>Users:   login   |  register       > email     > people    


“Shameful” Secret? - Post-traumatic Symptoms in the Corrections Ranks
By Caterina Spinaris
Published: 03/29/2010

Man in deep thought The anecdotes presented below are used with permission. Some details are changed. If your own issues get triggered as a result of reading this, please see suggestions for help at the end of the article.

When I began talking and counseling with corrections personnel in the year 2000, I noticed that several of them suffered from post-traumatic symptoms. Some even exhibited full-blown PTSD, often self-medicated with alcohol.

I also noticed that, in the proud corrections culture, staff abhorred to admit that they had been negatively affected by traumatic work experiences. They’d often say, “I’m good. It was just an inmate.” But their eyes had the 2,000-yard stare.

It didn’t take me long to realize that staff feel ashamed about being affected by life-threatening or horrifically violent work-related circumstances. Due to lack of understanding of what psychological trauma does to people’s brain, soul and spirit, some corrections staff even call traumatized coworkers “weak.” Consequently, trauma sufferers may refuse treatment, sentencing themselves to long-term torment.

Psychological trauma occurs (a) when people are exposed to circumstances that threaten their life or physical integrity or the life or physical integrity of others; and (b) when they experience intense fear for their lives, helplessness because they cannot stop the traumatic event, or horror due to the gruesome scenes of injury or death they witness.

What does psychological trauma look like in the corrections ranks?

Here I offer some examples, by category of PTSD symptoms. For simplicity’s sake I’ll use the term “C.O.” and “he.” However, these examples are not limited to security staff or males. They are found among both genders and in all ranks and positions.

Physiological Arousal
  • C.O. suffers from insomnia, so much so, that he has been consuming large amounts of alcohol to fall asleep. While sleeping, he thrashes about and grinds his teeth. He fights inmates in his nightmares to the point that he has elbowed and punched his wife as she slept next to him. She now sleeps in the spare bedroom. Sometimes he wakes up at 2:00 AM and cannot go back to sleep.
  • C.O. seeks help after becoming terrified that he may hurt family members without meaning to. His 4-year old daughter walked into her parents’ bedroom one night after having had a bad dream. As she tried to climb onto their bed, she bumped against him. C.O. became fully awake due to his wife’s screaming, “No! It’s Susie!” C.O. realized that, startled in his sleep, he had grabbed his daughter by the throat and was hauling off to punch her in the face. All that had happened in an instant, before he could become fully conscious.
  • C.O. is almost always irritable. To release his anger—to have an adrenaline dump, as he calls it—he purposely provokes inmates by staring at them and by saying humiliating things to them in front of their “homies.”
  • As he gets ready for work, C.O. begins to sweat profusely. Sometimes he has to change his undershirt and shirt before leaving the house, because dark stains start to show under his armpits and on his chest and back. He of course does not want inmates or staff to notice. The sweating, at times accompanied by a slight uncontrollable shaking and “weak” knees, worsens as he gets through the prison gate. He also sweats at night to the point that in the morning the mattress is soaked.
  • C.O. has become prone to rages. After particularly hard shifts he drives home at 90mph in 65mph zones screaming at the top of his lungs.
  • C.O. can see fear in his children’s eyes when he approaches them. His wife has pleaded with him to not give her “the prison look” anymore. She has told him that when he gets enraged at her, she is afraid he wants to kill her.
  • Wherever C.O. goes, he believes people are watching and studying him. He hides behind dark sunglasses. To lessen his anxiety, he avoids public places as much as possible. His wife does all the shopping now. When he cannot avoid going to a public place, he feels vulnerable, in danger. To him everyone he comes across may be affiliated with a gang or be an inmate family member. At times he gets so worked up in a public venue that he goes to the bathroom and vomits.
  • A C.O. is confronted by a “road rage” young guy who, at a stop sign, jumps out of his car and starts screaming at him. In a flash, the C.O. bolts out of his vehicle and lifts the guy off the ground. He raises him up over his head and body-slams him on the pavement. He then restrains him and talks to him, like he would with an inmate. “Dude, it’s over now. Just relax and let go.” C.O. realizes that he only remembers the beginning and the end of the event. Later on his wife fills him in. She witnessed the event while sitting petrified in their vehicle.
  • C.O. worries greatly about his family’s safety. He has installed several security devices in his home and has hidden weapons in key locations in his house. After an inmate escapes from a nearby prison, C.O. “booby traps” his back door and patrols his living room every night, fully armed, until the inmate is apprehended.
  • C.O. becomes so afraid that it’s going to be his life or an inmate’s life, that he does the unthinkable. When he gets home, he takes a steak knife and practices putting it through his belt buckle. He even tapes the handle with black tape to make it blend with his belt. He then rehearses pulling it out rapidly. In his mind he practices slashing the inmate’s throat with one swift move as the inmate is coming at him. C.O. goes to work armed with the knife hidden under his jersey. C.O. is so locked onto the moment, what he believes is the battle for his life, that he does not consider consequences of his actions. He never stops to ask himself what may happen to him and his family if he indeed hurt the inmate. Having seen so much killing and wounding, he has lost his inhibition about causing serious injury or even death to someone. Thankfully, miraculously, the inmate pleads to have all animosities between the two of them dropped and asks to be put in segregation.
Intrusive Memories
  • C.O. who was assaulted by an inmate has a flashback of the attack while driving. To avoid the inmate in his mind’s eye, he ducks and swerves, driving his vehicle into the ditch. As the flashback subsides, he sits in his car shaking until he can compose himself enough to drive to his destination.
  • C.O. has nightmares about the violent incident he witnessed. The nightmares are like a movie playing or a slide show of the event. The images remain unaltered, identical to those on the day of the incident. He wakes up with a start, sweating, heart racing. To avoid reliving the event in his sleep, he tries to stay awake as much as he can.
  • When anyone mentions a gruesome inmate murder that C.O. witnessed, he “sees” the image in his mind’s eye, “hears” the gurgling last sounds of the stab victim and “smells” the blood all over again. The rest of the day he keeps having images of the murder pop up in his mind unbidden and causing him grave distress. At night he has 10 beers before he can go to sleep.

