Before Vera Fludd started work at the Nassau County Correctional Center 31 years ago, she feared what might be in store for her.
Fludd, then 25, of Freeport, had not sought out a career in law enforcement, but when the opportunity presented itself, she took it. “I discovered it had a lot to do with using your head,” she noted. “And just following the rules that you’re given.”
Fludd had previously been a clerk typist at the county’s Department of Social Services, but had always had an interest in rehabilitative work. On her first day at the jail, she recalled, she had lots of preconceptions about what it would be like inside. She pictured inmates running through the hallways, getting into fights and her having to quell the hostility.
“I just had this whole different expectation,” she said, “and it wasn’t like that. Those days come, believe me, they come. People fight; we have problems. And it’s stressful … but you have to be able to do your job and do it correctly and fairly, because that’s going to make the difference when something goes wrong.”
On Jan. 1, County Executive Laura Curran named Fludd, 56, the jail’s acting sheriff — the first African-American and the first woman to hold the position. In three decades as a corrections officer, she has moved up the ranks at the jail, becoming the first African-American woman captain and undersheriff.
“I know it’s bigger than me,” she said, adding that she is humbled to hold such positions. “It will affect a lot more people than me. But for me it’s just another job.”
Curran told the Herald that she was already impressed with Fludd’s leadership. “Morale has gotten better overnight,” she said, “and it feels like it’s a new day at the jail.”
Roughly a year ago, when Fludd was working under former sheriff Michael Sposato, Nassau County Democrats called on him to resign after a string of deaths and lawsuits during his tenure. Six inmates died in 2016, and that July, the state’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, sued the jail’s privatized health provider, Armor Correctional Health Services, for “allegedly failing to provide the proper medical services to inmates.”
Armor agreed to a three-year ban on operating in New York and paid a $350,000 fine, although admitting to no wrongdoing. Its contract ended in May 2017.
Fludd said that a lot has changed at the jail since Schneiderman’s lawsuit, but even more has changed in the past 38 days. “Everybody’s looking to work together and figure out how we can get things done and make it better,” she said.
Some of her staff members used to be her colleagues when she was a captain, which she said made the transition so smooth. Fludd added that she leads by including her staffers in the decision-making process.
“We still work together,” she said. “But at the end of the day, it’s totally different for me in administration. I have to look into where we need improvement, and hope that everybody’s ready and willing to make that shift.”
Fludd will serve as acting sheriff until July, when the County Legislature will determine whether to appoint her to permanently fill the position.