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Home > Assessing the organization > Lurking beneath the surface part 1 - divisions

Lurking beneath the surface part 1 - divisions

August 4th, 2009

AH!  It could not have been more perfect.  Without a doubt that was the best cappuccino that I have ever had.  The texture, the taste, the aroma, it was all optimal.  Little did I know that floating in a cavalier manner on my dream drink was a gnat.  So much for perfection!




So often, we are absorbed by the rightness of a moment only to find some flaw that totally alters our perceptions of wellbeing.  It is true that we corrections professionals are trained to look beyond what we see with the naked eye.  Still, we are human and we can be fooled.


Are things always as they seem?  The appearance of superficial surprises can suggest  horrifying dangers.  There often is something lurking beneath the surface.


I once had a beautiful stay at a particular hotel. The amenities were pleasant.  The grounds were seemingly flawless. Yet, during the perfect sunset, a rat shattered the façade of perfection.  Although a rat is more in tune with nature than a hotel, that was of no consequence to me. The rat was simply out of place in my mind. More importantly, its sudden appearance on the courtyard wiped away any feeling of safety and comfort that I had.


We often take smooth operations for granted until something uncomfortable or unexpected surfaces. What are some of the corrections work experience that parallel this feeling of discomfort?  Here are some examples:


Uprisings – Boring is good in our business.  And we may experience routine days 98% of the time.  Yet a few seconds of violence can erupt without warning.  There are times that we earn our entire annual wage in the space of a minute. Physical violence can come at any time, violating a tranquil background in a intense explosion.


Division – On the surface, colleagues may seem to coexist peacefully.  Yet underneath it all, there may be feuds, counter-feuds, sabotage, revenge, and a lack of teamwork.  Like a carefully hidden family secret, this, too, will quietly fester until it blows up.  And while the problems are percolating, some enterprising inmates may stoke the fires of discontent for their own advantage and  the detriment of security.


Contraband – This is the classic example of a small, unnoticed cancer that grows into an aggressive adversary.  The illicit movement of goods is the gateway to physical and legal dangers.  Bootleg traffic left unchecked can also lead to humiliation for staff and an entire agency.  Small contraband trade is like a genetically enhanced weed that grows geometrically if not curtailed. And it is always just beneath the surface.


Cracks in the foundation – Time crumble all.  Yet, we do not think of a water main until it bursts.  Electricity is taken for granted until it is unexpectedly gone.  Unnoticed flaws in our physical plant can develop into expensive problems.


Outside changes that dictate our operations – Budgets, political winds of change, public opinion, and societal changes are some of the factors that can force adjustment upon us. Corrections does not exist in a vacuum.  Unseen factors on the outside can alter our daily operations.


Our own mistakes are a catalyst for change – High profile mistakes are often the impetus for new procedures.  And these errors that plunge us into change are usually viewed as standard operation when things run smoothly.  At times, we fail to see the potential problems because we have done things the same way for so long.


Change of new staff or prisoners – Seasoned corrections staff may stay the same but the world changes.  As new staff and new inmates enter the system, we can be suddenly surprised that things are not the same as when we hired in. Yet, what we consider a paradigm shift may just be a simple and gradual development.



Are there ways to mitigate the surprises we find?  To answer this, please look for Lurking Beneath the Surface  part II next week.

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joebouchard Assessing the organization

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