Avoidance & Emotional Numbing
  • Since a life-threatening incident at work, C.O. has withdrawn from social activities in his community. He now feels safe only at home because he believes that he can control what happens there.
  • C.O. now sends his family members to get the mail from the mailbox in front of his house. He is uncomfortable getting the mail himself because “you never know who may be driving by and see me standing there.”
  • When asked by family about how is doing at work, C.O.’s response is typically “Not much is going on” or “I don’t want to talk about it.”
  • C.O. now avoids friends who do not work in corrections. He cannot relate to them, their interests and their ways of having fun. Instead, he spends hours playing computer and video games at home.
  • C.O. is told by coworkers that in the heat of responding to a prolonged, particularly life-threatening incident, he did and said things that he does not remember doing or saying.
  • C.O. avoids going to grocery stores or malls. He is afraid that some “punk” there may provoke him by staring at him or by saying something, and that he’ll lose self-control and get arrested for taking him down or worse.
  • C.O.’s young daughter comes to him crying after she falls and skins her knees while bicycling. While tending to her injury, he realizes that he cannot feel compassion for her like he used to. He remembers that he felt nothing while performing CPR on the dead body of an inmate who had committed suicide by hanging.
  • C.O. feels like his life has lost its flavor and color. Even pleasant family activities that he used to enjoy now feel to him to be empty, meaningless.
  • C.O. is haunted by the fear that he will die soon. When he goes to bed at night he wonders if he’ll be alive the next day. He particularly fears dying by the hand of an inmate. To defy these fears, he dares death by taking serious risks while riding his motorcycle on winding mountain roads.
  • Fearing he may get attacked by inmates, C.O. trains himself on his own time to endure physical pain and duress in order to be able to fight in spite of pain or injury. He takes that to the extreme, putting his health and safety at risk.

These are some examples of post-traumatic symptoms experienced by correctional workers. Even if an employee suffers from only one symptom, home life and work performance are impacted, affecting one’s overall quality of life. That is why the issue of post-traumatic stress needs to be addressed in corrections in depth, as is currently done in the military. And, as you probably know, several corrections employees are also war veterans, compounding the risk of post-traumatic stress and its dire consequences.

Administrators and supervisors, let your staff know that corrections workers do get affected by what they experience at work, and that these effects have nothing to do with weakness. Terror and horror leave hard-to-erase imprints on people’s brain, soul and spirit. These traumatic memories and associated reactions can pop up again and again, unexpectedly and out of control, unless they are processed and “digested.”

I implore those of you who relate to these symptoms to get appropriate help to get better and to prevent hurting yourself, your loved ones, those at work or innocent bystanders.

If you’ve been triggered by reading this, you have several good options. Contact Desert Waters at 719-784-4727 or desertwaters@desertwaters.com. Call our Corrections Ventline at 866-YOU-VENT. Write us at youvent@desertwaters.com . Seek professional help through your EAP, mental health specialists in posttraumatic stress treatment, or clergy.

Do not put it off any longer.

Pursue your healing!

Visit the Caterina Tudor page


Comments:

  1. yajolos on 08/19/2019:

    This is very interesting content! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your points and have come to the conclusion that you are right about many of them. You are great. Wholesale

  2. yajolos on 08/19/2019:

    I am happy to find this post very useful for me, as it contains lot of information. I always prefer to read the quality content and this thing I found in you post. Thanks for sharing. office

  3. yajolos on 08/18/2019:

    I am happy to find this post Very useful for me, as it contains lot of information. I Always prefer to read The Quality and glad I found this thing in you post. Thanks third eye opener

  4. yajolos on 08/18/2019:

    I am happy to find your distinguished way of writing the post. Now you make it easy for me to understand and implement the concept. Thank you for the post. Pineal gland health

  5. dsobral on 08/18/2019:

    This is really a nice and informative mudanças cruzeiro df

  6. osama on 08/11/2019:

    I really enjoyed reading this post, big fan. Keep up the good work and please tell me when can you publish more articles or where can I read more on the subject? Uk seo agency

