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Correctional Officers ~ Perception versus Reality
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 02/04/2013

Perception It was the Talmud that said “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are”

Working as a correctional officer and under much stress and anxiety may create a condition that is filled with impressions that may appear real but are quite the opposite and unreal in many cases. Dealing with the word “reality” has become a challenge in every sense of the word and what it brings to the mind, spirit or soul of any individual struggling with its side effects based on wanting to see things the way they are actually presented in their dimension rather that perceptions influenced by environmental conditions or biases.

What is reality and what does it bring for us. Is it the way you see it or is it the way you want to see it? Just because we want to see something different doesn’t make it so or any more real than it actually is. We have engaged in many conflicts or disagreements related to such inconsistencies in our lives that it has become a daily challenge to sort out anything that can be classified real.

First you must keep an open mind and an open heart at all times to see things as they are. You must control your own points of view as well as taking into account the viewpoints of others around you and maintain what is valuable according to your own morality and ethics. Do not compromise your values to seek the truth or the reality of something that happened and rationalize it the way you are most comfortable with and not others.

Remember that being realistic does not make your see the truth or reality in its entirety. You must first put the condition into context of the situation. The more you know about the situation the less you are going to draw the wrong conclusions. Once you admit to yourself that the truth is fluid and not a solid state of mind, you are on the right track. Being fluid in concept means that what you see is real only if you put it in the defined structures of your own ethics, morality and beliefs. It is true that it is sometimes difficult to answer certain questions about what you see and appears to be a reality but let me give you an example of how your internal structures impact your perception and thus your own reality.

When you are raised in a poor neighborhood infiltrated with gangs and your family is a part of this social structure you won’t see it the same way other people do that don’t live in your neighborhood as they see these gang members as the enemy and not family. Living among them allows you to understand their ways and their characters and makes perfectly good sense why they do what they do in order to survive or gangbang to be safe and cope with their social impurities according to societal standards but not necessarily your own.

There is no way another person, never exposed or having lives in a gang infested area, would understand these ways the gangs operate and deal with everyday life. This is putting things out of context if you don’t know the conditions or the environmental influences surrounding you on a daily basis. What is good or bad could differ from the other that see just the opposite based on lack of knowledge of the characters involved and see them all as bad. What made be reserved judgment for one may be an extreme prejudice for another unless put into context of the environment.

Second we allow our perceptions to be skewed by things we control in ideals and other conditions. This is based on certain things or facts you have experienced in your own life and how you dealt or responded when put under those conditions.

A good example is a death in the family. For those that have been through a tragic or unexpected death, they are mostly perceived to be tragic and horrible in content with unexplained reasons why such a death occurred. On the other hand if the death was expected due to a long illness or disease we handle it different and choose to do more positive things related to the death rather than the negative actions associated with an unexpected death especially one such a murder or violent accident.

Either way you are in control how you respond to these deaths but not in control of the event as it occurred. As an end result you shape your actions and beliefs on the part where you have the power to deal with it and create your own conditions to cope with the event. You have real choices to make when facing sequences and consequences that impact your own life. If the death was related to lung cancer and the person that died was a heavy smoker, your own beliefs may impair your grief level and determine it to be somewhat self-inflicted and cause you to either stop smoking or tell someone close to you to stop smoking. Cause and effect takes place when conditions are permitted to be shaped through your own reality of the event.

As correctional officer you may believe that human life is the most precious thing on Earth. However, when you introduce your own ideas and beliefs into to equation you begin to determine that even human life has stages that marginalize their value or worth on Earth. You may see your spouse, your kids or your immediate family as the most valuable asset in the world. You put them on top and treat them accordingly. Surely if something were to happen to them you would become concerned and worried taking every action or precaution to help them and make sure their suffering is minimized.

Now we move down this food chain we have created inside our minds based on our own morality and values and see other life forms more less than important than others. In fact, you may even believe that some human life form have no rights to live or exist on this Earth based on their own character flaws, deeds or crimes committed. Unintentionally but with all reality, we formulate a superior class versus a lower class of human life based on our own moral compass, environment and values. Therefore it is fair to say that what is a reality for one may not be a reality for another to the degrees felt either emotionally or physically. Remember that what you believe in is only as true as your own experiences.

The less life experiences you are exposed to the more rigid your perception is of the situation and the making your thinking more of a reality than those of others around you. This is also true on the level of knowledge you possess; the more you know the more varied your responses are to a situation. It is logical to believe that your power to choose how you perceive things makes them appear that way to you.

However, when you allow your cultural influences to compromise your own thoughts [beliefs] on the matter, you may drift away from your own reality and enter the world of those that work or live around you changing your perspective and the truth as you experience it as a correctional officer working inside a potentially volatile penitentiary.

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. Car’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:



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