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Archive for July, 2013

Deferred duties and motivations

July 13th, 2013

In corrections, safety is the first priority. This is written in almost every mission statement for prison and jails. But, other duties need to be done. Accreditations, audits, budgeting and other tasks are a part of the corrections game.

Not all tasks are created equally. Some of these are less desirable to do. Though they are necessary, they are placed on the back burner, thus they become deferred.

This is not unlike a job at home that you would sooner delay. For example, I ran out of storage options, so the need was great. It was a daunting task that I had put off for too long. Still, part of me resisted what had to be done. After all, my garage would not clean itself.

Let me preface this with a peek into my work habits. I work hard. I am not lazy. I do not usually procrastinate. In fact, I consider myself to be the antithesis of a procrastinator, a precrastinator, if you will.

What is my problem, you may ask? Quite simply, there are some tasks to which I do not march willingly.

As I slowly walked toward the garage with the best intentions of making order out of chaos, my justification mechanism leaped into high gear. I suddenly had a list in my head of “more important” tasks to be done. I had to clean the drier lint trap, dust the base boards, and rearrange my junk drawer. Of course, correspondence which could realistically wait became a red hot priority, despite the dwindling space in the garage.

I found myself deferring duties so that I could work on less important tasks. What did I have to do, lie to myself? That was really not the answer. I had to figure out a few different incentives.

Seven productive self-motivation strategies:
1. Tell yourself that you will feel better when the dreaded job is complete.
2. You can reward yourself with a coffee or some other incentive when you finish.
3. Eat the elephant one bite at a time – spilt the task into smaller, more manageable tasks.
4. Dive into the cold pool and swim until you are warm or bear it.
5. Tell yourself that you are capable of doing the job well in a reasonable time and prove .yourself correct.
6. Tell someone that you respect of your timeline. This gives you incentive not to disappoint.
7. Quit over thinking it and DO IT.

Like some important audit that is due sooner than you wish, a task can hang heavy over your work week. As you let time slip away, the weight of the task seems to grow on your shoulders. This makes you reckon time left to complete the task in an unrealistic manner. In most cases, it is a battle with yourself. The key to the battle is found in the right motivation.

joebouchard Self Scrutiny

Cell phone detection: A simplified approached

July 7th, 2013

There once was a man who was frustrated by flies in his house. The flying menaces buzzed him while he slept and pestered him as he watched television. Enough was enough! He was frustrated and had to do something. He called in a few experts.

The first expert sponsored electronic bug zappers. He proposed that there should be one in every room. The man voiced his distress over a high cost “You can’t set a price on piece of mind” said the expert.

The second expert excelled in arachnids. She suggested that nests of spiders should be placed in every room. Her motto was “let nature do the work for you.” Even more frustrated than when faced solely with flies, the man asked about the discomfort he would feel with a house full of spiders. The arachnid specialist said, “But that would get rid of the problem. Don’t you want to get rid of the flies?”

Expert number three advocated a complete gassing of the house. The man followed this advice and abandoned his house before the fumigation began. This was the nuclear option, but the man was desperate. Eventually, the air cleared, revealing the tiny corpses of many flies. Despite the strong measures, somehow more flies returned after a week.

Expert number four, after hearing the tactics of the three predecessors, simply picked up a news paper and swatted the nearest flying insect. This was an inexpensive, direct solution.

He then told the man to keep a lid on the trash can, fix the holes in the screen, and look for other entrances. “As long as they can get in,” said the pragmatic expert, “you will have problems no matter what solution you utilize. Isolate all possible entrances and you have the solution.”

Flies are simply a nuisance. Cell phones are dangerous. Of course, comparing apples to oranges is like comparing insects to technological wonders. Still we can learn a few things from this parallel.

There should be no doubt in the mind of any corrections professional that cell phones are dangerous inside the walls. They can record and send sensitive data. The common cell phone serves as a communications hub for criminal enterprises. In addition, cell phones get smaller and smarter as time passes. It is increasingly easier for prisoners to conceal them.

Technology does not have to be our master. In fact, we can make it our servant. There are many ways to detect and block cell phones. We can even train dogs to help find the electronic menaces in our facilities. The innovations are great and varied. I personally believe that they should be explored. However, I believe that the technical solution is only part of the strategy for safety.

It is time to remember our chief strength as a profession. We should place an emphasis on blocking phones from coming in to the facility. We need to recommit to finding and fortifying all entry portals. This, partnered with a technical or canine method, will remove dangerous contraband and enhance safety.

Really, there are three basic ways that contraband enters our jails and prisons. It is something I call E.V.i.L. origins – a mnemonic that means Employee, Visitor, and Let in.

Employee – As corrections professionals, we wish that staff corruption did not exist. Unfortunately, a small percentage of our colleagues dabble in the illegal trade. Whether bought, maneuvered, or coerced, employee mules in the service of offenders deal a grievous blow to the structure of security. Cell phones continue to be a hot commodity that compromised staff introduce to the facility.

Visitor – Most people who have do not quite grasp the reason for so many rules in the operation of a correctional facility. Despite this, many visitors each day comply with instruction from staff. However, as with employees, there are a small number of visitors who circumvent the rules and introduce contraband into the facility. Visitors may also understand the dangers of contraband in the hands of offenders and continue to ignore rules and break the law.