  7. yajolos on 08/10/2019:

    i read a lot of stuff and i found that the way of writing to clearifing that exactly want to say was very good so i am impressed and ilike to come again in future.. taroko gorge tour

  8. yajolos on 08/07/2019:

    I have read a few of the articles on your website now, and I really like your style of blogging. I added it to my favorites blog site list and will be checking back soon. Please check out my site as well and let me know what you think. Provincetown architects

  9. yajolos on 08/07/2019:

    Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me. New York architects

  10. jackD on 08/02/2019:

    To learn about skin care, you can read all the fancy product packages or simply take a cue from Lumeskin

  11. regawe on 07/27/2019:

    Nice blog and absolutely outstanding. You can do something much better but i still say this perfect.Keep trying for the best. Real Estate Marketing

  12. regawe on 07/27/2019:

    You know your projects stand out of the herd. There is something special about them. It seems to me all of them are really brilliant! Real Estate Email Marketing

  13. regawe on 07/25/2019:

    I felt very happy while reading this site. This was really very informative site for me. I really liked it. This was really a cordial post. Thanks a lot!. Profit Firme Romania

  14. regawe on 07/25/2019:

    Thanks for sharing this information. I really like your blog post very much. You have really shared a informative and interesting blog post with people.. Advertoriale Profit Firme Romania

  15. yajolos on 07/17/2019:

    I just found this blog and have high hopes for it to continue. Keep up the great work, its hard to find good ones. I have added to my favorites. Thank You. Gothic Store

  16. yajolos on 07/17/2019:

    I haven’t any word to appreciate this post.....Really i am impressed from this post....the person who create this post it was a great human..thanks for shared this with us. Gothic Jewelry

  17. yajolos on 07/17/2019:

    Thanks for taking the time to discuss that, I feel strongly about this and so really like getting to know more on this kind of field. Do you mind updating your blog post with additional insight? It should be really useful for all of us. Wedding photographers in Dorset

  18. yajolos on 07/17/2019:

    Great write-up, I am a big believer in commenting on blogs to inform the blog writers know that they’ve added something worthwhile to the world wide web!.. Poole wedding photographer

  19. yajolos on 07/13/2019:

    This type of message always inspiring and I prefer to read quality content, so happy to find good place to many here in the post, the writing is just great, thanks for the post. restaurante vegetariano em Pirenopolis

  20. yajolos on 07/09/2019:

    Your blog provided us with valuable information to work with. Each & every tips of your post are awesome. Thanks a lot for sharing. Keep blogging.. PopularLocalz.com

  21. yajolos on 07/07/2019:

    Hello, I have browsed most of your posts. This post is probably where I got the most useful information for my research. Thanks for posting, maybe we can see more on this. Are you aware of any other websites on this subject. melissabradshaw.net

  22. yajolos on 07/07/2019:

    Nice blog and absolutely outstanding. You can do something much better but i still say this perfect.Keep trying for the best. taroko park

  23. yajolos on 07/06/2019:

    All the contents you mentioned in post is too good and can be very useful. I will keep it in mind, thanks for sharing the information keep updating, looking forward for more posts.Thanks Camping en Valencia

  24. yajolos on 07/03/2019:

    I was surfing net and fortunately came across this site and found very interesting stuff here. Its really fun to read. I enjoyed a lot. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information. equipment repairs

  25. yajolos on 06/29/2019:

    Awesome blog. I enjoyed reading your articles. This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work! international freight forwarding

  26. yajolos on 06/29/2019:

    useful information on topics that plenty are interested on for this wonderful post.Admiring the time and effort you put into your b!.. Veranstaltungen

  27. yajolos on 06/26/2019:

    I’ve been searching for some decent stuff on the subject and haven't had any luck up until this point, You just got a new biggest fan!.. sewage pumps

  28. Niv on 04/01/2010:

    Wow I would like to know if the Inmates go through this also , or if them being raised in that Criminal enviroment makes less prone to PTS?

  29. drivas on 03/29/2010:

    Excellent article. I teach Officer Stress and Stress Management and how our environment is so different from other work places. I also discuss post traumatic stress disorders. This information will be put to good use in my teachings. Thank you.

  30. lowcashflow on 03/29/2010:

    I began working in corrections in 2005, I went through the very same symptoms that is described in the article. Well here we are in 2010 and I still work in corrections but, when I walk through those double doors in the morning, everything about that place stays there. I sleep very good, have pleasant dreams, when I get up (if I'm on time) I fix my lunch or make dinner for my family, and when I walk back through those double doors my head is held high, heart rate unchanged. I've learned to do my job according to my policy and procedure and without any fear. I trust and believe in GOD enough that I can walk with my head high. There isn't an atoms weight of fear that those inmates can put in me. When I get off my knees from prayer my cry is "GOD IS GREAT! GOD IS GREAT! Robert


Login to let us know what you think

User Name:   

Password:       


Forgot password?





correctsource logo




Use of this web site constitutes acceptance of The Corrections Connection User Agreement
The Corrections Connection ©. Copyright 1996 - 2019 © . All Rights Reserved | 15 Mill Wharf Plaza Scituate Mass. 02066 (617) 471 4445 Fax: (617) 608 9015