|Correctional Officer’s Closing Thoughts|
|By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ|
Being a correctional officer is stressful all by itself. Making things more complicated than they already are makes it a tough job to do. Dealing with the negative impulses or impacts that surround them while on the job and giving them little peace of mind off the job. Thus they carry it with them 24 /7 without much relief or satisfaction resulting in early retirement, resignations or corruptive thinking. Corruption becomes a dirty word. It is everywhere you look whether you are inside of prison or outside. The politics related to these kind of corruptible behaviors trickles down from the top to the bottom and often results in working with assholes as supervisors or managers. It’s just the reality of the abusive environment but keeping it in the proper context is the most important decision you can make. It doesn’t have to be that way and you can change your own environment by not buying into the concept and staying on course to do your job.
Officers exposed to this negativity never feel comfortable and take up a defensive position that is often called paranoia. Every day is a challenge not to let the environment poison them. It doesn’t suit many hence the high turnover in this particular criminal justice field. It’s just a reality that prison work is not for everybody and some should think about getting out before it is too late and something bad happens to them. Those that can deal with negativity and stress will overcome these barriers and become good officers.
Learning the ropes at the Academy can be very frustrating. There are often two different messages told to you while learning the basics of corrections. There are instructors that tell you how to handle this job by the book and there are supervisors coming in to guest lecture and tell you to forget the book and do it another way. This mixed signal often created confusion and distorts the truth of how to really do your job as a correctional officer. The truth is when you graduate, the only skill you picked up at the Academy was to document and cover your ass [CYA] yourself as you will fear being criticized or ostracized for expressing or performing tasks contrary to expectations of supervisors and managers set on doing the job their way or the highway.
The moment you hit the line you find out that teamwork is just a word. The reality strikes you like a lock in a sock to the head and makes you realize that officers don’t stick together like it was preached at the Academy. Getting help is rare and being ridiculed is another way to crush your spirit as you focus on doing your job right but are hampered by those wanting you to do it their way. Some will say “get over it” and adjust your coping skills to get the job done.
Working with prisoners is a dangerous job and it must be recognized that this beat is one of the toughest in the criminal justice system. It would be better and safer if there were real team building concepts in place to ensure better staff safety and environmental concerns. Inmates would rather hurt themselves than strike out at a correctional officer but the same can’t be said of a fellow officer or supervisor taking care of business on a different level or motive.
Because of this conflict, it is hard not to be disheartened as morale often strikes you down when there is no one there to pick you up. Don’t take this journey alone and find support with others that share you plight and remain positive in a most negative world.
Over the next few months you will experience two things for certain. You will begin to see if you are fit to work in such an environment and you will be witness to troubled occurrences where you will see or sense fellow officers bringing in contraband for the prisoners in those cases where they have been compromised by their behaviors or ethics. Watching cell phones, tobacco, drugs and other things come in will frustrate you and alienate you with some of the officers. You will need to find someone that works on your level and shares ethical and comparable performance levels that you take pride in and excel each time you do your job. It’s a survival tool you must engage in order to refrain from quitting.
Showing up for work will become harder as each day passes. You will work with individuals that abuse sick leave and show up for work under the influence of alcohol or not show up at all. You will also see the other side of some bad supervisors as they look the other way for their friends and stay away from the line where they could contribute and help but rather sit in their office and surf the internet as they chat or find columns that resemble Facebook or Twitter and do everything but work their eight as required. The good thing is not all supervisors are bad people and will help if you ask them.
You won’t feel safe and you will feel nobody will listen to your concerns as time whittles away your sleep and robs you of the energy needed to do a good job. Fatigue and complacency are your two worst enemies. This is exponentially complicated by stress and anxiety that won’t leave you alone. It leads you to finding cures in your own way and often results in abuse of alcohol, prescription drugs or other stimulants or downers not designed to keep your head clear for good decision making. You must always watched your back and the back of others because deep down inside you know some of your coworkers were sleeping or playing on their cell phone or PlayStation smuggled in for personal entertainment. The good news is that these misfits written about here are the minority and often put on “Shy” status meaning they are no longer part of the team and with time, they get fired for doing a poor job or breaking the law.
You will find pleasant redemption in the fact that approximately ten percent are lousy officers and assholes on the job but many of the ninety per cent are good and helpful correctional officers that will take the time to support your efforts while on shift and make the job easier. You just have to learn to keep things in perspective and apply your own morality and character to the environment to make it work for you.
The less you worry about those things you can’t change, the better you do your job and focus on those things that matter and keep you and others safe. Learning how to adapt, improvise and overcome will strengthen your character and make you an excellent correctional officer that in time will help others or mentor those in need for the same support you experienced when you came on board. Be Safe~
Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has 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."
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