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Destination Intimidation part 1: Is it aggression or assertion?
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 12/14/2009

Young man looks mean In corrections, there is often a complex posturing that is based on image and intimidation. It is a matter of survival. Such is the world that we work in. Therefore, it should come to no surprise that staff and offenders sometimes perceive the other as bullying.

To most, intimidation is the tool of the bully. But is it always bullying? Is aggression sometimes really assertion? Is there a difference between meeting issuing direction and coercion? Is it fair to use bully tactics on a bully?

To answer these questions, I offer this non-corrections story. This should illustrate that the truth about bullying is sometimes nebulous.

Many years ago, my father was in a Sunday softball league. I remember watching many games at Softball City that featured “The 12 pack”, my father’s team. This was a group of guys that worked in the steel treatment shop and had a little fun with America’s favorite past time.

While at bat, my father, a short statured man, was the subject of chatter from the opposing team’s first base man. The first base man yelled, “C’mon, little guy. Hit one here to me if you can!”

Unperturbed, my father allowed two good pitches to pass. He waited patiently for the ball to be thrown. In the mean time, the first baseman continued with his taunts. Then, as the third pitch was thrown, my father’s left foot pointed toward the first baseman. A line drive right to the first base man’s knees sent the heckler sprawling. Without a word, the batter trotted to first base, looked his adversary up and down and then snickered.

The first baseman was very silent each time after which my father was at bat.

Let’s examine this through corrections eyes.
  • Intimidation is much more than physical. It is also psychological. Sometimes in a jail or prison setting, intimidation happens without a direct action
  • Bullying often occurs with best effect when there is an audience. It does not matter if two staff, two offenders or a combination of offender and staff are involved.
  • There is a risk taken by the intimidator. When the action meant to coerce does not push the object off their square, a loss of face is inevitable. Think of all of the conflicts that you have witnessed in your facility and remember the many shifting hierarchies that resulted.
  • Counter intimidation happens, often in direct proportion to the original intimidation.
  • Assertion and aggression will be viewed in different lights by different parties. In other words, motives, methods of control, and stories will vary.

The anti-bully is alive and well in all parts of the work world. But the difference between the rest of the world and corrections is that the stakes are higher. A loss of face inside the institutional setting can set the stage for long lived enmities that can tumble out of control. In addition, physical violence may come immediately. Also, the legacy of intimidation is lengthy. Remember that backing down is often seen as a weakness that can be exploited later.

Perhaps the line drive aimed at the heckling first base man was a counter bully measure that was meant to level the field. Maybe there was malice in the mind of the perpetrator. Maybe it was a utilitarian move. Whatever the truth, there is more to intimidation than meets the eye. And, just like in a ball game, “It isn’t over until it is over”.

Part 2: - The Anti-intellectual Bully

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