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Career Advice: Been There - Done That
By Bryan Avila, TDCJ Correctional Training Instructor - Sergeant of Correctional Officers
Published: 08/19/2013

Finish line Dear Knucklehead,

I figured that I’d drop you a quick note and let you know what you are going to expect once you start working in corrections. Remember when you said that you would never work inside a prison? Well guess what happened? Never say never. I can tell you that you are in for one wild ride. Since I have this once in a lifetime opportunity, I wanted to let you know what you are up against and try to help you out.

First off, get out head out of your ass. You don’t know everything and don’t pretend that you do. There are many people that you will work with that have so much to offer. Be forewarned, you will also come across some people that you think that have nothing to offer you but in reality they do… mostly what not to do. Yes, you will learn that as well. There are going to be some supervisors that you work for that you are going to hate or at least you think you hate. Don’t go blaming them when they hold you accountable for what you did. They have a job to do as well. You may not like it but as the saying goes, “suck it up, buttercup.” This leads me to my next tip for you: admit when you make a mistake. I can tell you that if you rat yourself out, the punishment is going to be nowhere near as bad as if you try to cover it up and lie about it. Don’t wait for them to come to you.

Now we both know that you are a perfectionist. Type A personality. Everything needs to be just right. Well guess what? You are going to make some mistakes and in some cases BIG ones. That’s ok. Mistakes is how you will learn how to do your job (both the what to do and how to do it). No one will be able to teach you everything you need to know. There will be some trial and error on your part. Everyone goes through it. It’s not the fact that you made a mistake but what did you do with the mistake that counts. As long as you don’t keep making the same mistakes again, you are moving in the right direction. You will have a supervisor pull you into the office and give you an ass chewing like you have never received before. Take it and move on.

Ask questions when you don’t understand something or you want to learn something new. Always strive to learn something new. Be careful on how you word your questions. Some people will believe that you are questioning their authority simply by the way you asked it (it will get you in trouble later). Also be careful on how you answer questions. Even though you like the figure of speech “I know” when someone asks you something, THINK about how they perceive it. It doesn’t matter what you meant, only their perception. Try something like “I understand” and make sure you leave your ego out of it. Follow through with what you have to do. You know that you have a hard time concentrating on things and always prioritizing what you have to do. This is good on your part but also bad. Sometimes things fall through the cracks and you forget about them. Do yourself a favor and carry around a little notepad and write down what you have to get done. Leave yourself little notes and check them throughout the day so that you can follow through.

Not everything is going to be a rose garden. You are going to go through some very rough times. You are going to see some things that will make you lose sleep and some things that will completely blow your mind (all I’ll tell you on this is tobacco, marijuana, pills, 20oz bottle and visitation – you’ll figure it out and crap yourself when you see it). You are going to have some great times with staff. You will make each other laugh and pull each other through some rough times. There will be some that you will want to strangle but you need to get over it.

Since I don’t have a lot of time left, let me leave you with what is probably the most important piece of advice I can give you: Family. Do not neglect them. Do not take what you have for granted. Do not take work home, and yes it will be VERY hard not to do that. One day you will go to work and when you get home the kids have grown up and you have no idea where time went. Make sure you stay involved in their lives. You are not starting a new job by yourself, they are starting it with you. Do not take the little things for granted for they are the ones that matter the most.

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.

Other articles by Avila:


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