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Thriving in Corrections
By Caterina Spinaris
Published: 04/20/2009

About the author: Caterina Spinaris Tudor, Ph.D., is the founding Director of Desert Waters Correctional Outreach (DWCO) and a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Colorado. The mission of DWCO (www.desertwaters.com) is to increase the occupational, personal and family well-being of staff of all disciplines within the corrections profession.

Whenever I come across well-functioning correctional staff, I ask them about the “secret of their success.” Here is some of what I’ve heard over the years. It is divided in three categories which correspond to the three areas DWCO targets in its mission—the occupational, personal and family well-being of corrections staff.

  • Create an atmosphere of order and authority emanating from your presence.
  • Exercise fairness and self-control when confronting.
  • Aim to leave a trail of positives behind you daily. Spread words of affirmation and encouragement. Point out people’s progress, no matter how small.
  • Treat EVERYBODY with respect.
  • Remember that offenders are human too, regardless of how some of them behave. Treat them as human beings. Appeal to their craving for dignity.
  • At the end of your workday, think of three good things that happened. Even if the day was a disaster, good things also took place. For one, you are still alive.
  • At the end of your shift, think of one thing you could have done better. Resolve to put that improvement to practice at the next opportunity. Then leave the issue behind as you transition to home life.
  • Reject the “machismo” mentality that kindness is weakness. Kindness is an expression of inner strength. Be there for others. Become known for being considerate with coworkers and fair with offenders. Remember: You reap what you sow. Aim to sow good seed.
  • Avoid backstabbing and spreading negative rumors. If you absolutely have to bring up a negative issue about coworkers, also mention positive things about them.
  • Never use profanity or other humiliating behaviors with offenders or coworkers.
  • Never retaliate against offenders or coworkers. Instead, go through appropriate channels or resolve issues within yourself with the help of your support system.
  • Value your integrity. When it’s all said and done, your name, your reputation and your track record are all you have.
  • Remind yourself that you are making a difference, impacting hundreds, even thousands of people, during the course of your career. Use your influence for good!

  • Zero in on possibilities. Train yourself to look for the upside, the positive aspects in everything. Resolve to turn any manure that life hands to you into fertilizer.
  • Acknowledge reality—do not minimize, rationalize or pretend something is not so. Tell yourself the truth.
  • Remember that even big, tough correctional workers get negatively affected by what they experience on the job. When that happens, get yourself competent help.
  • When away from work, give yourself permission to process the job’s impact on you. Acknowledge what’s going on within you by observing your thoughts and emotions, and talking or writing about them. Vent, take responsibility for your behavior, encourage yourself, and/or come up with a plan to address issues. If you keep “stuffing” negative emotional reactions, no matter how big your “trash compactor” is, you will eventually run out of space and spill over.
  • Make sure you have a healthy downtime at the end of your shift to help you re-enter the “free world.” Military personnel returning home are given time to transition. For some corrections workers the workday is like doing 8 hours in Iraq and then returning home and trying to fit in and act “normal.” Staff needs transition time for their bodies to calm down and for them to “digest” some of what they’ve been exposed to during their shift. This helps them let go of the “crud,” at least till the next shift. One couple, who both work in corrections, spends the first 30 minutes after work venting and discussing what transpired during their work day. After that time period, they put work aside and focus on their evening together.
  • Have fun and play regularly, especially outdoors.
  • Laugh often, but not at others’ expense.
  • Beware of sweeping negative generalizations and prejudices about people. Aim to look at each person with a fresh set of eyes. You may be pleasantly surprised. There ARE good people out there. And even difficult people have good traits.
  • Reject the “machismo” mentality that needing help is a sign of weakness. We all need help and we all depend on one another. Usually those who maintain that they need nobody are hooked on a chemical or some other addiction—a potentially deadly dependency.
  • You are more than your job. As you go through life invest in areas outside of work—family, hobbies, leisure activities, volunteering, spiritual pursuits.
  • Reject the temptation to hate others.
  • Spend time thinking about whatever is noble, admirable, beautiful, inspiring, encouraging. This practice will give you joy and peace. It will also refuel your soul, giving you the energy to keep facing life at work and at home, and leaving you with enough hope and faith to pass on to others also.
  • Pursue love, truth and goodness. Remind yourself that they are more powerful than meanness, deception and evil, and they WILL prevail in the end.
  • Work toward building and maintaining healthy support networks that include family, friends and perhaps even helping professionals. Do so while the going is good, so that your support systems will be available to you when you need them.

  • Remember, your family members are your most important support system. Continue to invest in these relationships and work to maintain them. Again, bear in mind the law of sowing and reaping. Sow commitment, faithfulness and good will if that is what you want to reap later on.
  • Before you make choices, think ahead about how they may impact your family and your relationship with them.
  • Learn to work through problems together with loved ones, instead of giving up or aggressing against them.
  • Share your thoughts and feelings with your significant others. This helps you maintain a strong connection with them. When you confide in them about work experiences, skip gruesome details. However, share enough about your work life to avoid becoming estranged from them over time.

Other articles Caterina Spinaris Tudor


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  15. dlpicardjr on 04/22/2009:

    I agree, Professionally: We are not defined by our job, but we do define the job. We work in a field that is vital to homeland security and public protection; but we are always the forgotten ones in Blue. I agree 100% that we can leave a positive trail when we pass through our facilities. We do after all have an obligation to release these offenders one day. If we can, at best, show them appropriate behavior, human kindness, and fair treatment, then we can hope they will see it in action and some day even come to appreciate and practice it. I know it is difficult to do and that I may only effect a very few of those I oversee; but those few are the difference sometimes. I always remind my staff that "they (offenders)are locked up as their punishment; not for us to punish them" and that "we are the professionals and need to always remember this and act accordingly". If we want to be taken serious as professionals we need to act as professionals. Personal: I try to some how find a reward in what I do every day. We work in a negative environment with negative people. Some days are harder then others, but it comes from what I do and not what others may do to me. If you can't find something positive in what you do then maybe it is you as much as the environment. Support each other and accept support too. Family: I also feel keeping work out of home (especially our line of work)is good, to a point. I have been in law enforcement since 1989 (street cop, Probation/Parole, and now a Sgt in a max prison)and I have been married since 1993 and have managed a very happy marriage with three great kids too. I share what I do with my spouse and family and hide nothing, but the most horrific, from them. Always keeping it appropriate. My spouse needs to know what I do; to feel safe in my choice of profession. My kids and wife are proud of what I do and they support me 100%. I believe in being open with those I love and care about so they can understand the reality of this job and not fear what the see on TV or in the Media. A bit long, but a great topic.

  16. Kellie on 04/20/2009:

    This is a terrific article!!!! Just remember: You are not your job!!! I refuse to be involved in Law Enforcement on my off duty time. I keep very active phsically, running, kayaking, biking. I strive to learn new things, both physically and mentally everyday. My significant other is not working in this field which I feel is important. We talk about our respective days and then we are done, nothing negative after that! I try to laugh alot everyday!

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