interested in joining authors network, email us for more information.


Archive for the ‘What the…?!?’ Category

The riddle of the lost feather

July 28th, 2011

Here is a question for you: Could something as seemingly harmless as a feather disrupt the operations of a prison? The bird probably would not give the loss of a feather it a second thought. But, it is a simple scenario that staff should ponder.

I saw it a few yards from the dining hall, on the grass next to the walk. It was a perfectly formed, seven inch long feather. The feather seemed out of place to me. It was just like seeing an archaic telephone booth in a desolate desert setting.

As I picked it up, I wondered what it could be made into. In other words, how could the feather be used against staff or prisoners? Could something as innocuous as this be transformed into an implement of danger?

A shank? – Admittedly, the feather’s quill could be easily sharpened. However, the hollow, stem-like shaft would not necessarily make a good shank. The material is simply too flexible to damage flesh. Of course with the right thrust, precision sharpening, and with a bit of surprise, a sharpened quill could pierce an eye.

A tool of self mutilation? – We know that some offenders will hurt themselves. Whatever the particular reason, it is a common enough occurrence. Almost all veteran corrections staff have heard a story of some offender who inserts some sharpened object into an uncomfortable part of themselves. Just as an inmate could obtain a wire or sharpened plastic and cut or insert into their flesh, a sharpened quill could be employed for this purpose.

A blow gun? – With patience and a paper clip, a quill could be completely hollowed to resemble a straw. A hollowed quill could be used as a blow gun. However, unless it is an ostrich or peacock feather the shaft opening would be too small to pose much of a danger. Though possible, it is not very probable.

A squirt gun? – Everyone had made a makeshift squirt gun in elementary school. Rather than open the small carton of milk, students simply pierce the top of the unopened container with a pencil and insert a straw. Inevitably, the student discovers that by squeezing a full container, a squirt gun is born.

In most institutions, containers are forbidden in certain areas, as they can be used to hurl noxious liquids at staff and other prisoners. This rule will not thwart a prisoner with a mission. Where there is a will, there is a way.

It does not take too much imagination to pair the straw-like remains of a feather shaft with squeezable plastic or even a paper sack. With the right material, patience, and a sealant, the feather can be adapted into a liquid gun.

The feather squirt gun needs not be completely leak proof in order to work. Still, with purloined plastic wrap, it would be reinforced and have a longer life. A seal between the feather shaft/straw and the container is easily contrived. Items that prisoners are permitted to possess can serve this function. Sealing agents include peanut butter or petroleum jelly. Less useful but still possible, fluids that humans naturally produce can seal, after a fashion.

So, what of the single plume? Why ponder unlikely uses? Is this an exercise in over-worry? Is this over-thinking the very simple? To answer these questions, I thought of the possibilities rather than the improbabilities. I admit that a single feather will not likely become a dangerous weapon. However, it is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Because of this, I retrieved the feather and discarded it. This feather would not reach inmate hands. The chief rationale for this lies in thwarting an opportunity. Why tempt fate? Why should I doubt the potency of inmate ingenuity? Why not remove a possible threat or item of trade? That action could have saved a colleague’s eye – or even my own.

Others may say, “Big deal! Who cares if a prisoner gets a hold of a feather?” My answer to that it probably does not make a difference. But, it certainly would not hurt anything to remove something that is not commonly permitted per the policy directive that governs personal property.

In any event, it is a fun exercise to ponder alternative uses for common items. This is how we stay vested in the job. New riddles stretch our brains a bit and keep us mentally flexible. Riddles like this can pull us out of thinking ruts. Even if the riddle has no answer, it is worthwhile to think outside of conventional areas.

Though I am no ornithologist, I am fairly certain that a bird would never consider how the loss of a feather may impact the thoughts of one corrections professional. In the end, something seemingly innocuous – like an errant feather may – may have more sinister uses than one initially supposes.

Contraband Control, What the...?!?

Discomfort can be useful

February 9th, 2011

 This story seems too strange to be real.  Yet, those who know me are aware of my reputation for telling the truth. When I got home from the ACA conference last August, there was a small bat trying to stay afloat in the ten gallon fish tank.  The goldfish was still there, but the additional creature vexed me.


The bat, clearly out of its element, flapped furiously as I used the net to liberate it from a watery doom.  Mindful of the potential of rabies, I maneuvered it into a plastic cup and released it into a dark bush.  Read more…

Self Scrutiny, What the...?!?

Your corrections family is a pillow?

September 30th, 2010

The following is an excerpt from Joe Bouchard’s keynote speech to the Wisconsin Correctional Association in September 2010. Thanks to the wonderful corrections professionals that make up this association. 


