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We remember still
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 09/14/2009

Ny Editor’s Note: This article was previously published on Corrections.com. Due to its timeliness, the piece has been re-published.

Although time recedes from the horrible events of 9/11/2001, the lessons remain relevant. We in corrections are always watchful.

The events of 9/11 teach us that vigilance is key and complacency fatal. On September 20, 2005, Corrections.com printed this piece as "Corrections staff are natural anti-terrorist agents." Two years later, on the sixth anniversary of that life-changing day, this is still relevant. In fact, as time recedes from the event, the lessons are even more relevant. We in corrections are always watchful.

The events of September 11, 2001 forced all Americans to think about what was previously inconceivable in the minds of most. Mainland America was attacked by foreign agents. In a way, our nation lost its comfortable innocence and geographical insulation on one Tuesday morning six years ago. However, unlike the majority of Americans, corrections staff were a bit more prepared to understand this. And that is due to our training and on-the-job experience.

As corrections staff, we are natural anti-terrorist agents. Here are some ways that the vocation trains us:
  • Maintaining vigilance – One unintended result of our profession is sharp-eyed shopper syndrome. We simply cannot turn off vigilance when we leave work. We do not ignore what most do not see. Anyone who disbelieves this need only to follow corrections professionals while in any retail store. They watch others while they shop. They can accurately point out potential shoplifters by merely observing their actions and mannerisms.
  • Seeking ulterior motives – Corrections staff are never really completely at rest. Even while watching the news, they read between the lines more than the average citizen. On-the-job training teaches those in corrections to accept nothing as it seems. They frequently ponder a key question: “Who benefits from this action? ” Some may label this as cynical. Arguably, this is cautious realism.
  • Searching for patterns – To the corrections professional, patterns are everywhere. For example, there may be an increased number of assaults following major sporting events due to settling of wagers. Also, when prominent and influential prisoners transfer to another facility, others will scramble to fill the power void. Pattern analysis is the process of looking at patterns and predicting possible consequences. For example, shifts in individual associations are important. When apparent prisoner rivals start sitting together at meals, observant staff may wonder why.
  • Thinking of unusual concealment tactics – The nation was somewhat shocked by the thought that someone would conceal a bomb in a shoe. Yet, to corrections staff, this is just another way that inmates can circumvent a search. Training in contraband control reveals many methods of concealment. Hollowed books are commonplace. The collar and belt line serve as camouflage for illicit items. Also, it is not unusual to look for powder residue at the point where envelopes are sealed. We have experience in detecting these and other unusual tactics of concealment.
Does all of that make for invincibility? Naturally, the answer is no. Even with those tools, we still need coping mechanisms for tragic events. We must remember the lessons of tragic events. Also, there is a need to recognize staff and prisoners who transmit dissention and spread panic.

Lessons from tragedies are applicable to our jobs

After the shock of a horrible event diminishes, we mourn and we ponder. In our potentially dangerous vocation, this is a great opportunity to analyze. What are some of the applicable lessons of the recent national horrors?

Communication is key. On September 11, 2001, news of the three terrorist bombings spread via cellular communication. Those on Flight 93 over Pennsylvania had an idea of their fate and that they could alter the apparent target. Because they had some forewarning as provided by cellular communication, they could mitigate the damage.

It takes little imagination to apply this to corrections. We can think of that jet as a lone institution that was strengthened by a communications network. News of disturbances can be forwarded to another potential hot spot. Tragically on the jet, loss of life still occurred. However, key information allowed those aboard to act against apparent collusion. In corrections, we must never forget that communications is a critical tool. We must communicate within our institutions and to those in other facilities.

Our own tools will be used against us. On September 11, 2001, our flight network, our jets, and our fuel were all used against us. Those inside prison and jail walls must consider how seemingly ordinary objects that appear innocuous can be turned against us by opportunists. Never take anything for granted. Never underestimate the potential of resourcefulness.

