>Users:   login   |  register       > email     > people    

The Road to Safety: Leveling the Playing Field
By Joe Bouchard and Tracy Barnhart, and Caitlin Donovan
Published: 01/02/2010

Road painted desert arizona A conversation between Joe Bouchard, Tracy Barnhart and Caitlin Donovan

“You want me to cuff up, Moth** Fu**er, Come and get me!”

On the road to safety we are sometimes shocked by something. Realizations of vulnerability have a special way of gabbing us by the lapels and screaming, “Wake up!” This is often a good thing, as it occasional shocks to the system shake the corrections professional out of complacency. It is a fact that no matter the level of security, your years of experience, your fighting ability, or your fitness level, you have to consider a defense strategy. But, as in all things, there is a way to level the playing field. In the dangerous game of corrections, there is a way to stack odds in your favor.

I am sure that we can agree that the ability to gain knowledge of fighting styles, techniques and principals is easier to get today than it was just 15 years ago. The vast availability of knowledge of martial arts and the exposure of actual fight matches is on every television channel thanks to the UFC. Take a survey of how many people know how to apply a rear naked choke and I bet you get almost 100% of the individuals not only know what you are talking about, but could demonstrate it with some sort of proficiency. Now ask them how many attend or have attended a Jujitsu school or martial arts academy that taught them that particular technique and probably less that 25% will confirm they did. So where did they learn the move? Do you think people could actually watch a UFC match and simply pick up particular techniques and then apply them in a street fight with any sort of precision?

Joe Bouchard:
Tracy, thanks for sending me that video clip of the trained fighter. It gave me something to think about. I know very little about the fighting abilities of any of the prisoners with whom I have daily contact. I have to assume that all are capable of delivering damage – and for no apparent reason.

I do have self defense training delivered to me in annual updates by my agency. Also in consideration of potential violence, I plan each escape route. And I share information with colleagues in order to make sense out of the over 800 bed maximum security prison at which I work. I also know where staff is located when there are prisoners in my area of control. My Personal Protection Device (PPD) and radio are firmly belted onto me. But, is that enough to survive an encounter with a trained fighter?

Tracy Barnhart:
The Video Joe is talking about is a trailer called “Shotcaller” and it’s a new documentary about an up and coming MMA fighter, sent to prison. The reason I initiated this article was to stimulate the realization that the inmates we confront each day may have the professional fight training to be able to deliver a lot of damage in a relatively short period of time. As a correctional officer I see it everyday; the almost cockiness of officers who do not consider inmates as dangerous or that they do not have any fight experience to place us in a dangerous position. I have taken martial arts for many years now as well as prior military training that were all set up to do the most damage in a relatively short period of time. I asked a leading Brazilian Jujitsu instructor, Shawn Chitwood, who happens to be a good friend as well as the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy force instructor about such trained criminal or inmate fighters.

Question: With your martial art (Brazilian Jujitsu) how long would an individual have to train there in your academy before they would become a problem for an officer to handle during an arrest (or inmate restraint for a correctional officer?)

Answer:“Very little time actually as most cops receive little to no training post academy training. Only a very small percentage is even motivated to seek out tactical training on their own as cheap life insurance. A student training for 3 solid months in my academy would be problematic for officers. Anything longer than that would be a serious issue for officer safety.”

Question: What is the average time that new students in your academy train until they quit for various reasons, on average students who do not obtain black belts?

Answer: Average students train 6 months I would say. Of those that make it past 6 months, the average stays 2-3 years.

Question: With the insurgence of a great number of MMA schools and mixed martial arts studios do you feel that instructors give enough time finding out which students are there for the right reasons or are there to improve their street fighting abilities?

Answer: No absolutely not! Today's qualifications for an MMA Fight Club instructor are a guy who wrestled a year in high school and watched 3 UFCs. They are not concerned with who shows up, only that they come with money. One of my students recently visited a newly formed MMA club in our town. During his brief visit, he counted three, yes three students learning to ground n pound wearing ankle bracelets! I cannot run prospective students through NCIC for background checks, but we have so many police officers from so many agencies that if a dirt bag shows up to try class, I am made aware of it and he is asked to leave. This happens several times per year with us.

Joe, Catlin, I think you can see that on average, the possibility of encountering a trained fighter now an inmate in our facilities is gravely possible, if not a reality.

Caitlin Donovan:
I had to watch the trailer of “Shotcaller” a couple of times to adequately grasp the concept. Because I do not work directly in a correctional facility, I was naïve about the extent to which some inmates are trained to fight. For anybody working in the corrections field, this is a frightening reality. I was alarmed at the level of anger that has entirely consumed the life of Matt Hall, the person featured in the trailer.

