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Mentors hold the future of corrections
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 10/13/2008

Homepage photo, Sunrise Over L'Anse, Mich. by Robyn Bouchard

Regular Corrections.com columnist Joe Bouchard is a librarian at Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility within the Michigan Department of Corrections. He also is a member of the Board of Experts for “The Corrections Professional” and an instructor of Corrections and Psychology for Gogebic Community College. You can reach him at (906) 353-7070 ext 1321.

Just like using a lever to move a boulder, mentors provide tools to perform seemingly insurmountable tasks. In the ideal state, mentors are the coaches we need to learn and grow as professionals. The right measure of instruction and confidence building will eventually turn the student into a future mentor.

As sure as the sun will rise in the East, analysis and skepticism are two traits that become enhanced through experience in corrections. We learn to scrutinize as a matter of vocational survival.

With enough practice, we not only see the exposed tip of the iceberg; we can also visualize the huge bulk beneath the surface. Things are not always as they appear.

Unfortunately, not all mentors are what they appear to be. Sadly, we encounter ulterior motives and complex factors that place the mentee in the hands of a bad mentor.

Is it so important to consider the effect of bad mentors? The role of the coach is sometimes assumed by those wishing to use the position for self gain. Whether the anti-mentor knows it or not, there is danger in advice given for the wrong reasons.

There are many possible hazards of this behavior. For example, mentees can become vengeful and cynical once they learn that they are tools of an unscrupulous coach. These antagonisms between staff may erupt in full view of prisoners. The set-up always introduces perilous elements into any facility.

Also, bossy mentors do not develop and grow as professionals while they manage their petty fiefdom. These sorts do not live up to their potentials.

The mentees will suffer under this regime. Novices are really helpless and need to rely on honest teachers. Unfortunately, some anti-mentors know this and take advantage of trust and innocence.

There are two types of mentors – proactive and reactive. These can be further subdivided. But those in both categories care more about their professional survival, not the larger perspective. Specific motivations may be different, but the results are always the same: bad mentoring takes place.

Proactive mentors actively seek pupils. Of course, the best proactive mentor is able to look at a person’s progress and give the right amount of balanced instruction.

However, there are those with ulterior motives. They are self-serving types looking to build a career on the backs of others. They are also capable of using mentoring as a means to destroy the reputation of others.

Saboteurs will throw a wrench into the works for a variety of reasons. They will purposely give bad advice and use mentee as tool.

For example, they may mislead a new person because he was not their choice candidate for the job. Or the new candidate may be sanctioned by the saboteur’s sworn enemy.

Sometimes the saboteur may have a malicious grudge not related to anything in particular. This is a case of wanton malice.

The raptor’s or glory-grabber’s goal is to get the maximum amount of acclaim from the lowest level of exertion. This person is very likely to volunteer for a committee only to fluff their resume.

They would rather have served on ten failed committees than one successful one. Eventually, they become very conspicuous and lose their good reputation once word is out of their minimal efforts.

Until then raptors can inflict a lot of damage. When raptors become anti-mentors, they claim the successes of their pupils as their own.

Staff actively seek reactive mentors. They stand out either through their obvious confidence or on the recommendations of others. Here are three of them:
    Assigned / apathetic – they want nothing to do with the assignment. After all, they did not ask for the duty. In the spirit of not making waves, though, they go through the motions and help minimally.

    Pretenders – when advice is sought, they act as though they know everything. They are basically inept or, at best, mediocre. But they are too afraid to say that they do not know.

    Many mentees approach pretenders because they seem knowledgeable and approachable. New employees cling to comfort, and the pretender may resemble someone familiar outside of work.

    Maverick Mentors are charismatic and capable but they do not adhere to policy and procedures. Mentees come to them, falling into a cult of personality.

    These mentors have little vested interest in running with the chain of command, uniformity, or convention. They imprint a veiled contempt onto their students.
There are many strategies to counter the menace of the anti-mentor in its various forms.
  • Design official mentor training for your facility.

  • Place confidence in mentee when warranted.

  • Ask mentors if you can help instruct.

  • Give good mentors room to tutor.

  • Assign multiple part-time mentors tone student for a variety of perspectives.

  • Mentor the mentor. Apply peer counseling as necessary.
Mentors hold the future of corrections. They serve as models of behavior that is so crucial to establish early in any career.

First impressions mean a lot. The eager student will take the lead of the teacher and emulate attitudes and actions, listening to all advice.

These are the opinions of Joe Bouchard, a librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections. These are not necessarily the opinions of the Department. The MIDOC is not responsible for the content or its accuracy.

Other articles by Bouchard:

Thoughts on “closed” economic systems

Busting through the sphere of negativity


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