It's hard to miss a 330-pound man in uniform, but Alofaae "Al" Fenumiai is uncomfortable with the assumption that muscle mass makes his escorting job with the judicial system a cinch.
"That's what everybody says, but it would be embarrassing for me to say my size gives me an advantage," Fenumiai said. "Attitude and personality come into play; I always manage to converse with everybody. If you stand your ground and let them know where you are coming from, they will respect that and deal with it."
Fenumiai is a judicial services officer with headquarters in the lobby of the Dimond Courthouse. Judicial services is a subdivision of the Alaska State Troopers, assigned to escort prisoners between their cells and court hearings. Juneau has two judicial services officers, Fenumiai and his co-worker Wally Scott, while Anchorage has about 15.
Fenumiai, 38, was born in American Samoa and attended a boys' high school there. While serving in the Army for four years, he was stationed at Fort Richardson near Anchorage, and fell in love with Alaska.
In his 14 years as a judicial services officer, Fenumiai has moved prisoners among correctional facilities and court houses, chiefly in Juneau but also the rest of Alaska. In addition, he has been assigned extradition trips that take him to destinations such as Hawaii, Memphis, Seattle and Chicago.
"If it's a high-risk situation, we have procedures we follow. But the majority of times, I will bring in two or three people by myself," he said. When he is escorting a group from the Lemon Creek Correctional Center to downtown, they are shackled wrist-to-wrist so they can't flee in different directions.
"It's a very good profession," Fenumiai said. "I get to work with a variety of people and get to help a lot of people in times of need. The public doesn't always understand the process, and I can understand their frustration."
Al's brother Ilalio "Lio" Fenumiai is a corrections officer at a state prison as is his brother-in-law, J.R. Levale.
Fenumiai started power lifting at age 19 and holds state titles in power lifting. "I don't like to talk about it; I let people read about it in the newspapers," he said.
His Alaska state power lifting records, current as of Feb. 6, are noted at the Mendenhall location of the Juneau Racquet Club, where he works out five days a week, two hours at a time:
Men's open division, squat lift of 755 pounds, May 1999.
Bench press, 540 pounds, Nov. 1999.
Dead lift, 655.75 pounds, May 1999.
Total lift (squat+bench+dead in a single competition), 1,918 pounds, May 1998.
Power lifting requires an unusual physique, said Jeremy Schlosser, front desk clerk at the club where Fenumiai works out. Without that physique, the stress of lifting would literally tear muscle and tendon from bone.
"Most people don't have the body type to support that muscle mass. You need certain joints to get your muscles to the point where you can lift that much," Schlosser said.
Fenumiai doesn't eat any particular diet before meets. In fact, "I eat everything I can get my hands on," he said, although his desk revealed only a box of Wheat Thins.
"For a big guy, he's awfully shy," said First Sgt. Kurt Ludwig of Ketchikan, deputy commander for the A Detachment of the Alaska State Troopers. Ludwig has known Fenumiai for three-and-half years.
"Transporting prisoners from Ketchikan to Juneau to Anchorage, we deal with him almost on a daily basis," Ludwig said.
"We call him 'Big Al.' He's a gentle giant, an outstanding employee. He has a great sense of humor and works hard. He's always there when we need him. I can't think of enough good things to say about him," Ludwig said.
Fenumiai's wife, Gail, works for the state's Division of Elections. They have three children: Nicole, 11, Brittany, 9, and Phillip. When he's not working out, Fenumiai acts as chauffeur for the kids, who are involved in softball and soccer. On his office bulletin board is a card from one of the children, addressed to "the best Dad."
"Juneau is a good place to raise a family. It's small enough and convenient for taking the kids from place to place; they don't have to worry about being on the road for hours, especially in winter," he said.
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