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The Merits of Stability and Variety
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 08/29/2011

Changeup One bit of wisdom that seasoned veterans pass on to neophytes involves predictability. Experience tells us to change up our routines from time to time. As we are continuously monitored and observed by offenders, it pays to camouflage our patterns when we can. When we use the same route at the same time each day and commit identical movements, we can become targets.

Walking in a different direction than is normal while you perform rounds may afford you another view of the same location. An offender who is not expecting you to break your pattern may inadvertently reveal a weapon or other contraband. All of this leads, of course, to a safer facility for all.

Variety, on the other hand, is often a detriment when we speak of our work personas. This is not to say that a conversation between colleagues has to remain in the tight parameters of weather, sports, and what is for chow. What I mean is that a stable personality helps foster safety.

Take the test. Which of these two scenarios do you prefer?
  1. Your colleague greets you at the time clock one day. He is literally bouncing, full of energy, and extremely happy. In fact, you are a bit puzzled, as there is no apparent reason for his elation. Two days later, the same person is withdrawn. His posture suggests defeat. The next week, he exudes angry, sarcastic energy. The next day, he is jubilant. You can never predict this person’s mood.

  2. or

  3. Your colleague greets you at the time clock and makes a remark about the weather. He then issues an observation about some prisoner activities and then bids you a good day. This persona is one that he has had for as long as you can remember. This person is always pretty much the same every day.

The question posed prior to the scenario was, “Which of these two scenarios do you prefer?” I believe that most people would rather face scenario number two than number one. There is a comfort in stability. This, I think, is also true for offenders. Almost all of us want to know what sort of person we will deal with on a continuing basis.

Some would point out that routine in a facility can be mind-numbing. Others would ask, would it not be better if there were a smattering of volatile characters? I believe that volatility militates against security. Those with a mercurial temperament can be off-putting. And when enterprising offenders see staff keeping distance from a changeable colleague, the recipe for a set-up is evident.

Here are some thoughts about stability:
  • Some people are naturally moody. As long as no one is hurt and operations are not impacted, we should accept people as they are;
  • Volatile colleagues can be entertaining in an otherwise routine vocation. However, disruptions and staff division spawned by this personality type open the door for danger;
  • A less-than-perfect personality that is constant is at least predictable. For example, some people are naturally sullen or grumpy. When we know that someone is likely to be crabby by nature, we are not surprised;
  • Just because a person is mercurial does not necessarily mean that there is an issue of mental health. However, we should be sensitive to our colleagues’ needs and offer help;
  • If you openly distance yourself from a colleague with a varying personality, you are ringing the dinner bell for the ravenous beast called staff division;
  • No matter the behavior, we must remember that a colleague is a colleague. If sudden, strange behavior manifests, one could tactfully ask if something is wrong;
  • Many agencies offer employee services to cope with problems in life;
  • Aim for stability, but be true to yourself if doing so does not harm the facility or anyone inside.

Maintaining a stable personality, just like consciously varying routine, is conditional. Each corrections professional must make a choice on how to act and react every day. In the end, the safety of others may depend on what you choose.

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  1. booch on 09/01/2011:

    In our state of Delaware we stress the time that offenders are incarcerated as time that can be spent restoring their character, improving education and developing life skills. Delaware Correctional Officers and staff are the cornerstone on which this philosophy is built. The importance of all Correctional Officers and staff to keep the areas of responsibility stable and our daily interaction with offenders affords us the opportunity to help inmates become better citizens, more capable of functioning in society, and helps reduce the rate of recidivism in Delaware. A condition for individual stability starts from the Warden and filters down through the rest of the staff. A facility with good sound procedures and principles to assist the Correctional Officer and staff in our first line supervision and programs to aid all inmates is vital to the total success and safety of all.

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