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Knocked off square
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 08/30/2010

Eye magnigyingglass Corrections – the domain of the ever vigilant. We have eyes that never close, watchful and intent. We watch for patterns, the unexpected, and the many nuances of human nature.

Part of human nature is the need to gain advantages over who you might consider your adversary. Consider how you might watch, for example, the signs of someone trying to render you flustered. Here are a few methods that enterprising antagonists might use to knock you off your square. How many of these have you experienced?

Flattery – This may be one of the most common methods of deception. In general, people simply like to hear good things about themselves. Some examples are, “It looks like you have lost weight, “or “you are the smartest staff person here.”

Challenge to the profession – Suppose that a prisoner tells you that your program is the worst in the system. This may be done to give you reason to pause. It is likely to be an appeal to your innovative spirit, setting the stage for you to receive suggestions from the prisoner body. Of course, in any group of suggestions, there are bounds to be self-serving ones.

Charges of discrimination– Discrimination is a horrible practice. And there are mechanisms in place to officially report it. But not all charges are true. Some inmates, regardless of background, portray themselves as members of a persecuted group. A cry of discrimination can be a potent strategy. Have you ever heard, “You treat all _______ prisoners better than non-___________ prisoners.” The idea is to inspire fears in staff with the concept of discriminatory acts in mind. Race, ethnic groups, religious affiliations, weight, height, and sexual orientation are just a few topics used by this strategy.

Appeal to fairness – This method alleges that staff do not act uniformly. This is a more precise and tactical manner of manipulation than false charges of discrimination. Staff who perform minor favors for certain prisoners are perceived as having ‘pets’. They are the personnel that are more likely to hear an inmate assert, “You did this favor for another inmate. Why didn’t you do it for me?”

Veiled threat – This method does not quite cross the line into the territory of blatant intimidation. But it is meant to sow seeds of doubt in the mind of staff. An example of this is when a prisoner tells a staff person that “a person could get hurt acting like you do.” Something like that, depending on the circumstances, may be insolence rather than threatening behavior. With this, the more subtle the delivery, the more effective the veiled threat.

Appeal to a higher power – Our professional actions are guided by policy and procedures. Yet, when some prisoners refuse to adhere to rules while in pursuit of their own comfort, they often call upon a bigger authority. This could be a concept or a religion. The statements in this category suggest that the staff person in question should abandon institutional rules and submit to what the manipulating inmate deems as the true power. Here are some examples: “The Nazis said that they were just following orders – Just like you are saying. Are you religious? Would God approve of how you are treating me? I’ll bet that your mother did not raise you to be like this.”

Us versus them – Some inmates paint the administration as oppressors of prisoners and line staff. They attempt to switch staff loyalty from the institution to what they term the plight of the prisoners. Flattery could be blended in here as well. “You are too smart to work here. The administration takes advantage of your intellect. They don’t appreciate you like inmates do.

Affirmation of decision – People like to be recognized as judicious. Often a prisoner will complement staff for making a good decision. This will appeal to the staff’s vocational ego.

Probe for leverage – This is a form of getting personal. Many prisoners ferret out little facts through seemingly innocent questioning. “Why are you so happy today? Did you get some lovin’? What’s wrong? Are things bad at home? Do you ever drink to take the pain off life?”

Favor – Some enterprising manipulators claim that they will do you a favor. That would imply that staff would be indebted to that inmate. So, be on alert when a prisoner tells you that he will write a letter to the warden explaining what an excellent employee you are.

Disfavorr – This juxtaposes favor. If an inmate threatens to write a letter of criticism concerning you to the warden, you may feel that you need to redeem yourself through special favors. Where the favor methods appeals to the ego, the disfavor, fueled by a nasty gram, appeals to staff fear.

As always, corrections staff must be forever vigilant and aware of ruses and manipulation tactics. By doing this, we make our facility safer for staff, offenders, and the public.

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