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Five Career Lessons for Success:
By Tracy E. Barnhart
Published: 01/02/2012

Success As a correctional officer, tell yourself mentally now and then “I will survive any situation I get into because I am trained for it,” “I will never give up, I am prepared for any situation I fall into because I train for it as a Professional Correctional Officer,” “I will never give up.”

We don’t want to give up in situations and think, “It looks pretty bad, I’m not going to make it,” we want to say and think “I will survive this, doctors can patch me up and I will be back to look at this guy again.” We don’t use words like: try, and I think, or I hope. We never say, “I will try to survive this”, or “I think I will survive.” These are negative words and trick our minds into thinking we really will not survive. We WILL survive. Seek out knowledge no matter what the cost. Never allow a conversation you engage to end without you becoming aware or learning something that you did not know before the dialogue.
  1. Focus on what you can do to improve yourself instead of on your opposition:
    “The responsibility for preparing men and women for battle should never be taken lightly. What you say and do, or fail to say and do, may be the difference between winning and losing. More importantly, it may be the difference between living and dying.”
    I have made this statement hundreds of times and this is why I continually strive to get as much job specific continuing education and training so that the information that I provide is the best, most up to date knowledge that I can offer.

  2. Failure is not an option or is it: Every human being can learn from defeat; in fact, it often makes us stronger. This is not a new or radical concept but one that has been time tested by every great warrior who ever lived. One of the greatest warriors of all time was Attila the Hun, who commented on both defeat and change. On defeat:
    “Sooner or later it will happen, if you recognize you’re losing in the fight or negotiations don’t deny it. Face it and take immediate action to minimize your opponents gain and get back to your cause. Learn to pass through your misery. Think about what happened and why but don’t dwell on it. Consider all the potentialities of battle and negotiations before entering into them. Rehearse them in your mind. Think of the consequences that may result from your actions. This will allow you to be better prepared for the worst to come.” On change: “No radical change is easy. Radical change is only necessary when we fail to learn from our past.”
    Attila the Hun

    Contrary to popular belief correctional officers are human and do make mistakes. Officers get amped up during a stressful situation and after the adrenalin dump, things seem foggy and in that fog of war, mistakes will be made. So why can’t we train with that in mind? It is better to train for the possible sting of defeat, then not to and meet it for the first time in the institution. To put it in better terms, the founder of SEAL team six, Richard Marcinko, had this advice to say on the subject.
    “Never Assume Anything - plan your tactics as if everything would go wrong. Why? Because things always go wrong. Mr. Murphy is always coming along for the ride. Rule two: never give your opponent a break, which translates to keeping your opponents off guard, never allowing them to get ahead of you, either physically, mentally or tactically.”

  3. Learn to laugh at yourself: If you stumble in life, get up and keep trying, what you may find out that it is not sexy or prestigious to be a correctional officer. Do not become lax but temper that situational awareness with a tongue and cheek mentality. I still do things that, at the time, seemed reasonable until the true results presented themselves. We are going to make mistakes and though it seems sometimes that we are programmed to see failure and mistakes as incompetence, you will learn a lot more from a failure than you ever will in a success. Tell a joke, prank your co-workers, and establish that bond of brothers. The ethos of being a warrior is disappearing within our agencies; unit esprit de-corps built around “bonding” between warriors is now disparaged as an irrelevant concept and one that only serves to rationalize politically incorrect behavior and policies.

  4. Step out of your comfort zone: Change your routines; keep inmates guessing about you and your ability. Let’s look at the Martial Arts for example… Does the study of martial arts actually allow you to defend yourself from attack? You often hear stories about people who have studied a particular martial art in depth, only to be soundly trounced when they actually got into a real fight. Thus, there is a legitimate concern among many those martial artists who walk around with a dangerously false sense of confidence that is not based on any real fighting skill.

    Asking martial artists whether their fighting style is effective is never a reliable means of answering your questions. Most martial artists are convinced that their style is more effective than any others are. Indeed, few human activities have more claims that are grandiose and that are made on such weak evidence than those of the world of martial arts.

  5. Stay Optimistic: See the glass as half full, believe me, when I say, there will be enough negative talk that will pierce your ears everyday inside the institution. I have never seen so many highly paid professional individuals that absolutely hate their jobs and are all looking for another work location or career. This only leads to anger and resentment. Then the God Complex takes shape. This is where you feel superior to others for some reason. Doctors are often accused of having the GOD complex because they see themselves as Gods saving and sometimes-ending lives.

    A God complex is a psychological state of mind in which a person believes that they have supernatural powers or god-like abilities. The person generally believes they are above the rules of society and should be given special consideration. The vast majority of the law enforcement and corrections officers in this country perform their very difficult jobs with respect for their communities and in compliance with the law. Even so, there are incidents in which this is not the case.

    “I have an M.D. from Harvard, I am board certified in cardio-thoracic medicine and trauma surgery, I have been awarded citations from seven different medical boards in New England, and I am never, ever sick at sea. So I ask you; when someone goes into that chapel and they fall on their knees and they pray to God that their wife doesn’t miscarry or that their daughter doesn’t bleed to death or that their mother doesn’t suffer acute neural trauma from postoperative shock, who do you think they’re praying to? Now, go ahead and read your Bible, Dennis, and you go to your church, and, with any luck, you might win the annual raffle, but if you’re looking for God, he was in operating room number two on November 17, and he doesn’t like to be second guessed. You ask me if I have a God complex. Let me tell you something: I am God.”
    Alec Baldwin, MALICE (R) (1993)

Now I am not saying go get crazy on competitive training and martial arts preparation, but the point is that we as correctional officers need to keep positive attitudes especially when it comes to our survival.

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 in a martial arts class three times a week. Look at yourself now. Are you as ready now, as you were then? One thing you have to consider when working in a prison setting. You are getting older everyday yet the average age of the inmates are staying steady at a young average. Inmates come in and get out and new young aggressive inmates fill their open 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. Our abilities must reflect our authority to tame these aggressive predators without question.

Life is short, Break the rules, Forgive quickly, Kiss slowly, Love truly, Laugh uncontrollably, And never regret anything that made you smile. Every sixty seconds you spend angry, upset or mad, is a full minute of happiness you will never get back.

Corrections.com author, Tracy Barnhart, is a Marine combat veteran of Desert Storm / Desert Shield. In 2000, he joined the Ohio Department of Youth Services at the Marion Juvenile Corrections Facility, a maximum security male correctional facility housing more than 320 offenders. Barnhart works with 16 to 21-year-old, male offenders with violent criminal convictions and aggressive natures. He has established courses on verbal de-escalation, Criminal behavior analysis, Use of force, and ground fighting and take down techniques for law enforcement and Corrections.

Visit the Tracy Barnhart page

Other articles by Barnhart:


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