It’s interesting when he says, “6 years is a long f***ing time brother, everything changes, cars change, clothes change, trends, change, computers change, the whole f***ing system of Planet Earth has skipped you.” It really allows the viewer to see life through the eyes of Hall. To see where he came from, the pictures shown of his childhood, and to see where he is now really resonates with me because the change seems so dramatic. In reading the interview with Shawn Chitwood I was surprised to see that it doesn’t take a great deal of training in order for an individual to become a problem for officers. This really opened my eyes as to how much of threat inmates who are trained fighters can really be.

Joe Bouchard:
Let me mention that I am a proponent of physical training for all corrections staff. I think it is important for all staff to have a level of competence in self defense. It is crucial for officers to have this instruction – but also other staff. In my opinion, team corrections are composed of many segments. When all goes well, all segments will participate in some way in security functions.

The intense level of anger that you mention, Caitlin, is quite noteworthy. And it is something that we should not forget. It does not matter that corrections staff are supposed to be “the good guys”. It is not important to some offenders that we are doing the important job of protecting staff, the public and offenders. There is plenty of animosity directed towards us.

The danger to all staff (and the public and offenders) is exacerbated by the potential of trained fighters in our midst. So, the chief problem is very clear. I am not sure that we can completely “solve” this riddle. But how do we mitigate the damage? Should we expect that agencies intensify our training? In a perfect world with no budgetary constraints, what could we expect?

Tracy Barnhart: Joe, Catlin; you are very cognizant on picking up on the intense aggression and reading between the lines as you look at the documentary trailer. As correctional employees we must understand that when it all boils down we are professional combatants whether we want to believe it or not. We are the preverbal line in the sand when it comes to safety, security and calm within our institutions at the end of the day. Like Shawn stated, we need to invest in an insurance policy when it comes to our safety. We spend a lot of time complaining about our health and compensation benefits and filing grievances for perceived wrongs but what do we do after we leave the facility. We swim in the shark tanks everyday and we must understand that a swim lesson once in a while will do nothing but help us.

Look out among the predators of the institution. Watch them as they do countless push-ups and train themselves into physical combatants in which you might someday have to physically restrain. Are you ready? Do you have the stamina to withstand an onslaught of punches in an all out assault until your back-up arrives? It is one thing to look back ten years ago when you were in great shape and attending a martial arts class three times a week. Look at yourself now. Are you as ready now, as you once were then? One thing you have to consider when working in a prison setting is this, “You are getting older everyday and yet the average age of the inmates are staying steady at a young and physically fit standard.” Inmates come in and get out and new young aggressive inmates fill their open and available beds. You however, get older, more and more out of shape everyday. This is why we must keep ourselves in shape and condition our bodies for combat. We walk among the predators of society without question, concern or fear. Our abilities must reflect our authority to tame these aggressive predators without question.
    "Correctional Officers work with dangerous people in dangerous places, And therefore, you are 'always' in danger."

Caitlin Donovan:
I agree, I believe the physical strength of the staff is extremely important. It is imperative that they have a thorough understanding of the fact that inmates are, a lot of times, significantly stronger. The self defense abilities of the personnel can sometimes be the only tactics they have to use when an inmate becomes aggressive. Tracy, you make a good point, the inmates are constantly working out and getting stronger. The staff needs to re-evaluate their own personal fitness plans so that they are better equipped to fight back and successfully restrain any inmate who becomes out of control.

Joe Bouchard: And we are all in it together. Individual corrections professionals of all classifications vary in abilities and attitudes. Together, we form a potentially fit group. It is a matter of leadership in training and application of this. The training alone is one thing, but follow-up is crucial. It is like writing a grant for a group in need. The grant, like the training, can be granted. However, its worth is lessened if the gift is not administered. Training and post-training are crucial in battling our many threats.

And so, in theory, corrections staff are well equipped to deal with the many adversities of prisoner management. We have the advantage of physical resources and a high level of communication. These advantages coupled with superior leadership, excellent followership, and long-term commitment spell a good future for corrections. Optimally, these things must translate into practice. And building our resources in the battle against trained fighters is part of our journey on the road to safety.

Other articles by Caitlin Donovan

Other "Road to Safety" articles by Bouchard and Barnhart:

Visit the Joe Bouchard or the Tracy Barnhart page


  1. mattwwin on 08/24/2019:

    Where can I find this documentary Shotcaller?

  2. damagod on 03/06/2012:

    I was in ad seg unit with Matt hall I couldn't even do a push up when I met him he had come in after a riot in ironwood and after 2 month of a strict and I mean strict workout routine boy was I in shape I was even talked into getting in a fight in the hole got shot in the head by a block gun good times and yeah cdc is out of shape all the cops for the most part anyway they wouldn't stand a chance if the inmates decided to turn good luck

Login to let us know what you think

User Name:   


Forgot password?

correctsource logo

Use of this web site constitutes acceptance of The Corrections Connection User Agreement
The Corrections Connection ©. Copyright 1996 - 2023 © . All Rights Reserved | 15 Mill Wharf Plaza Scituate Mass. 02066 (617) 471 4445 Fax: (617) 608 9015