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Correctional Officers – Knowing when to walk away from the job you so love
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 01/13/2014

Stairstofuture2009mar09 Loving a job makes it so much more difficult to walk away from it. This love for what you have chosen to do often does not obey your own expectations but rather it often only obeys your best intentions done within our span of control. Finding a job such as being a correctional officer has blessed you with some amazing moments in your life over the years and is deserving of giving it every benefit of the doubt before walking away from it. It is likely you stuck with it because it gave you what you wanted and saw a bright future in keeping it.

Ever since accepting this awesome challenge to work with some of the best of the best and supervising some of the worst of the worst it has been a constant struggle to sit down and figure out what part of you is responsible for feeling like you lost your interest and motivation for not wanting to do this job any longer. It certainly wasn’t your partners or the professional relationships within these walls that made you not want to want walk this tough beat anymore. The people are great and the challenges are never ending but there is something missing and you don’t know how to change it except to walk away. Perhaps it was the time itself that drove you away and settling down into something else.

Loving something is a blessing, this we know but we often forget the heartaches that come along for the ride. Some days this job just acts like a big bully trying to kick my feet out from under you and making you fall. Being in love with something such as this career can be toxic and it can eat you alive if you don’t pay attention to your wellness and state of mind. This is a slippery slope accompanied with many blurred lines that offer you little in protective barriers from emotional or physical harm or even death as the environment itself is also harsh and toxic to say the least.

Loving this job requires total a total awareness as it can blindside you at any moment. One day you may be happy and the next day you are miserable. Your heart is tortured so many times while your mind seeks the answers around you. Your emotions are stretched between personal and professional responsibilities at home or at work and there is no doubt that your heart will be bruised or broken many times along the way.

Your vulnerability is high as you look for trust and seek high hopes of good expectations on those days you struggle to make ends meet so that you can go home safe and without harm as the gladiators around you seek your weaknesses and often take the opportunity to harm you or take you hostage so that they can demand better things for themselves rather than those around them.

Your love for your job is elastic as it stretches you beyond the parameters you can humanly attain or in most cases, maintain. It stretches and retracts at different moments as it changes shapes and remains very uncertain most of the time while you are inside the high fences doing what others fear to do.

Some days you become disillusioned and other days you know exactly where you stand but the constant stress takes toll of your heart and passions making you realize that perhaps it is time to walk away and do something else.

Fortunately, not all feel the same and are loyal and committed to carry on the burden for those that have fallen or retired and keep the honor intact and the chain unbroken. They are elastic as well but firm enough to bounce back for another day to tackle their burdens and put up with society’s misfits and villains in ways that is hard to imagine unless you carried this cross yourself.

Those that are resilient and courageous know the job is like a bad relationship that you just can’t walk away from. They know that all they can do is their best and not break under pressure. Some days you have knots inside your stomach and other days you feel like you are on top of the world. It is just that kind of environment and you do the best you can to live the moment remembering to never relax too early or too much as these captives can rock your world at any moment in time to make it crazy and spin out of control.

Good officers know that besides loyalty and commitment you need to work hard and take responsibilities. Adapting and overcoming obstacles are a daily challenge and you have learned to do it well. You know your world is unbalanced and to keep it in your favor you assert command and control on those things you are charged to do or keep in order. Being vigilant, open minded and ready are the differences between having a good day or a bad one.

For some it’s the last time and for others it’s just another test. They feel the pain but they tread where no others dare to walk alone but in all actuality you never walk alone. There are many others that share your pain and sorrow as well as your ups and downs - tested daily just like you. They also came through these moments with successes and opportunities to benefit from lessons learned and opportunities abound that will stay with you forever. The reality faces you often as you keep you mind out of the future and focus on the moment while learning from the past. You know when and how to act to maintain control and a secure environment.

Unlike those that cannot or will not continue this journey any longer [excluding retirees] you don’t crumble and fold under pressure and continue to give it your best. You have taken the commitment to take the risks and dive in there with everything you have. When you sense conflict or opposition you put your nose to the grindstone and crush it into dust. Your actions speak louder than words and when talking has failed and words no longer have meaning you know how to take care of business and know when to retract when the threat is over.

Remember that some things don’t work for everybody and corrections is an occupation for those that can endure the mood of the asylum as it is and feel that they are so right for this job. For some it’s okay to walk away from something that hurts you but for others it’s the trigger that makes you stronger and more resilient than others.

Life inside the penitentiary isn’t easy and certainly not for everyone but it is a complex challenge for those that fell in love with the job that nobody in the criminal justice system really wants. You don’t whine or find the justification to say “I quit.” This job is a continuous wave of experiences that either builds you up or tears you down. Only your heart can tell you what is the right thing for you or whether it is time to walk away from this job after being abnormally abused and bruised.

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. Carl’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:


  1. OfficerNew on 02/15/2014:

    Thank you for sharing your insights. I appreciate your pragmatic musings very much.

  2. Wardenwise on 01/16/2014:

    Its a hard row to ho, Warden Alabama St.Clair Prison, Loved my job, they threw me away, Maybe they did me a favor. I was dedicated and loved the brothers and sisters in blue, I miss them so much, I miss the comrade , the highs, the lows, the element of danger. Twenty eight years and 3 out now, I still miss being a Warden a Blue Cowboy. I still don't understand and no one told me what I did wrong !

  3. DarkGable21 on 01/13/2014:

    This may be one of the best articles I read in a long time. Working in prisons is quite the journey. You hit a lot of valid points and since I am hitting 25 years in the systems I have had great times and bad times in this system. I feel that naturally it becomes a place of complacency and you as a individual have to motivate yourself to be excellent. I found it to be hard to make others follow in your vision but have been pleased to see some of my friend really reach for the stars and capture one in their careers. Corrections to promote fair and balance opportunities for advancement and promote leaders. We tend to promote friends not the best candidate and this is what pushes me away from a job I love. I hope the Secretary of Correction in Pennsylvania views this because they don't allow enough of us to be great because of connections versus true talent but I am grateful for the opportunity.

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