Herald/David Morris - Lt. Mary Farley has worked for the Bell County Sheriff’s Office for 15 years. She started as a jailer and in May, she’ll become the first black woman to serve as president of the Texas Jail Association. Before joining the sheriff’s office, Farley was in the Army for 20 years.

By Victor O'Brien

Killeen Daily Herald

When it comes to running a jail, you would think an iron fist would be more essential than a mother's touch, but the latter is what Lt. Mary Farley delivers.

In May, Farley, 45, will become the first black woman to serve as president of the Texas Jail Association. The job is the result of 10 years of treating wounded soldiers as an Army medic and 15 years with the Bell County Sheriff's Department, where Farley started as a Bell County jailer. However, it's been in the making since Farley's childhood.

Growing up in Augusta, Ga., Farley's single mother, Mattie Walters, personified the idea of an independent woman.

"A single parent raising children, she was always a great provider for us. She made many sacrifices in our life and continues to do so," Farley said.

Mary has been a wife to Edmond D. Farley for 18 years and raised three children.

"She does remind you of that mom that watches over you, nurtures you and gets on you when you're good and when you're bad. She keeps you on the right track," Sgt. John Thomas said.

Farley has been Thomas' supervisor for the last eight years.

No two days are alike in the jail, Farley said. One thing that must stay the same is respect for inmates – whether they curse at her or have mental problems that make them a challenge to accommodate.

The verbal abuse can wear on the emotions of some, but Farley said it's about knowing their anger at the situation does not mean anger at her.

It's a balance between keeping them locked up in the cell and making sure they have the meals, water and housing they deserve during what, for some, is the worst time in their lives. It's a message that goes back to her mother, who taught Farley to be kind to everyone no matter how they treated her.

In the best of circumstances, Farley may get to see that angry person find God through the jail ministry program. When that happens, it makes her job all the more rewarding.

Better than the rest

Thomas said Farley's success is about patience. He believes she has changed the culture of the sheriff's office into a progressive environment with more opportunities for promotion and education.

Thomas served 20 years in the Army and 15 in law enforcement. He said it's not about being a man or a woman;

Farley just is better than the rest.

"I would put her on top of any leader, male or female, I've encountered," he said.

Farley's leader at the jail, Maj. Robert Patterson, jail administrator and former president of the Texas and American jail associations, described Farley as a supervisor who knows her staff, their families and the jail. In short, she is "indispensable," he said.

Farley's ascendancy has been a 10-year process of steadily moving up the ranks to reach her current position of vice president and soon president.

She'll set priorities and training with the Texas Jail Commission and the Texas Association of Counties, in addition to her duties at the jail and with her family.

Patterson said being president is a challenge, but Farley is ready after planning the new Bell County Jail, which will expand the jail with space for more inmates and a more functional design for staff.

"I worked as hard as the next person, regardless of whatever race. At the same time, it's a lot of expectation. I know that every day; there's others that look upon me to set an example and make decisions because decisions I make don't affect just me but hundreds of other people," Farley said.

Contact Victor O'Brien at vobrien@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7468.

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