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The use of the word “guard”: malice or ignorance?

July 13th, 2011

Like nails on a chalkboard, the sound of the word pulled me out of relaxation and cast me into instant discomfort. While outlining Casey Anthony’s incarceration, one of the newscasters on a cable TV news show used the word “guards” to describe corrections officers. The world itself is not necessarily offensive until one considers the many responsibilities and dangers that corrections staff deal with on a daily basis. It is scarcely better than the outmoded and inaccurate term turnkey.

The word guard is offensive to the corrections profession. I do not pretend that this is a new topic. But the utterance of the G word to such a large audience irritated me, thus the article.

Before I go further, my colleague, allow me to point out that I am not a corrections officer. I’m not trying to portray myself as one. However, I believe I know a bit more about corrections than the general public. You see, I’m a security-oriented corrections librarian who has worked in the maximum-security setting for nearly 20 years. I readily admit that I do not directly know what it is to work as a corrections officer. However, my experience entitles me, I believe, to feel vexed when those outside the profession spewed word guard as readily as a pseudo intellectual misuses a thesaurus.

I think that the term is typically bandied about for one of two reasons – malice or ignorance.

It is safe to say that small but significant percentage of people who misuse the word guard do so to knock one off of one’s professional square. This is similar to someone who addresses correspondence to you as defendants rather than by your last name and or title. Quite simply, it is derision towards the corrections profession.

Perhaps many more misuse the G word out of honest ignorance. They simply do not know any better. They are unaware that the word hurls a lack of respect at our profession.

Here are a few reasons that the G word should not apply to anyone in the corrections profession:

It is outdated and clichéd – The word smacks of the 1930s gangster move. Behind the anachronistic word is an anachronistic thought.

It implies a passive watcher with little responsibility – Granted, the dictionary definition of guard describes a tiny fraction of what corrections officers perform - to watch over, to prevent escape, violence, or indecretion. However, the definition does not penetrate the whole nature of the profession. Quite simply, guard sounds like disinterested babysitter.

But, corrections is so much more than a watchful capacity. Everything we say or do (and that which we do not say or do) can be used against us. The great responsibility of knowing and correctly applying policy speaks to that point.

Also, corrections staff not just idly watch others. There is analysis, constant puzzle building, and interacting with so many different work niches. All of that is done with the commonly held mission statement – keeping safe staff, prisoners, and the public. That simply is not the description of a passive observer.

The shorthand, colloquial phrase for the vocation may miss the mark. For example, metallurgists often work in a factory setting that specializes in the complex process of heat treatment steel. The term factory rat is pejorative, especially when applied to metallurgists. Yet, this is something that goes on. Another example is when a head start teacher is labeled as a babysitter. Of course, both jobs are very important. However the former has to earn a degree in early childhood education and must understand curriculum. That is not necessarily true of the latter.

The term guard belittles the profession – Part of what makes any vocation a profession is the professional literature that surrounds it. Another component is the training program, including both initial and continuing training. Thirdly, one of the reasons that corrections is a profession is that most agencies require educational credentials within the field in order to enter. Guard does not capture the scope of the job.

Some may say, “Don’t be so sensitive.” They may contend that this is taking PC too far. I think not. The danger and responsibility of the profession are not really recognized by those outside the profession.

So, what is in a name? I imagine that the late George Carlin, comedian and verbivore, would have had a field day with the officer – guard discussion. However, this is not a matter of amusement. Perhaps this will not move those who use pejorative term for malicious reasons. Still, as we weigh our feelings about this particular invective, there are some who simply don’t know that corrections officer is proper – guard is inappropriate. How we educate people should be a matter professionalism, no matter how difficult this may be.

joebouchard Dear Reader, Inside Out

Glory grabbers and the flood of ‘86

September 22nd, 2010

The following, Dear Reader, is not a self-congratulatory celebration of me as a working class hero.  Nor is this a damnation of the work habits of people from years ago. Rather, this is an illustration of the personality type that I call “glory grabber”.

 

We can define glory grabbers as individuals that steal the credit from others.  Their main objective is to appear to be the prime movers in all work endeavors.  Their true labor is in seeming to be busy only when they are watched by those in authority.  Glory grabbers impact corrections operations in a negative way.  Their actions cause resentment and division among staff.  And staff division, through a variety of possible occurrences, diminishes safety. 

