New job a homecoming for alternative sentencing chief

Although Michael Beam has been employed by Douglas County for 27 years, his recent appointment as chief alternative sentencing officer is a homecoming of sorts.

"It's good to be home again," he said during an interview Friday from his office in the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center. "Everyone in this building - even the new hires - have been so welcoming."

Beam, 54, took over the department from Doug Swalm who retired in May.

"My heart has always been in law enforcement and I needed new challenges," Beam said.

He spent the last eight years with China Spring Youth Camp as facility manager. Prior to that, he worked as special investigator in the district attorney's office for seven years and deputy and investigator for 12 years with the sheriff's office.

Working with offenders ages 18 into their 70s isn't so different from working with juveniles.

"In a lot of ways, they are the same," Beam said. "The differences are that they are older with more issues."

The alternative sentencing department supervises misdemeanor offenders who have been sentenced as an alternative to incarceration with legal conditions of probation and parole.

The caseload of more than 425 includes offenders in diversion programs for drunk driving and drug offenses.

In addition to supervising people throughout Northern Nevada, the department oversees offenders as far away as Arizona, California and Oregon.

"It's demanding, but we just do it," Beam said.

He and Officer Yvette Altringer are out in the field. Diana Lash is the department's technician and Rachel Hamer is case manager.

They also monitor clients through their appearances in East Fork and Tahoe Township justice courts and the county's two district courts.

"I spent seven hours in the field Thursday with Officer Altringer," Beam said. "When our clients are clean on their PBTs (preliminary breath tests), we thank them. We're law enforcement, but we're also treatment providers, making assessments and plugging our clients into resources."

He thanked the Carson City Department of Alternative Sentencing which covered Douglas County for two months until Beam was hired.

"Rory Planeta sent us Officer Meliah Gonzales who ran this department for two months. She came in at a difficult period and did a great job. She also provided a transition period to me. Carson City was a huge, huge help to us," Beam said.

He said the county's court-appointed attorneys Tod Young, Derrick Lopez and Kris Brown have been instrumental in making his move into the new job easier.

"They all have been receptive to me coming on board," Beam said. "It's going to be a very positive working relationship with them."

Beam's wife Debbie is senior office manager in the county manager's office. She has worked for Douglas County for 13 years including a dozen years in the parks and recreation departments.

The Beams have been married 32 years.

They are the parents of James, 27, and Candice who was killed early Thanksgiving Day in 2007 in a traffic accident in Southern California. She was 26.

James Beam is working at the Boys & Girls Club of Carson Valley and set to attend Western Nevada College.

Candice remains very much a part of their family.

"We have learned Candice died for a reason," Beam said. "It remains for us to figure that out. Dealing with our grief and our healing has made me a better husband and father, and a better person.

"I am more compassionate and every day when I get up, I appreciate every living creature on this planet."

As a law enforcement officer, Beam said he routinely dealt with traffic deaths and family tragedies.

"Until we went through this, I didn't have an understanding of the impact on the family," he said. "I think it's our purpose to heal and recover in every possible way. If people need help and we can help them just a little bit, I am OK with that."

That applies to his job, too.

"For clients, and probationers, we can't help them if they don't want help and they need to convey it to us," Beam said.

Although Candice's death was accidental, Beam joined the board of directors of the Douglas County Suicide Prevention Network.

"It's one way of giving back," he said.

His daughter's death also brought home the importance of taking nothing for granted.

"We don't realize what we have until we lose it," Beam said. "It means trying to balance your life every day and enjoying life to the fullest. Each day, make it a better day."

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