Plans with simple components can prove dangerous. The intimidating weapons on board the flights were simple razor box cutters. There was no technologically advance weapon utilized. A plan does not have to be elaborate and full of complex components to be effective. Will the next disturbance in your institution originate from a simple plan?

Never underestimate the power of unity

We have seen many elements of America come together for the common cause. The potency of a rally point is important. All staff squabbles and divisions disappear in extraordinary times. When assessing the flight over Pennsylvania, it is not difficult to think of the brave passengers as staff. They worked together to mitigate the horror.

It is never over. Vigilance must continue. Complacency is a nagging enemy of security. In the wake of the bombings, some airline employees tested the efficiency of security in their work locations with chilling results. They found that it was very easy to breach security. Consider this when you look at your workplace. Where is complacency greatest? Where are the weak spots?

There will be diversions. On the day of the terrorist attacks, there was a prison escape in Texas. Many other destabilizing events occurred during that demoralizing time. The alert prisoner will know when staff is lax, no matter what the reason. And the opportunistic prisoner will capitalize on that.

Rumors will fly. On 9/11, there was wild speculation on the price of gasoline. Some estimates from the public of the price of a gallon of gasoline topped $7.00. In the first days of the aftermath, gas prices remained stable. But the rumors heightened the tension. Perhaps it is too obvious; there is no benefit to unnecessary tension in a prison.

Don't forget about the day after and beyond. The first few days after a significant event could be greater days of anxiety than the first day. This is because everyone is dazed from the initial news. By day two and beyond, some of the shock has worn off. Movers and shakers might be ready for action at this point. There has been some time to absorb the news and make plans to combat another malicious deed of solidarity with terrorism.

Anniversaries are important. Be mindful of the calendar and prepare for possible trouble. This is especially true if the target has rebounded and perhaps even thrived in the wake of the disaster. History has shown that terrorists mimic events on anniversaries as rallying circumstances.

Listen to the chameleons. These are prisoners that will adapt to the audience. A prisoner can tell you to your face that it was a profoundly shocking tragedy. Moments later, you may overhear the same individual tell another prisoner that he is ecstatic that it happened. The goal may be survival for the prisoner. He seems to want you to be assured that he is antiterrorist. To his cohorts, he wants to leave the impression that he wants no part of patriotism. Perhaps this is done out of fear. Perhaps there is some mendacity in the works. Which one is it? This is where the corrections professional needs to assess if the assertions by the prisoner were mere survival tactics or part of an early set-up.

Don't show your hand. Too many staff tries to cope with the tragedy in verbal terms to everyone. It is good to talk about such things. However, doing so in front of inmates may diminish confidence of staff in running the facility. That is a powder keg. Also, it may be the impetus that some zealots need to carry out a copycat incident. Section heads, trainers, or the institution may sponsor sessions where small groups of staff gather to heal themselves by verbalizing concerns. That may slow the momentum of showing our vulnerability.

Eight tension transmitting types during crises

Whatever the domestic, international, war time, or terror inspired crisis, corrections professionals face many additional challenges. Through the tension, it is up to each of us to strike a balance. We must remain in heightened awareness without appearing to be too excited. At tense times, calm discretion and vigilance could mean the difference between experiencing a normal day at work or a major, painful ordeal.

But calm discretion and watchfulness can be interrupted by eight basic types of tension transmitters. Any of the following varieties can apply to either prisoners or staff. And they may not necessarily be aware that they are causing anxiety by their actions.

The first three brands are in the information-based group. All of these thrive on telling the story as it happens or as it may eventually turn out.

Disruptive newscaster – This sort is the least likely of the group to understand that they are causing tension. They are the kind that will burst into a sensitive area like a classroom or a dining hall and blurt out the latest news. As they provide a play-by-play account of events, they may do so to fulfill a need to be informative. But the unintended result may be dangerous agitation.