 

water-front

Nearly twenty-five years ago, I saw a perfect example of glory grabbers. It was March. Because of an unusually rapid snow melt, Doom Sayers were predicting horrible flooding. I was working for a small business on the edge of a large lake.  Read more…

joebouchard Assessing the organization, Inside Out, Staff relations

Corrections: Why do we do it?

June 16th, 2010

We are engaged in an endless battle to keep the public, offenders, and ourselves safe.  No doubt, corrections is an important job.  However, it is no secret that the positive results of our labors are not always readily evident.

 

Then why do we do it?  Is the corrections profession worth it?   How do we anchor ourselves to our job? anchor1

 

 

 When asking such questions, we often feel forsaken in a wilderness of tasks looking for a meaning to our work.  Read more…

joebouchard Assessing the organization, Inside Out, Self Scrutiny

Stream of thought

April 15th, 2010

As corrections professionals, we should always be aware that those outside the profession do not have our same perspective.   Our many different professional paths and experiences make this a truth. There is another awareness connected to this.  We will react in some way (silent or not) to comments that do not appear to be accurate.  Sometimes this may lead to an introspective stream of thought.

stream-of-thought

 

Recently, I attended a meeting at an education institution, a non-corrections meeting at a college.  Read more…

joebouchard Inside Out, Self Scrutiny

Ten corrections lessons from “The Dog”

November 13th, 2009

Prior to entering corrections, I was a steel worker.  Al (a.k.a. “The Dog”) was my supervisor. He taught me a lot about interpersonal relations and surviving in a sometimes difficult environment. He did not necessarily speak these lessons, as he was more action-oriented than a verbal sort. 

 mentor1

Ultimately, I was surprised about the applicability of those lessons when I moved to corrections.

Often, I apply them to the nebulous and confusing art of dealing with difficult personalities.  There is also applicability when I engage in the frequently arduous task of gaining a better understanding of myself.  Read more…

joebouchard Assessing the organization, Inside Out, Self Scrutiny, Staff relations

There is superstition…

November 11th, 2009

It is here again.  Happy Friday the 13th!!!  We welcome you, day of superstition.  We are not afraid.  Well, most of us are not.

 

welcome         

 

Friday the 13th comes and goes.  On the face of it, the 13th is only a date between the 12th and 14th.  Yet why does it represent a day of caution to many people?  Read more…

joebouchard Inside Out, Self Scrutiny

Coping with Tragedy - Lessons for Corrections

November 11th, 2009

Sometimes, the news can be unbelievable. For example, the horror on the campus of Virginia Tech in 2007  left us collectively numb. All of us were dropped into a state of disbelief by those atrocious killings. The air was thick with feelings of confusion and grieving. We felt the same last week when the horror at Fort Hood unfolded. 

Unfortunately, other events come to mind as we cope with these tragedies. Even so, we are not wholly desensitized by large losses of lives such as Columbine and the events of 9/11. While these forms of terrorism have become a horrible part of our lives, they still rattle our sense of safety. Read more…

joebouchard Inside Out

Dealing with corrections’ storms

August 18th, 2009

Early and accurate forecasting of tumultuous weather gives us the opportunity to mitigate damage.  We can, in other words, execute our version of battening down the hatches.

storm-is-brewing 

Even if we secure lawn furniture, tools, and the like, we may still face a different landscape in the wake of severe weather events.  Fallen debris over which we have no control could litter the landscape. 

 

This is also true in corrections.  Read more…

joebouchard Inside Out, Staff relations

An open letter to Swine Flu

August 4th, 2009

Welcome back, Swine Flu!  It has been a while. 

 

precaution-against-flu

 

I have to honestly say that I am not happy to see you again. You caused quite a stir last time. When we last met, you were introduced as a formidable foe.  Everyone was talking about you.  Everyone was worried.  The nightly news continually featured statistics and a map of your impact. Read more…

joebouchard Inside Out

Safety and the possessed parrot

July 30th, 2009

 

 

Things are not always as they seem.  This was proven to me last week. 

 

The classroom that I needed to use was locked. It was easy enough to locate someone with a key.  I found the custodian in a room talking to someone who was not visible to my eyes.  Further investigation revealed that she was conversing with a large, blue-green parrot in a cage.  Read more…

joebouchard Inside Out, Self Scrutiny, What the...?!?