I gained a little medical wisdom from my doctor recently.  She and I discussed what has been described to me as my loud snoring. We sought to eliminate variables.  One topic that we touched upon was my choice of pillows.  She said seven words to me that started a strange chain of thinking.  “A pillow is a very personal thing.”


This made perfect sense to me. And I took this phrase and applied it to the notion of family.  Just like with a perfect pillow, if you are comfortable with a family, you will very likely get a good night’s sleep.  If the pillow (or family) is not a good fit for you, the discomfort may keep you up at night. 




There is no perfect pillow for everyone.  There is no uniform panacea. There is no one-size-fits-all.  If you are comfortable with a flat pillow, it does not matter if the majority prefers two fluffy pillows.  What works best for you is best for you.  A bad fit can be tolerated, but is less than optimal.  A pillow is a very personal thing. Read more…

Assessing the organization, Staff relations, What the...?!?

Back from the future

July 8th, 2010

This is how it works.  I am you in your future.  I am contacting you at the beginning of your/our career to give you some encouraging words.  Consider it an inter-dimensional aspect to your training.  Through the magic of time travel (the physics boggle my mind) this letter will come to you as you begin your first day in corrections. 


This is a bridge to the future. Consider it a gift to my younger self and an investment toward success.  I feel obliged. Without you, I would not exist as who I now am.


You really should listen to me.  I know what I am talking about.  And besides, if you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust? Here are a few points that you should consider as you walk the long and convoluted road of your career. Read more…

Self Scrutiny, What the...?!?

Rapport, humor, and training

March 18th, 2010


The stage was set.  The class was divided into two competitive teams.  Each team was provided with a sock and a small metal container filled with mints [i]


In a purposely vague manner, I told them that the sock and the tin of mints were all that they could use to construct a weapon (or weapons).  They had fifteen minutes to complete their task. 




The only other rule was that they had to conceal their work whenever I was within arm’s length of their work area.  As I “made rounds”, the students were very creative in camouflaging, making distractions, and keeping me oblivious of their craftsmanship.


While making a round to the team that dubbed themselves “The Average Joes”, I was knocked off my square (albeit briefly) by what I saw.  Read more…

Contraband Control, Training, What the...?!?

Pranks a lot!

February 4th, 2010

Decisions and pranks are similar:  No two are exactly alike.  Every practical joke has the potential to evoke many different reactions.  Much of this is due to the multitude of circumstances.




Yet, mischief seems to be a part of our human condition.  As playful incidents roll in with the undulating regularity of ocean waves, many questions arise.  Are these jokes wholly bad?  Do pranks have any benefits?  How much is too much? Read more…

Assessing the organization, Self Scrutiny, Staff relations, What the...?!?

Adventures on paperwork mountain

January 28th, 2010

It was an intimidating stack of paper that accumulated during my absence from work.  It was roughly the same dimensions as three large law books.  Though the pile of paper was an inanimate object, it seemed to mock me. Like it or not, I had to deal with the tedious task of filing.  I had no choice but to assail Paperwork Mountain.

Despite our steady movement into the digital age, corrections still runs largely on paper.  And while we may one day bid adieu to paper, do not count on this happening in this part of the decade. Read more…

Security, Self Scrutiny, What the...?!?

Addressing the anti-policy rhinoceros

December 31st, 2009

Policy is the true roadmap to corrections operations.  It is the written manner by which we do everything from health care call outs to offender meal preparation.  Without policies and operating procedures, we wallow in the mire of ambiguity and uneven treatment.


Staff routinely encounter at least one offender who refuses to acknowledge that policy applies universally.  In other words, some prisoners steadfastly disobey the rules as a sort of self proclaimed right.  How many times have you heard, “That does not apply to me!”?



Read more…

Assessing the organization, Self Scrutiny, What the...?!?

What can Dr Seuss teach us about staff division?

December 10th, 2009

What sort of trainer would use a children’s book to teach a lesson?  Is it possible to break the ice, establish trust, and impart a lesson while talking in rhymes?  It may sound strange, but I have facilitated excellent classroom discussions and shattered tons of ice by reading Dr. Seuss books to adults.  


Think back to your most eccentric, unusual teacher.  Chances are that you may have a few to select from.  You may remember that the individual had strange mannerisms, an interesting mode of speech, or other uncommon characteristics. 


Still, the instructor may have been unusual in delivery of material.  Read more…

Staff relations, Training, What the...?!?

The bat incident

October 28th, 2009

I sit nervously near the scene of the incident mere moments after it occurred. As I write these notes, I am amazed at how unprepared we were.

The event was unexpected and discomforting, leaving four people nervous, clumsy, full of adrenaline, and confused. Notions of comfort and safety were shattered in an instant. A presence had breached our safe zone.

It sounds like this is some sort of post mortem of a crime, terrorist act or some sort of calamity. However, the source of the trepidation was a single brown bat. Read more…

What the...?!?