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Correctional Officers – EGO and Curveballs
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 05/19/2014


A serious reflection of your life and career is a powerful tool for many who achieved success in the long run. Looking back at one of my worst setback in my career, I would have to be honest and glean the fact that I let my ego get in the way of making a good decision versus a bad one at least more than once. Although I didn’t destroy my dream in a whole, I might have delayed the vision of my journey with some long term consequences that were hard to overcome once I was back on track.

Feeling fortunate for second chances I learned how to divide my time between work and my personal life. This delicate balance was necessary in order for my focus on my career to be sharp and determined on the reality that you are often faced with difficult decisions and making poor choices is associated with negative penalties. Albert Einstein wrapped it up when he said “More the knowledge, Lesser the Ego, Lesser the Knowledge, More the Ego.”

Reading those words makes one realize just how important knowledge is and what you need to do in order to attain a higher skill set and experience level if you focus on your knowledge without letting your ego getting in the way. In corrections you are often faced with conflict and disagreements. How you handle them will determine your safety and the safety of others.

Everybody is thrown a curve-ball now and then in life or career. In corrections, there are strict parameters placed on your demeanor and your actions that are designed to keep you from blowing up and getting angry for that would certainly impact your entire career if severe enough to notice or documented in your file. In other others, when faced with adversity and challenges, it is important to control your brain as well as your mouth.

I once lost self-control as a new correctional officer when an inmate locked up in administrative segregation threw back hot coffee as we passed the trays and drinks to feed them all in the very short time frame allowed. Apparently, I was passing out the food too slow for him and he decided I needed motivation to feed them faster so he threw the hot coffee as a means to get me moving faster.

Contrary to his wishes, I stopped feeding the rest of the pod and went down the stairs to wipe off the hot coffee from my face and uniform. There was no way to foresee what I would do next as it just triggered me to do it without thinking. I took a pitcher of hot coffee and trotted up the stairs and when I arrived at the same cell of the inmate that threw the coffee and opened the food port tray, stepped back about two feet, called him over to the open slot and threw the coffee when he showed his face in the opening.

Although tempted to throw the hot coffee in his face, I caught myself and closed the food port and regained control as I turned back down the stairway to finish wiping myself off and getting another shirt.

Needless to say, I was being observed by my lieutenant who was upstairs in the control center and watching me the whole time. Losing track of where I was and what I was doing was my first mistake. The second mistake was to let my ego get in the way of doing my job. Shortly after, my supervisor quizzed me on my behavior and warned me that such misconduct would result in disciplinary action and jeopardize my job or career growth. To make matters worse, I took his criticism with less than an enthusiastic attitude and walked out of the office.

My supervisor followed me to the locker room where I kept an extra uniform shirt. Being thrown on in maximum custody is nothing unusual and preparation for such acts of malicious conduct should have been suspected or anticipated hence the extra shirt in the locker.

Highly agitated and fumbling with my combination lock, the lieutenant calmly stepped up to my face and told me I was throwing away everything I had worked for in less than five minutes by losing my temper and struggling with my self-control. His final words of advice to me was “if you want to throw away your job or possibly your entire career, just do this again and I can make it happen.” Humiliated and angry, my impulsive rebellion was instinctive to shout back at him but I knew I was out of order at the same time.

Without realizing it, I had surrendered my entire job and career to this lieutenant who could make me or break me on how this report was written. Ironically, I was depending on his knowledge how to handle this matter and his wisdom to make it come out so that I still had a job and I would pass my probationary period successfully.

Realizing his words were completely true as without his approval I had no future in corrections, I stood silently and nodded my head in agreement with whatever he said. In my mind, I wasn’t walking away from this job like this. I was not going to let an inmate cause me to lose my job just because I instinctively reacted to anger with anger and let it get away from me.

It was so much unlike me to do so and the supervisor had made me realize that after talking to me. To many people this may sound like a cop out or a retreat from the inmate’s actions. The lucky part for me was the fact I had a good supervisor that cared enough about me to make me realize I was wrong.

In corrections at one time or another things turned out in an unexpected way beyond our control. The biggest obstacle is to block you ego. My blowup could be called a clash of egos, mine against the inmate’s. The outcome was if I allowed mine to get flattened I knew in an instant I lost a prestigious amount of credibility and would wound up working somewhere else because I lacked self-control and let my ego speak for my actions.

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."

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