News analyst – This is a close cousin of the disruptive newscaster. However, while the announcer type reports an event, the analyst gives all possible outcomes. The analyst often stokes the fires, if discontent, by offering many uncomfortable possibilities.

Prophet of doom – This is the news analyst that always forces the worst possible scenario on the audience. Nothing ever plays out well. The prophet revels in despair and is a conspicuous tension transmitter.

There are five types of opinion-based tension transmitters. Opinion based tension transmitters typically cause tempers to flare even quicker than the three in the information-based group. They rely less on information and more on emotion and opinions. They are very dangerous in a prison setting, not only to others, but also to themselves. Their individual passions for a cause may attract violence from others with opposing viewpoints.

Radical hawks – The hawks think that military action is a panacea for all international crises. They prefer a good fight to choosing a side based on loyalties and events. Hawks deride all who propose any form of diplomatic solution.

Radical doves – Unlike the normal, peace loving dove, the radicals advocate violence as a means of progress for a cause. It sounds paradoxical, but violence is part of the arsenal to achieve peace.

Super patriots – These will support our nation no matter what. Often in the name of defending national honor, they will attack those who appear to support or resemble ‘the enemy’.

Anti patriots – They view the government as their jailors. No matter their crime, they invariably label themselves as political prisoners. Because of this, the anti patriot hopes for bad luck for our government’s armed conflict.

Opportunists – Their own personal convictions are irrelevant. They stand on the fence, selecting their targets based on their opinions. They may provoke by choosing an alternate side. Or they may soothe their target by agreeing with them. Opportunists will wait for the right occasion to make a stand. They are adept set -up artists and very chameleon like. Opportunists are emotional vampires, preying on the sentiments of others for their own benefit.

Of course, there are some good strategies to employ in combating these wartime tension transmitters. Don’t take everything at face value. Stay informed, but do not let the news paralyze you. Communicate what you see and hear to other staff. Keep in control, as prisoners look toward staff for balance and security. And always prepare for the worst. Fortunately, these behaviors are the foundations of quality corrections training and experience.

Coping with terrorism is much more than the mechanics of defense. It is also analysis, theory, and communication. While corrections staff are vocationally trained to cope with tragic events better than most people, there are additional things to consider. For optimal effectiveness, staff must learn the lessons of acts of terrorism and recognize staff and prisoners who transmit dissention and spread panic.

Joe Bouchard is a librarian at Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility within the Michigan Department of Corrections. He is also a member of the Board of Experts for “The Corrections Professional” and an instructor of Corrections and Psychology for Gogebic Community College. He can be reached at (906) 353-7070 ext 1321. These are the opinions of Joe Bouchard, and not of the MIDOC or Corrections.com.


  1. murfunit on 09/14/2007:

    Joe Bouchard's article is "on point." Here in NYC we were musing among ourselves after 9-11 "What if Correction Officers were on those doomed airplanes?" While this may be a wishful projection, I suspect there might have been an alternative outcome on that day if Correction Officers were involved in this scenario. This is a very strong statement, but this is what our profession does for a living: Preventing or stopping "thugs" from carrying out evil deeds. How many times have we stopped a razor-bearing inmate by putting them in body holds? While the Al-Qaida trained terrorist is a thug raised to a higher order, and no doubt a major problem to control, it is my belief that trained Correction Officers can thoroughly contain terrorist scenarios that do not involve firearms. The Correction Officer, I believe, looks at terrorists in the same vein as the gangs that inhabit our jails. The methodology is pretty much the same, that is, gangs and terrorists alike try to seize control by disrupting normal operations and creating extraordinary motivators to put the majority of the population and staff off balance. Thus they create a small window of opportunity to make themselves known and to have control. Per Mr. Bouchard's statements vigilance and prevention are the only ways to contain this menace, which Correction people know very well. 9-11 is held very closely to the NYC uniformed community, wherein the Correction Department participated fully along side the other agencies in the response to the World Trade Center tragedy. John J. Murphy, Jr, Captain, NYC Dept of Correction

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