Let in – This is a large category. Contraband that is let in is hidden from detection as it enters the facility from the outside. This can be as nefariously clever as small bits of narcotic laced crayons used to create a drawing that is sent through the mail. The hollowed legal brief is a popular vessel as well. Camouflage arrows filled with drugs and shot into the yard is a strange but documented occurrence. Let us not forget the cell phone that escapes detection in a new commitment’s anatomy.

All of this is not to say that electronic, canine and chemical cell phone detection methods are ineffective. In fact these complement our basic entry blocking strategies. And it may belabor the obvious to suggest that we look harder. Still, though it appears simple, the EViL search is really a methodical way of uncovering contraband.

Realistically speaking, we will never completely eliminate all cell phones from reaching willing and dangerous hands. But, without the efforts, we simply allow peril to mount. The technical solutions are like utilizing complex mathematics for problems that need complex mathematics. There is room for these and they should be explored. Yet, we should never forget the simple arithmetic. Sometimes, components in any solution are simpler than originally thought.

Bouchard, Joe “E.V.I.L. Origins: How Did the Contraband Get In?” www.corrections.com July 4, 2011

joebouchard Contraband Control

The story of the “Sanchez Knife”

July 1st, 2013

Many years ago, I worked in a factory setting. It was a shop that provided heat treatment of steel tools such as dies, broaches, punches, and inserts. My job was to temper steel in molten salt baths. Essentially, we applied heated salt to steel as a strengthening measure. As I preformed the associated tempering tasks, I did not stop to consider the simple roots of the craft of metallurgy. That is, not until I heard about the Sanchez Knife.

One time at the shop, I mentioned to a colleague named Al that it was difficult to trim the jungle-like grass from my sidewalk and driveway. Al said, “Hold on, Bouchard. I have just the thing. Let me get you a Sanchez Knife”

After a few minutes of rummaging, he produced what looked like a homemade butcher knife. Its blade was about nine inches long and clearly made from an old discarded tool called an insert. It was a bit uneven and rusty. The blade had irregular dents, as though someone had tried to pound it straight with a specialized hammer. The handle, roughly 4 inches long, was constructed of two pieces of wood bound around the base of the blade with dirty, worn duct tape. It truly looked like a failed shop project.

Evidently, I could not conceal my disappointment, because the Al said, “Don’t judge it by looks, son. Go to the grinder and sharpen it. Take it home and try it on your edging project.”

Al was right. The steel was effective, almost magical. I simply pressed the knife along the pavement and pulled back. The tough vegetation yielded to the tool. I tamed the jungle of my lawn and rescued the sidewalk from disorder. Like a hot blade through butter, the Sanchez Knife did the job.

I reported back to Al and thanked him. Normally, Al was quiet, punctuating silences with an occasional witticism or remarkably caustic (but true) comment. This time was different. He told me the history of the Sanchez Knife.

In 1954, Al started his career in the shop. Louie Sanchez worked with young Al and took him under his wing. As time went on, Sanchez revealed tricks of the steel heat treatment trade to Al. He would pepper in a few stories of his experiences during World War Two. Sanchez served in the European Theatre. He was captured by the enemy and held in a prison camp for a few years. He told Al that he and other imprisoned Allied troops acquired steel occasionally, despite the efforts to the contrary of their captors. They sometimes hardened the steel by using water, heat, and salt.

After the war, Sanchez brought his knife making abilities to the shop and crafted blades for heavy-duty use for his friends and colleagues. I never met Mr. Sanchez, as he left prior to my arrival. Al has since passed. I never got to ask him if the Sanchez Knife that he gave to me in the 1980’s was a “Louie Original”. I like to think that it was crafted by Mr. Sanchez.

My life’s path veered away from the steel shop. I started a job in a maximum security prison as a librarian. Training, stories, and other factors made me aware of contraband and security-conscious. However, when I saw my first prison-made knife, I could only think about Sanchez’s experiences. I am not a believer of mysticism. But the eerie foreshadowing of my corrections career in the steel shop was notable.

That prison made-knife may not have been tempered by heat and salt. But, the tools to do so were available. The opportunities would have been few, but still possible. Prisoners could acquire salt, heat, and water. True, they did not have access to sodium nitrite and salt bath furnaces. However, the fundamentals were attainable.

This may suggest that prisoners routinely apply a metallurgical process in the construction of a shank. I do not believe that this is true. In fact, I believe that this is quite rare.

One could speculate if it any prison-made blade is tempered. But, this is a secondary consideration. Primarily, staff are grateful that the shank is discovered. The speculation starts of its origin and path at the point of discover. In the end, it is about staff controlling tools, materials and opportunities.

The players in the stories have diametrically opposed roles. Sanchez was a captured soldier, a fighter for democracy behind enemy lines. The blade in prison was manufactured by someone who was lawfully incarcerated and who sought to make himself (and the prison) more dangerous. There may be some similarities in the motives. But, my perspective on each of the characters is different. Clearly, we hope for Sanchez’s success and the thwarting of the contrabandist prisoner.

I wonder if Mr. Sanchez knew that his survival in a German POW camp would later reflect in his steel working vocation. I also ponder if Sanchez might get a bit of satisfaction from knowing that his stories to Al helped make me more aware of the dangers of contraband. Whatever the answers may be, I have more than a useful knife. I also have a noble contraband story attached to a durable, heavy-duty blade.

joebouchard Contraband Control