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Holding Down the Gatehouse at WSP

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Officer John McDonald aka Big Mac at his gatehouse post at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.


One of the longstanding keepers of the gatehouse at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla is Officer John McDonald, a.k.a. Big Mac.

Big Mac has served at WSP since 1981 and has worked in all parts of the facility. He spent 23 years in the towers and for a time oversaw a corner of the yard, which became known as Mac’s Corner.

When inmates seized control of his unit in 1982, he was taken hostage. “Back then, we didn’t have OC, or radios – just our keys and our wits,” he said.

After 35 years, he’s earned the right to one of the best views at the Pen – a panorama of rolling wheat fields, visible from the window at his current post.

If you pass by the gate when he’s on shift, he might hand you an apple, but only if he’s concerned about your health. Otherwise, you get a chocolate chip cookie.

Mac won the state’s Extra Mile Award in 2005 for exemplary service and was nominated for DOC’s Employee of the Year Award in 2015. When he was told he needed to go to Olympia to pick up the award, his response was: “No thanks.”

Let’s recognize Big Mac and the other old-timers at WSP for their many years of service to the residents of our state and for the extraordinary work they do to keep all of us safe. 


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