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Con Games: I Can vs. Should I
By Bryan Avila, TDCJ Correctional Training Instructor - Sergeant of Correctional Officers
Published: 09/16/2013

Shellgame Since the dawn of time, there have been two constants: Man and crime. For as long as man has been committing crime there have been those that have manipulated the system that is in place in order to get something that they are not entitled to and those that accept the responsibility for their actions. And for as long as they have been manipulating, there are those that have allowed themselves to be manipulated.

Like many of us in this field, I am acutely aware that there will be those staff members that had either the intention to bring contraband in when they were first hired or found themselves in a position where they chose to do it after their employment began. There are also those that for one reason or another started off with good intentions and fell victim to manipulation. This subject is very extensive and therefore I chose to narrow it down to one small area that we have total control over: I can vs. Should I.

Every agency has policies dealing with grooming and uniform/attire standards and just because we can do something does not mean that we should. We know that offenders will target a staff member, profile them and then test to see if the staff member can be manipulated in a way that is beneficial to the offender. So my question to you is this: Why do we constantly do things regarding attire and grooming that will bring the attention of the offender?

Think about this for a minute: We are not there to pick up a date. In case you didn’t notice, uniforms are unflattering by nature. You are there to do a job and the uniform is an article of utilitarian clothing that not only represents authority but also allows you to get down and dirty without worrying about your personal clothing (and if you’re thinking about the other “down and dirty” you’re a sick pervert).

Why get your hair all fixed up like a peacock to come to work? Do you not have gas masks or SCBA’s that you may need to put on? What were you planning on doing if you DID have to put it on? Take your hair off, set it off to the side and come back for it later so it doesn’t get messed up? With hair that is kept neat and close to the head (whether pinned or cut short) not only can you get the mask on without messing up your hair but on a daily basis will not allow the offender to easily pull your hair. Having hair that looks like you just stuck two pencil leads into an outlet and held them at the same time only attracts the attention of the offender.

What do offenders and bass have in common? Glitter, cutesy little designs and jewelry will always attract their attention…that’s why bass boats look the way they do. And you just became their bass boat. So tell me about your nails? Paid good money to get them done, right? Do they look good? In a majority of the cases, hell yes they do! But they look good outside of the facility. Inside they are only a magnet for offenders. You have no need for 2” nails (let alone 3”) inside the walls, and that is besides the fact that they are a safety issue as well.

Now talk to me about your uniform. Why did you not like your uniform and felt the need to put on your little brothers/sisters uniform on today? Give it back to them. I understand that you work for a government agency and that you don’t make a lot of money but we don’t need to know that the dime you have in your pocket was from 2007. We can read the date. We are afraid for you. Every time that you take a step we are afraid we are going to hear one of two possible rips: either the rip of your pant seam or you farting. We are thankful that the rip never comes however it comes at the cost of hearing the pants scream for them to be set free. Uniforms are not a fashion statement so stop trying to make them into one.

Let’s talk about shaving for a minute. Many agencies have a policy that requires males to be clean shaven. If that is the case, then why do you not do it? Oh but you have a skin condition that does not allow you to shave with a razor because you break out and therefore need to use clippers? That’s not a problem at all since you already provided the required documentation for it. I have to admit that I’m jealous of you because you only break out in the area where a goatee grows (sometimes a thin one, or the cutesy little line that runs from sideburn to jaw line to goatee). We are very glad however that you take the time and effort to shave everything else off with a razor.

When we start looking at earrings why in the world would you want to wear a pair that is oversized and screams “look at me!” Are a small pair of ball stud earrings not sufficient for you? What need did you have to wear the pair that says “kiss me” in the shape of lips? Or any other saying for that matter? Did you not think about how an offender is going to see it and bring up “how good they look”? Or did you think about it and that’s what you wanted?

Does any of this make any sense? In my mind it does. Offenders talk about it all the time. Checking you out and making comments behind your back to other offenders. What probably gets me the most is that when a supervisor brings it to the attention of some staff members, instead of taking it for what it is (keeping your ass out of trouble and making you less of a target for offenders and their manipulation), they take it as a personal attack, complain that the supervisor (or fellow staff member) is harassing them and then file a complaint just so that they can get their way. Leave the complaints for legitimate ones and not for YOUR violation of policy.

This here is not about bashing anyone in particular but about making everyone stop and think what the impression they are giving to those that wish to cause us harm. If you are willing to break the small rules because you think they are stupid or they don’t make you “look good” in their mind (as well as other’s) you are willing to break larger ones as well. You want to attract the attention of a fellow staff member? Good for you – do it outside. You want to attract the attention of an offender? We have more than enough offender uniforms in your size (we’ll keep one waiting for you).

Be smart about how you look. Just because you can do something does not mean that you should.

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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