|The Twenty Minute Trainer: Laugh a Lot, Live a Lot|
|By Gary F. Cornelius, First Lt. (Retired)|
I have to confess that I have always been known as the “class clown”. From grade school on, I reveled in doing impersonations, practical jokes, and telling puns. However, when I entered the field of corrections, I toned down the humor and toned up the seriousness of my profession. But, there was always room for humor.
I came across an article from the November-December 1996 issue of American Jails titled “Are We Too Serious? The Value of Humor in Jail Work” by William F. Waters, MS/MSW, an associate professor in the Criminal Justice Department at Northern Michigan University. He writes of the value of humor in law enforcement work.
Waters cites the journal that was kept as a class project by one of the Northern Michigan University students, who also happened to be a full time corrections officer. He noticed that the humor he encountered was dark and personally exploitive and permeated much of the conversations between staff and inmates. The humor also dealt with discussions about the job and staff/inmate relations. However presented, it was humor and its intent was to induce amusement and laughter. However he noticed a key point: humor plays a big part and serves as an important function in correctional work; inmates and staff use it as a coping mechanism to address the ‘grim’ nature of both the environment and their lives. After all, correctional officers feel at times that they are as locked up as the inmates. Working and living inside a facility are stressful aspects of correctional facilities.
Citing research by Pogebrin and Poole in 1988, humor among police officers serves several purposes [which can also be applied to correctional officers]:
Humor can make us feel better. That is good for our health and stress management. In my ‘burnout days’ I griped a lot. When I learned how to handle my stress, I found a great coping mechanism-humorous videos. After a stressful day, I would come home and put in a funny video. I laughed and felt better. Humor is good for the body and soul. It breaks the tension and the world looks a lot less bleak and dark. Comedy clubs are also a fun way to occasionally unwind. Just laughing and finding humor in every day personal and professional lives are good for us.
So, how do we put more stress relieving humor into the workplace? We realize that loosening up is OK at certain times. These times include after an incident such as an inmate fight or confrontation where we must wind down. We also must realize that when an officer cracks a joke, not everyone may be amused. We must know when to turn it off and on-working in corrections demands attention to detail being vigilant, thoroughness and keeping alert. “Goofing around” on the job too much can make us less efficient.
We also deal with people and must show respect, treating others with basic dignity. For example, my first tour in classification-seven years-had me in intake where I conducted interviews on thousands of inmates. I recall interviewing one who thought that he was a warlock and possessed mystical powers. I conducted the interview with a straight face-a “poker face”. The inmate was obviously delusional. He said that he could move fixed objects. Back in the office, we considered (jokingly) asking him to lengthen a couple of cellblocks so we could fit more inmates into the jail and reduce overcrowding. We all have approached a colleague and commented about a “crazy” inmate that we have encountered. I remember laughing about an inmate who was caught on a fugitive’s warrant and extradited back to our jail from another state. While on the run, he probably watched too many episodes of The Fugitive-he tried to dye his jet black hair blonde with an over the counter women’s’ hair coloring kit. The result was a “day glow” orange color. I recall that he was booked in on a rushed, hell bent for leather day-but we in the office laughed-but not when we talked to the inmate or were around him.
Every squad or section has a “clown”-and the humor makes us feel better; it takes the edge off. A few guidelines for good taste are:
Life is less vile when we smile………………………….
(I made it up myself.)
Reference: W.F. Waters, “Are We Too Serious? The Value of Humor in Jail Work”, American Jails, November/December 1996, pp. 47-51. See also: Pogrebrin, M. and E. Poole, “Humor in the Briefing Room: A Study of the Strategic Uses of Humor Among Police,” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Volume 17, Number 2, July 1988, pp. 183-210.
Other articles by Gary F. Cornelius:
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT