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Archive for August, 2009

Re: “You Animal!”

August 27th, 2009

I read your article with great interest.  I actually had this same conversation just last night with a good friend of mine who is a supervisor from a neighboring facility.  We were discussing that unfortunately not only do we have these negative traits among line staff we unfortunately “inherit” subordinate supervisors whom also embrace these negative traits themselves and use them to fuel the discord among the ranks. Keep up the great articles.
Steve Wierenga, Corrections Program Supervisor
Waupun Correctional Institution

Staff relations

Underestimation: Judging a book by its cover

August 26th, 2009

A colleague from Virginia recently imparted some vocational wisdom.  (We’ll call him  Lt. J.) One of Lt. J’s many professional functions is as a training coordinator for four jails.  The point that Lt. J made was “it is easy to underestimate someone based on stereotypes or limited information.” And this is how it came up.

He and I put together a module on staff relations.  On the maiden voyage of this training, Lt. J mentioned to the class that the initial author (yours truly) also works as a prison librarian.  The job title evoked some groans from the audience.  Lt. J discovered that the common sentiment was “what would a librarian know about anything?”


This is a classic example of underestimation or judging a book by its cover.

Read more…

Assessing the organization, Self Scrutiny, Staff relations

Communications compass

August 26th, 2009

Imagine that you are disoriented in thick and impenetrable woods. You have no idea how to find your way out. You are without a GPS, cell phone, flare, and the most basic tool to help with one’s bearings: the compass. Without those tools, can you imagine the helplessness of not knowing where to go?

In departmental communications, like in finding our way out of the forest, a compass will not work unless all points are present.


If we do not know where we are and where we are going, we are effectively lost. Do we always have our bearings in the realm of information exchange? Our jobs would be much easier if we had a communications compass.
It has been said that communications is a two-way street. Certainly, we benefit from data sharing between two parties rather than a one-way lecture. Listening and talking are complementary actions with equal weight. It is not so simple, though. In fact, the two-way street of information exchange can be expanded into four points on a compass.

Read more…

Assessing the organization, Staff relations

Re: “I Swear!” article

August 22nd, 2009

From Bill H – Corrections Training Administrator –


You did it again, hit a nerve with me and reminded me of the message I always gave my classes of recruits when it came to swearing.  

Like you, I told the new staff that swearing was part of the culture inside, but that they did have some personal power in this area.

I would tell them that I was always amazed the words new recruits used when they came to the department and the words they were using  just one year later .  In addition to the slang, they loved the f-bomb and a few off color words way too much.  

Then, I would say this.  It sounds like you are trying to identify and belong to a group you are not part of. You see, there are prisoners and there are law abiding professional staff members.   Do you want to be more like a felon, or more like a law abiding, family orientated, individual?    I would always think that the words they used told me what side they wanted to be on, and that it sometimes troubled me.

I would say, “if you think about it, our words is one way we can model the behavior we want from offenders.  Our words can separate us from the prisoners and we can show them, through our words, a better way.”   I also told them “these guys know where you are from and think it is funny that you are trying to talk like them.  They see it as a potential weakness and may try to exploit you because of it.”

I challenged every one of them to “keep their words” and not cave in to the language trap.”  

Like you, I told them I share this advice because I made this mistake and ended up working very hard to choose my words better, after I saw the error of my ways.  You see, one holiday dinner I asked for someone to “pass the F-ing potatoes”.  After I saw the look on my mother’s face, it was like I was hearing someone else saying these vile words not fit for the family dinner table.  I apologized and I started to changed that day.

Later on, I found that as a trainer that some other correctional trainers had not changed their words and they were not as effective of a trainer because their words detracted from the message they were trying to convey.

I swear, I will stop now.

Self Scrutiny, Staff relations, Training

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.


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…

Inside Out, Staff relations

“You Animal!” – ACA recap

August 18th, 2009

Most of us find it easier to complain than to solve.  In other words, identifying problems are often easier than finding solutions.  This is not some scathing admonishment of humanity.  Rather, it is an observation of how we tend to think. 




On Sunday, August 9, 2009, while at ACA in Nashville, I presented a module on division between staff in our vocation.  “You Animal! An anthropomorphic look at staff relations in corrections” is the full title.  Read more…

Staff relations, Training, Uncategorized

That’s what friends are for

August 18th, 2009

There are moments in one’s life that are AH! moments.  That is to say, we take a quick second to look around and see that everything is in place and that all plans have come together in a harmonious intermingling.  You know, AH!




While in Nashville at ACA last week, I was presenting “You Animal! An anthropomorphic look at staff relations in corrections”.  Just as the crowd settled in, I had the AH! moment. Read more…

Training, What the...?!?

Re: Lurking beneath the surface part 1 – divisions

August 18th, 2009

zabranskya on 08/13/2009:

I really liked this article. Good job Joe~

Thanks so much.  I am pleased  that you liked it.  And the very first paragraph was is based on true events.  It is funny how a tiny gnat in the perfect cup o’ joe can point to life and vocational lessons.  You may also enjoy “lurking beneath the surface II – The Cure


Like rats at a buffet: Coping with aspirations and competition

August 11th, 2009

Author’s note:  The term “rat” has connotations of snitching and telling on others.  For the purposes of this essay, rat is not used in that particular sense. 


What a mess!  They scrambled, jockeyed, and positioned themselves for the best pickings.  It was a veritable grab for the best positions.  Cynically speaking, ambition sometimes leaves us looking like starving rats at a buffet – driven by maddening avarice and hunger.


Imagine that the buffet is a metaphor for resources.  Read more…

Assessing the organization

Lurking beneath the surface II: The cures

August 11th, 2009

In part I of lurking beneath the surface we asked the question “Are things always as they seem?”  The appearance of superficial surprises can mask horrifying dangers.  There often is something lurking beneath the surface. Some of these unobtrusive menaces are our own mistakes, outside changes, contraband, staff division, and prisoner uprisings. The perfect cup of coffee is perfect only as long as one does not find a dead insect floating on the surface.


What we do to cope with these things? How can we combat the danger of the shark that surfaces on hitherto placid water? Read more…

Assessing the organization