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Enjoy the Apocalypse
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 04/21/2008

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.

Potent plagues, widening war, rampaging nature, marauding meteors, alien attacks - And you thought that corrections had enough to contend with.

Despite our many challenges, we must acknowledge that we do not operate in a vacuum. Events from the outside will impact our operations, even if they never come to pass. Forecasts of the end of the world seem to prove this point.

Many of us are preoccupied with the apocalypse. Yet, the end of the world never seems to come. The year 1,000 featured wide-spread fear of the end. There are other notable examples of ‘the wrong date.’ In the 19th century religious leaders in America forecasted doom; May 1986, and November 1999, according to some Nostradamus scholars, and Y2K, to name a few.

Is the future of the apocalypse empty? Mayan calendars suggest that 2012 will mark the end. February 13, 2029, and April 13, 2036, mark two separate dates that the asteroid Apophis (a 25-million ton space rock) will rendezvous with earth.

The grim speculation can be entertaining, in a macabre way. But, what does it have to do with corrections? When we look at the psychology of the end of things, we can apply many lessons to our vocation.

Very few of us (staff and offenders, alike) are totally immune from considering the end of the world. It is very common to think in those terms. And just because you don’t believe that it will come to pass, it doesn’t mean that others believe any less. For some, their beliefs may be extremely strong.

Perceptions of the Apocalypse are varied An influential staff person or prisoner may engage in certain behaviors to take advantage of the chaos found in the fear. Their actions, especially if they are regarded as leaders, could impact the actions of others. After all, if a large group of people believe the end is near, the time to ‘settle a score’ may be imminent.

If you order someone to stop what you view as a pre-apocalyptic ritual, you may place others in danger. The ritualist may take offense (and unwanted action) if the order is not issued in a tactful, respectful manner.

Alarmists stir the pot. Some people simply will panic well in advance of a potential catastrophe. Doomsayers predict the worst case scenario regardless of low likelihood of danger. Their very vocal concern could arouse terror among the inmate and staff populations.

Malevolent types may further provoke those who are alarmed. As a matter of principle, some will spread fear about a possible catastrophe even if they do not believe it will actually occur. Their specific tactics will vary. But the actions are based in a mean-spirited philosophy. Since this is calculated, the panic may be more widespread than that initiated by the alarmists.

New religions and groups may pop up. The possible end of civilization as we know it is not merely fodder for science fiction. Very real human emotions come into play.

We need only to reflect on events surrounding the Y2K scare and the circumstances surrounding the Hale-Bopp comet for examples of this. End-of-times groups could have a profound impact on corrections operations.

It is always wise to get an action plan in place. I concede that our daily professional obligations may not give us time to develop action plans for every doomsday scenario. Yet, even if future catastrophes are very unlikely to happen, it is still wise to have a general plan.

The beauty of crafting such a plan is that operational procedures can be derived from existing plans. One need not reinvent the wheel for each scenario. An occasional “What if…” session with key staff may provide ample ideas in case the unthinkable occurs.

It is not only a matter of preparation for the end of life as we know it. We absolutely have to be aware of how to act when some people proclaim the end of all things is nigh. In corrections, even in the face of calamity, vigilance and planning always win.

So, have a nice apocalypse.

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

Fear factory: Contemplating trepidation in corrections, 3/17/08

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


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