Ex-Warden Was Known As Compassionate Man by Cary McMullen

Posted: January 17, 2010 in News and politics

Ex-Warden Was Known As Compassionate Man

By Cary McMullen
THE LEDGER

Published: Tuesday, December 8, 2009 at 4:02 a.m.

Ernst Peters | THE LEDGER (2000)
MAURICE H. SIGLER curbed brutal treatment of prisoners, supported Anchor House.

LAKELAND | A longtime corrections official who knew some of the most notorious criminals in America – yet who is remembered as a compassionate man who curbed the brutal treatment of prisoners – has died.

Maurice H. Sigler, who rose from the ranks of prison guard to become chairman of the U.S. Parole Commission, died of natural causes at age 100 at his home Saturday.

Because he had seen how young people can go wrong, he tried to help them stay out of prison, said his wife, Anne D. Sigler.

Sigler was a major contributor to institutions that helped troubled youth. He supported Boys Town, the famed home for orphaned and troubled boys in Omaha, Neb., and Anchor House, a similar institution in Auburndale.

A transitional residence facility at Anchor House, Sigler Hall, is named for him. Hundred of boys have lived there over the years, said Michael Staples, executive director of Anchor House.

"He was a visionary with an optimistic outlook on the future for young men coming out of troubled circumstances. … His ultimate view was that young men can rise up to the occasion with structure, encouragement and God’s help," he said.

A lifelong Presbyterian, Sigler was a founding member of North Lakeland Presbyterian Church, where he served as an elder. The Rev. Bryan Mickle, pastor of North Lakeland Presbyterian, said Sigler was "a patriarch in the truest sense."

"He never lost faith in the basic goodness and redemptive potential of every human being, and that’s where his Christian faith set him apart. He insisted on treating every person as someone created in the image of God, no matter how horrible his deeds might have been," he said.

Sigler was born July 3, 1909, in Missouri Valley, Iowa. In 1939, he became a guard at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan., where he knew Robert Stroud, the famed "Birdman of Alcatraz." He later served as warden of the state penitentiary in Lincoln, Neb., where the serial killer Charles Starkweather was executed in 1959, and in 1967, he became first director of the newly formed Nebraska Department of Corrections.

From 1952 to 1958, Sigler was warden of one of America’s most notorious prisons, the state penitentiary at Angola, La. In a 2000 interview with The Ledger, he said he took away the leather whips used by the guards, oversaw the construction of a new facility and started a school.

His methods drew charges that he was too interested in the welfare of prisoners. Yet in a 100th birthday letter to Sigler, current Angola warden Burl Cain wrote, "It goes without saying you were ahead of your time and laid down a pattern later wardens could follow. If they had listened to you way back then, there would have been less bloodshed and suffering."

Sigler was appointed to the U.S. Parole Commission in Washington in 1971, serving for five years. He retired in 1976 and moved to Lakeland. He was a founding board member of the Corrections Corporation of America, and a CCA prison near Frostproof was briefly named for him before it was taken over by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

A longtime fan of the University of Nebraska football team, Sigler died minutes before the Cornhuskers lost to the University of Texas, said Anne Sigler.

His first wife, Francys, died in 1991. He is survived by his wife, three stepchildren, four nephews and a niece.

A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 21 at North Lakeland Presbyterian Church. Memorial gifts may be made to the church.

This story appeared in print on page B4

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