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Fear factory: Contemplating trepidation in corrections
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 03/17/2008

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.

It was the most terrifying twenty minutes of his life. He was confronted by three people with incessant questions. They probed his mind, issued uncomfortable silences, and bore holes through him with unblinking eyes. They held the power and simply would not relent.

Flop sweat cascaded from his forehead, an aqueous tribute to his trepidation. Conversely, his throat was dry, leaving him inarticulate. He felt immobile, caught helpless like a deer in headlights.

It was his first job interview and he remembers it like it was only a meal ago.

Everyone can relate to this sort of fear. Terror of all kinds springs up in many different forms- sometimes unexpectedly. At times, the corrections work place can be a veritable fear factory to the practitioner.

Is it accurate to dub a correctional workplace a “Fear Factory”? Unofficially, it could be applicable. However, seasoned veterans may view this as a distorted view, fueled by media images.

What sort of “factory” is a prison? Officially, we produce safety for the public and all of those inside. We also create a firm but fair atmosphere where inmates can take advantage of opportunities to better themselves, if they so choose.

However, corrections has its own brand of anxiety. Because of this, it is important to look at the nature of fear.

Working in a prison for the first time is a likely time for absolute fear. Think back to your first days and consider how well you have adapted to the stress since then. As time goes on, corrections staff should operate cautiously. If caution is the middle of the continuum, the diametrically opposed ends are dangerous arrogance and paralyzing paranoia.

It is natural to feel some apprehension from time to time. And we are often offered the advice to never show others when we are frightened.

In a way, fear is good, especially if it is in the form of caution and respect for a situation rather than dangerous arrogance. Without a measure of anxiety to activate our caution, we could rush blindly and irresponsibly into a volatile situation with no defenses.

Paralyzing paranoia is the flip side of dangerous arrogance. There are times when staff over think a situation and are left vulnerable, frozen in time and action.

Fear can be contagious. Sometimes, masters of manipulation capitalize on this fact of human nature, achieving their agendas by spreading terror through well placed rumors. Such fear can snowball and distort from the original picture of panic.

Of course, an imagined bad situation does not necessarily equal the current reality. And what we fear can be prepared for. This is done through analysis, communication, patience, planning, and training. Experience is also a crucial factor in battling runaway fear.

Whether it is your first day, your last, or somewhere in between, there is likely to be an element of heightened caution. After all, corrections offers a different sort of circumstances than most other jobs. Not just anyone can perform successfully under such conditions. So, it behooves the corrections professional to consider fear occasionally.

Joe Bouchard can be reached at (906) 353-7070 ext 1321. These are the opinions of Joe Bouchard, and not of the MIDOC or Corrections.com.

Other articles by Bouchard

Pondering the unthinkable: Daily safety concerns in corrections, 2/17/08

Custody awareness key to corrections vitality, 1/21/08


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