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Working with People (prisoners) you don’t like!
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 12/26/2011

Jail cells Spending my last 25 years inside a prison I have often been asked how do you cope with “these people” and prisoners without getting caught up in their games and manipulation schemes? What does it take to work in such an environment and what advice do you give somebody else who is thinking about becoming a correctional officer or a detention officer in a jail or prison? The answer is not easy, if fact it is very tough to work with difficult people such as prisoners. It comes down to your individual attitude and how you deal with the environment that makes it either manageable or problematic. The basic question they are asking is “how do you get along with people you don’t like?” given the fact that a jail or prison is already such a negative environment that breeds negativity; you must understand more about yourself than the environment first. How you approach this attitude adjustment is to first put your ego in check. Once you remove the culturally and political barriers of your ego, you can advance to the second step, communicate with difficult people.

Communication must be done at a mutual respect level and even if the level is disrespectful, you can’t allow yourself to be drawn to a lower level in order to gain better communication but you can use culturally accepted practices to clear the air and reset the tone of the conversation. However, it is important that you don’t let the negative cultural influences dictate to you the manner or words chosen to achieve this goal to communicate. Remember that in order to communicate effectively, one must listen effectively to respond accordingly. Remove any personal stigmas, biases or prejudices to open up the communication efforts.

There are two sensitivities to every encounter. The first perception is the one of the speaker. If this is the officer, the perception may be of a tough and unreasonable person. On the other hand, if this is the prisoner, the perception may be he or she is manipulative and probably lying to you. The second awareness that has taken place is the perception of the listener. There will be conscious questions asked if this person is sincere, truthful or reasonable enough to deal with the matter at hand. You must learn how to interchange these perceptions to find a reasonable resolution to the problem. This is the process called enlightenment where the two people (or more) understand the approach and accept the fact that resolution is in fact possible. Otherwise it will be a waste of time to continue such an attempt to communicate with each other. Therefore a reference may be in order to another person who may have a better understanding of the dynamics involved for resolution to the problem. During this process or exchanging words and communication, avoid personal approaches or opinions and rely on your professionalism and training to communicate truthfully and practically according to your ability to resolve and authority invested in your position to accomplish resolution. Do not work outside the realm of your ability to either support or deliver the solution.

Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that if you remove your environmental negativity, allow the barriers you know exist to come down for the conversation and remove your ego it is most likely your attitude will enlighten the prisoner to the point that the exchange could in fact be a civil and meaningful conversation that could in fact resolve an issue that would be most difficult to resolved or at the very least, addressed and referred to a higher power or authority within the prison setting.

Editor’s note: Carl ToersBijns (retired), worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

Other articles by ToersBijns:



Comments:

  1. jamestown0509 on 03/20/2012:

    Good points. I do think from a practical standpoint that communication in a jail or prison between the officer and inmate is something that has to be learned through effective courses such as IPC (interpersonal communication) or Verbal Judo. These courses give officers the background and insight into effective communication with inmates. Listening is the first communication skill that correction officers must adapt to on the job. If you are not listening to the inmate you are talking and usually officers who do that are shouting and exerting their authority over the inmate and "laying down the law." Inmates are very perceptive. They have an uncanny knack to know when an officer is not telling the truth, ignoring them or listening to them. Inmates have 24 hours a day to think up new things to screw with the officers and they will hound you day and night if necessary to make a point or get what they want. Officers need to control their tempers even when inmates swear at them and try to get common ground on what the issues are. By listening to an inmate and repeating what they said as in "what I think you meant to say was this" shows the inmate you really are listening to them and not ignoring them. Of course its not wise to promise inmates the moon when you know well that you have no authority to do so.


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