IOWA CITY, Iowa — "They deserved to be able to go home."
That's what former inmate Eddie Walker said about correctional officer Robert McFarland and nurse Lorena Schulte, who were both killed by an inmate at the Anamosa State Penitentiary last week.
Walker served nearly 18 years behind bars for a first-degree robbery charge before being released on parole in 2019. About three years, 2002 to 2003 and 2017 to 2018, were spent at Anamosa.
Due to his diabetes, Walker frequently visited the infirmary where Schulte and McFarland worked. Walker stopped in so frequently that he started calling McFarland "Mac."
“Mac was a good dude, somebody that, when I walked into medical, the first thing he would say, ‘Hey, Walker, what’s going on?’” Walker said. “Lorena was always one to, you know, ‘Hey, Eddie, how are you doing? You all right? Is everything going OK?’”
Walker said the 46-year-old Ely resident would often talk about his work with the city's volunteer fire department when Walker asked about his weekend, but that's only if the pair weren't talking about the Hawkeyes.
As for Schulte, Walker said the 50-year-old nurse was "good-hearted" and could tell when he wasn't having a good day.
According to the Division of Criminal Investigation, Schulte and McFarland were in the breakroom of the prison's infirmary when two Anamosa inmates attempted to escape the prison.
The inmates, Thomas Woodard, 39, and Michael Dutcher, 28, had two hammers and a grinder in their possession. They broke the glass of a window but weren't successful in their attempt to break the bars blocking the window.
When McFarland and Schulte attempted to intervene in their escape, they were allegedly hit in the back of the head by Woodard.
Walker said the news of McFarland and Schulte's deaths was "really shocking."
“When I saw that, it just — you know, they deserved to be able to go home,” Walker said. “Just to see something like that is gut-wrenching.”
Danny Homan is the president of AFSCME Council 61, the union that represents most of the Iowa Department of Corrections Staff. He said the department needs to hire more people to offset the overcrowding in prisons to prevent another tragedy from happening.
“I have said more than once that something like this might happen if we don’t fix the staffing levels of our prisons, and unfortunately, that came true,” Homan said.
However, Walker said hiring more guards won't fix the problem.
In his experience, Walker said more could be done by diverting people in the prison system with mental health needs to mental health facilities. Walker also noted decriminalizing marijuana could help remove nonviolent offenders from prisons.
“The prison being overcrowded is something the governor can fix with the swipe of a pen,” Walker said.
Woodard and Dutcher are serving 25- and 50-year sentences respectively.
Walker said escape attempts weren't uncommon during his time in prison, but he said breakouts among inmates with set release dates were.
“I think it’s more rare for guys that don’t have life sentences,” he said. “These guys could’ve gotten out of prison just by doing their time.”
Both men are charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of second-degree kidnapping. If convicted in this incident, they may never get out of jail.
“You go from being able to get your freedom to never seeing the light of day,” Walker said.