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What Are Your Core Values
By Bryan Avila, TDCJ Correctional Training Instructor - Sergeant of Correctional Officers
Published: 10/21/2013

Corevalues “This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night, the day. Thou canst not then be false to any man.” (Hamlet, Act 1 scene 3)

This passage was instilled in me over 20 years ago while in college and to this day I remember it like it was yesterday. Over the years these words have reminded me of a portion of my life that continues to drive who I am. At the same time that this phrase was instilled in me, I also had instilled the cardinal virtues of an individual: Courage, Honesty, Temperance and Wisdom. I have strived to live by them every day.

Earlier this year the Texas Department of Criminal Justice came out with their Core Values: Integrity, Courage, Perseverance and Commitment. As I started reading through these, I noticed that the “terms” , although worded slightly different, were the same as those that I had been living with for years. On most of these, I will only touch on since they are pretty straight forward. The one that I will elaborate on is courage.

Integrity is pretty self-evident. Everything that we do we must do with integrity, openness and honesty. It is the staple of who we are as a correctional professional. Our word is our bond and we must always stay true to our word, both written and spoken.

Every day we fight our own battles and our own demons. We continue to go back and do our job not matter what and when we don’t succeed at first, we try and try again. We push ourselves beyond the limits of what we think we can do. We never give up. This is perseverance. Duty before self. Our needs will always take a back seat to our professional obligations. We follow the policies and procedures that are laid out before us and we are proud of what we do. This is commitment.

Courage is, in my humble opinion, probably the hardest one that we face. I’m not referring to the physical courage that it takes to do the job that we do. Running towards a fight while others are running away from it is something that we do on a daily basis. Walking those cellblocks/housing areas filled with violent felons with nothing more than our mouth and brains is something that we do without giving it a second thought. But courage is not just physical courage. It also encompasses moral courage.

The courage to do what is right when others think that we are wrong for doing it. The courage to make decisions that may be unpopular even though they are the right ones to make. The courage to go against the grain when needed and find new and innovative ways of doing things while staying within policy. The courage to navigate the “social” stigma that we may face because of the decisions that we make. The courage to not fall into the “everybody does it” trap that unfortunately some staff fall into. The courage to report incidents that, based on loyalty to fellow brothers and sisters, we may not want to report because we know what the ramifications are. The courage to stand our ground based on what we know is right while taking into consideration, and accepting, the consequences for our actions.

I can tell you from personal experience that no matter where you work, whether the public sector or the private one, there will always be some things that we may not personally agree with yet we have to do. This is called professionalism. One the topic of these Core Values, this is something that has been embraced and that staff can be proud of. The top-down approach that the agency has taken on this is something to be admired. It has been made very clear to us that this is not something that will be going away…and it shouldn’t. It was very evident to us as instructors, and made perfectly clear, how important this topic is. It is not a flavor of the month that will disappear in the near future. And if you are wondering if they are really serious of this top-down approach on the Core Values, picture this: Only Wardens and above will teach this class to In-service… not us Sergeants, Lieutenants, Captains or Majors.

No, I’m not kissing ass with this. I, for one, am very proud to see the direction that we are going in and the changes that we have made and will continue to make.

Once upon a time I read a great book, "Every Man a Tiger" which was written by Gen. Chuck Horner (USAF Ret.) along with Tom Clancy. One passage in it struck a chord in me that I will never forget (I'll paraphrase here): The true virtue of an individual is the ability to make decisions when everyone else is unwilling to make one. The true testament of an individual is the ability to make a decision that you know is right even when everyone else thinks that you are wrong.

Editor's note: Corrections.com author Bryan Avila started working as a Police Officer in 1994 while attending Norwich University in Northfield, VT. In 1999 he began working for the Vermont Dept of Corrections while still working as a Part-Time Police Officer. In 2007 he left public service until 2009 when he began working for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He is currently a Correctional Training Instructor- Sergeant of Correctional Officers, at the TDCJ Region I Training Academy located in Huntsville, TX.

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