7-lb. Zachery Daniel.

NC DOC Correction News- February 1998
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