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So you want to be a Correctional Officer?
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 03/26/2012

Coandinmate In my 25 years of corrections I have been asked by many alike, men and women, what is it like to be a correctional officer and what does it take to become one? I always tell them they must be strong mentally and able to handle their own as it can get tough at times and volatile in nature regardless of your assignment. I tell them there is a written and physical test they must pass and that the reality of this job is to be prepared for the unexpected. Bouncing ideas around I share with them the advantages of prior experiences in the military, security field or other forms of law enforcement connected agendas to prepare them for the job.

One must be serious to consider corrections as a job or profession. If you are seriously thinking of becoming one, stay in shape, learn to communicate effectively, address cultural diversity and sensitivity concerns with an open mind and learn how to perform contributional skills, attributional thinking and most of all, critical thinking skills. I tell them this job consists of many forms of profiling to learn who you are dealing with and how to better understand them. Focusing on working smart and not hard, it is easier to do your scheduled duty rounds using your mind rather than muscle all the time.

It is well known that prisoners can be abusive in nature and violent at times thus you must be able to maintain self- control and accept the fact that abuse comes with the job. On the other hand, they are human beings and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity until they otherwise reflect no such common ground with you. However, never stoop down to their level and become one of those officers that lose respect because of lack of self-control or temper flare ups that complicate and create tension in the workplace.

Whether tolerated or not, the decision to work in an abusive-free milieu is not up to you but rather the type of relationship and population you are assigned to. Bottom line, you must be able to think on your feet and learn the art of empathy and not sympathy to better understand them. Walking a mile in their shoes (psychologically) will help you paint a better picture of the situation and circumstances, allowing you to make better decisions.

Sharing with many that age is not a factor unless it impairs your ability to perform your required tasks and duties as assigned. There are some accommodations made for specific disabilities but it still comes down to being able the initial fit for duty test you took at the beginning of your employment. Physical fitness should be ongoing and whether you work out in a gym or at home, alone or with a family or co-worker, it is important to stay in shape.

Advancing your career through better educational opportunities is the way to go. Take the initiative to further your schooling and seek advances in those fields that interest you most. Be aware, you will likely have to choose to work and go to school to meet your needs.

Last but not least, continue to seek opportunities for self improvement. Focus on your health and wellness. Work on relieving stress and anxiety and keep an active life outside the prison walls to maintain your sharpness, your focus on the job and the attitude that keeps you motivated to do a good job regardless where you are assigned or work. Learn how to communicate openly with family and friends but don’t burden them with your work related problems unless you feel that they are a valuable source to deal with the potential frustration that may invade your career and personal life if not handled appropriately.

Editor’s note: Carl ToersBijns (retired), worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

Other articles by ToersBijns:



Comments:

  1. moleseng on 04/01/2013:

    I Botse Mokwena a 21 year old girl from Gauteng would like to be a correctional officer at any site.i've always wanted to work at this department it would be such a privillage if i occupy the job.

  2. moleseng on 04/01/2013:

  3. tj on 04/01/2012:

    As a Correctional Officer, I too am asked alot of questions about my job duties. Most people think that being a CO is a piece of cake. They somehow have the perception that all we do is sit at a desk and watch, or babysit the inmates. It never ceases to amaze me, as I share with them my actual job duties and different scenarios, how their faces become distorted, they are rendered speechless and at the end of the conversation they state to me "may God bless and keep you". It truely takes a very special person to work in any jail or prison year after year, and continue to maintain an active social life.

  4. jamestown0509 on 03/20/2012:

    As a FTO in a county jail I always took a new recruit into the jail to show them what working on a floor or dorm is really like. You can read all the material you want as a recruit but until you step onto that floor, hear the inmates calling you names, making fun of the way you are dressed, asking personal questions and all of the games they play then as a recruit you get a taste of what being in corrections means. I do think that we need to stress that it takes a special person to be a CO. It's not an easy job and the stress sometimes is tremendous. The worst place to be working is a jail or prison if you really don't like the job and you have ideas of being a police officer, parole or probation officer or in another area of LE.


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