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They look to you
By Caterina Spinaris
Published: 07/07/2008

Center circle After completing basic training, new correctional employees are pumped, and all excited about getting started on the job. Yet deep down they may wonder how they’ll prove their mettle, if they’ll react professionally to crises, if they’ll remain firm, and if they will be fair and consistent in the face of day-to-day pressures. They know that theory is one thing, but practice is quite another.

You - the supervisors and other veteran staff - are the ones these rookies look to. You are the ones who flesh out the lessons taught at the academy. You are the ones who model to newbies how it all plays out in real life.

Your responsibility and opportunities in this regard are enormous. You have been given the privilege of “professional formation” of correctional staff who are the future of corrections.

You are effectively in a mentor and instructor role 24/7. You may do so consciously and intentionally by answering rookies’ questions, or by going over an incident and giving them your thoughts on it.

Or you may teach and demonstrate by simply doing your job. The way you conduct business is the lesson you teach and pass on to the new generation of employees.

As mentor, it is important to remember that, among other things, new employees study how you cope with crises; what you do when you’re verbally attacked; the way you handle angry or belligerent people - be it staff or inmates; and how you handle being wrongly accused of something. New COs will also see how you care for your physical health; how you guard your reputation; what you hold dear regarding your job; the way you react when negative rumors circulate about other employees; how you speak about coworkers in their absence; and how you wield your power.

Through your modeling you can teach integrity, wisdom, courage, strength, balance, compassion, perseverance. By being an inspiration to others, you need to have worthy role models to look up to from your workplace, your personal life, and from key figures in history.

It is important to remember these points when you:
  • Remind staff that everyone - no matter their rank - one day will give account for their actions, and that everyone - no matter their status - is a human being and must be treated as such;

  • Make it clear that mistreatment is not to be tolerated;

  • Coach staff on performing new tasks;

  • Remind staff that anyone, no matter how smart, can make poor choices

  • Refuse to “kick” a colleague who is down

  • Speak to people with respect and kindnes;

  • Refuse to lie or cover up something;

  • Seek the facts instead of assuming things;

  • Control your anger instead of reacting blindly;

  • Show you care for your team members;

  • Truly listen and pay attention to your staff’s input;

  • Encourage the downhearted;

  • Acknowledge your errors or oversight;

  • Apologize to coworkers for “blowing it”; and

  • Remind your staff of the vision of what corrections work is about.
By doing so, you make a priceless contribution to your profession and leave your mark on corrections for many years to come.

Caterina Spinaris Tudor is the founding Director of Desert Waters Correctional Outreach, (www.desertwaters.com) , a Colorado nonprofit corporation dedicated to the well-being of corrections staff and their families.

More articles by Spinaris Tudor:

Stages of change

Workplace entanglements


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