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Manipulation and Fear
By Joe Bouchard, and Mike Plourde
Published: 03/16/2009

Three shell game2009mar06 Regular Corrections.com columnist Joe Bouchard is a librarian at Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility within the Michigan Department of Corrections. He is also teaches criminal justice and corrections classes Gogebic Community College.
Columnist Mike Plourde is an Institutional Training Office within the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Recently, Institutional Training Officer Mike Plourde, developed a module called “Con Games”. “Con Games” addresses some of the ruses and manipulation that may be executed on corrections staff. He paired that with Joe Bouchard’s module “Wake up and Smell the Contraband”, encompassing the whys and hows of illicit activities inside the walls of corrections facilities. Part of that module which deals with trepidation because of manipulation is presented here.



Surprise attacks…

Law suits and complaints…

All of those are very real possibilities of working in a correctional institution. All corrections employees experience fear on the job. Even veteran employees face many on-the-job phobias. Of course, there are many times and reasons why personnel should be scared on the job. Corrections staff work in potentially volatile circumstances.

However, fear can be a good thing. It shows that an employee is aware of where they are and what could occur. This is a vocationally acquired measure of self-preservation. Fear inspires caution. It allows us to tread lightly on uneven, treacherous terrain.

Those who express they never have been scared are very likely lying to themselves and to everyone else. The issue is not if an employee gets scared. It is more important to understand the fear is handled.

Most acknowledge fear and then dismiss it as normal. To some, the perfectly human reaction of fear does not typically interfere with performance of job duties. As time goes on and more experience is gained, fear becomes much less of an issue. However, it never completely goes away.

But it is important to acknowledge trepidation about any aspect of our jobs. And a major source of anxiety, especially among newer staff, is the fear of manipulation.

There are many unfortunate stories of staff who crossed the line of discretion, only to become ensnared in a web of inmate manipulation. Staff who fall victim to this become unwitting or unwilling vessels of contraband. The set-up, quite simply, introduces more danger in this already perilous environment. These stories are in the media and are well-covered in training. Therefore, most corrections staff are cautious about being set up.

How can corrections staff avoid manipulation and deflect the paralyzing fear of handling? What sorts of tactics can we employ to strengthen our vocational armor? Here are a few strategies.

Professionalism is the key. Do the right thing. Operate within the bounds of policy and procedure. Conduct yourself in a responsible, respectful and ethical manner. Do not hide anything from colleagues.

Maintain a professional, not personal, working rapport with prisoners. Do not be overly sympathetic. Refer prisoners with personal problems to the proper employees.

Show confidence. Learn to say “no” in an assertive manner and mean it. Lay your cards on the table. If the con is obvious, simply say so. These phrases are appropriate ways to address the topic: “I think you are conning me because….” or “Tell me why you should be treated differently?”

Gather information. Think before answering a request. Do not allow yourself to be rushed into an immediate answer. Always look for more details. Ask questions. Keep pressing for more facts…i.e. “Who can I contact to verify this”? Check files and records. Communicate with other employees. Contact supervisors with questions and concerns.

Balance your fear. Keep it in perspective. Blatant paranoia and a careless attitude are the extremes between a reasonable and healthy caution. If an employee has a healthy understanding of fear, the fear is less likely to be used against them.

Help your colleagues. Recognize when other staff is encountering difficulty on the job. Offer assistance as needed. A simple pledge of help may keep staff from gravitating toward a distressing point of no return.

Help Yourself. If you think you are being manipulated or that you’ve done something inappropriate, tell a supervisor. It’s better to be reprimanded than to be forced into something against your will. Otherwise the results can include discipline, job loss, incarceration, injury, or death.

In the end, when we are controlled by our fear, we lose our ability to work well in an often difficult environment. Balance is the key to all of this. A good perspective on what inspires fear is important. This creates a healthy and productive professional. And that can determine the difference between merely surviving and thriving in the profession.

These are the opinions of Mike Plourde, an Institutional Training Officer and Joe Bouchard, a Librarian. Both are employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections. These are not necessarily the opinions of the Department. The MDOC is not responsible for the content or accuracy.


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  2. shakey on 04/19/2009:

    Add this information along with the book "con's and the games they play" and you can put together a complete course on this topic. This is information that should be required at all entry level acadamys, and then have refresher courses thru in-service training. My wife was given the book "Con's and the games they play" to read when she started and it was a great eye opener, Departments need to start training their employees with this type of infromation, so that new and seasoned staff alike can get a real life look into this type of Inmate behavior..

  3. little D on 04/19/2009:

    I found the article informative. I am a training officer at my facility and would appreciate any more information this author may have. is there anyway you could pass on my email address to him. I have a number of questions for him. Thank you. c.delozier tomandcecile@yahoo.com

  4. Warden Hood on 03/18/2009:

    Authors Bouchard and Plourde provided an outstanding article based on their extensive experience within the Michigan Department of Corrections. I commend them and will forward this information to others working in correctional settings. Bob Hood National Security Specialist GE Homeland Protection Retired - Warden United States Penitentiary (ADMAX) Florence, Colorado

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