|By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ|
The newspapers and gossip tabloids call you guards and the public calls you uneducated brutes and knuckles dragging beasts. Ignoring the name calling and slanderous remarks you weather through it all as you stand tall on your wall. You know what is truth and what is false and you can deal with the difference effectively as you are a correctional officer hired to do an ugly distasteful job.
Perhaps the most misunderstood of any profession, only your friends and your immediate family knows what you do as a prison employee each day while on duty and how much you sacrifice each day you walk through those iron gates of hell. Your peers call you brother or sister and “have your six” or back every day or every night of the week including holidays.
Your administration abuses you either coincidental or on purpose and tells you lies to motivate your inner spirit to keep fighting the fight as the odds are better than 200 to 1 inside any large jail or prison. Offering you no solutions to make the job better you adapt and improvise to get the job done with minimal help and respect from the outside world.
Nobody realizes that no matter how much harassment and how much negativity you endure when you walk the toughest beat around because you have pride and love what you do without whining about to those who don’t understand or care.
Guards or screws, flunkies or bottom feeders of the criminal justice system, you have chosen a career in the most undervalued and least desired position in the branch of judicial systems throughout the world. To them you are “out of mind and out of sight” and often wrongfully accused of being out of your mind.
The environment you work in is silent and often not spoken of until that plume of smoke is seen on the horizon or a call for arms brings your local law enforcement and medical team to your front gate. What has been often described as a place of desecration has often been turned into a tomb for someone friend or foe. Only when the helicopters hover over your self-controlled domain does the news release express your horror and frightful experiences inside the walls of this evil man made purgatory called hell.
Corrections can be the armpit of the world or it can be heaven designed only for the tough and brave that possess the most desirable qualities as peacekeepers among the rioters yet assigned to work in a most undesirable workplace filled with chaos, adversity and gloom. The public with its ignorant eye expects you to be thoughtful, considered persons and lifts not a finger to make it better for all.
They don’t understand the reality you face every day of your duty inside these hell holes. They want you to implement solutions and calculate the daily events of the shift with reasonable and common sense approaches yet fail to give you the things an officer desires for doing the job. The public and the media often fail to address your efforts to maintain order or your ability to gain compliance from persons convicted of blatantly violating society’s rules.
They refuse to admit you are deserving of pride, dignity, respect and appreciation for doing what is considered to be an unpleasant job to say the least and offer small packages of compensation for the numerous dangerous exposures you face every day.
You are a correctional officer and the job is a love or hate situation. Some days you are mellow and satisfied with the routine while other days you find yourself in the midst of a living hell hole with no ending to the madness around you. Hours alone can kill you for your schedule is plainly set on whether the job is done or unfinished requiring long hours and severe fatigue to restore order that was broken.
Working with incorrigibles that have no honor and have no decency to respect the rights of others and the considerations of rule of law. You can fool yourself into believing that coping and functionality is adaptive and anything thrown at you is manageable and able to handle. It is a survival technique that helped you get this far you say. You know it’s dangerous yet you risk your life for others as a first responder to homicides, suicides, serious assaults and infectious diseases.
It’s not so much about the money but any increase in wages or the availability of overtime is appreciated to pay the bills. You do it for the benefits but even those have changed since you hired on and the cost of living is higher than ever pressuring you to work even harder and longer. Corrections won’t make your rich but it’s another way of putting food on the table.
So why corrections and why put up with all the malady and mayhem that surrounds you. What makes you tick and what makes you do a job that nobody else doesn’t’ understands or don’t want to know because as long as the night is silent and the siren wail from afar, the public will sleep soundly while you stand the wall.
It must be self-satisfaction of knowing you have the ability to endure and control the most negative aspect of law and order. It must be because you love a challenge and are not easily deterred into giving up or losing the fight. It must be because you love being a correctional officer. It must be because you know how to handle stressful situation and conflict.
You must do it because you have learned you have been trained to handle anything that is put in your face or personal space effectively one way or another. I guess you do it because you want to do it and find it is an honorable and admirable occupation.
Most of all I know you do it because you are a extraordinary person who can handle the exceptional challenges life has given you and others like you that are put in front of you as you walk out the door and with a smile on your face and prepare to enter the den of gladiators. You do it because you know that the bottom line tells you there is a job that needs to be done and somebody has to do it.
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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