|Correctional Officer – the Human Beast|
|By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ|
As correctional officers we are classified as homo-sapiens and although part of the animal food chain we are by far the wisest and most intellectual being there is – so it has been said. However, as humans we are not the fastest or strongest animal on this earth. There are many others that outmatch us as there are commonalities but yet lesser senses to deal with those things around you. Hence there is a metaphoric shapeshift that occurs when you don on the uniform and badge of the correctional officer and those senses are enhanced tenfold to allow you survival skills and management skills that will carry you through your tour of duty without much difficulties most of the time.
Senses that enhance your ability to see, feel, hear, smell or taste things at a higher level and determine toxic from non-toxic elements to keep you safe and secure within your workplace. Rising to the occasion called up while on duty or off duty activates beastly attributes that makes us special. Sharing these attributes gives us an edge and leverage in a well needed sense as we oppose those that are predatory in nature and have demonstrated a propensity to harm and kill others.
First let’s explore the senses and put it in perspective – birds can see better than us and dogs smell better than humans – Sharks can feel magnetic fields and turtles can sense electricity – bees see ultraviolet radiation and elephants can sense body deficiencies in their bodies much like we feel being thirsty. The tortoise can outlive us by hundreds of years and parrots eat only those things that are not poisonous to them. So what makes a correctional officer a beastly animal and what attributes do they have to keep themselves and others safe?
Culture - Correctional officers can shapeshift and adapt and adjust to different culture norms. They have a keen ability to sense things that are right and wrong. They are exposed to all types of behaviors and manage different humanities, religions, attitudes and behaviors, and other customs and practices world-wide.
Emotion - The beast in officers has to deal with emotions constantly. They are susceptible to secondary stress factors and trauma by the things they see, handle and work on while on duty inside the penitentiaries or jails. Although a beast by definition, they are able to control and maintain calmness and manage their anger and other self-destructive emotions while doing their jobs making them extra-ordinary at their jobs. This provides stability and control at all times during very volatile and dangerous situations.
Communication - Communicating with predators is often difficult and trying to diffuse tense or hostile situations is a very complex skill that prison workers exposed to daily. Language is a most important element of effective interpersonal communication skills and most officers demonstrate a high proficiency to communicate their prisoners’ needs, actions and wants. In fact officers have developed their own languages [codes] to cope with others and in time have evolved using all types of languages not just verbal but body language and hand signals as well.
Humor - Wicked or twisted sense of humor has often been the key to coping with stressful situations that have spiraled out of control quickly and violently. Some humor is for amusement and other types are often used to reduce the strain or tension at those critical moments in a correctional officer’s life where they are dealing with a life or death situation. It has often been an important element building block of opening critical communications during a hostage situation or similar critical incidents.
Tools - Correctional officers have boldly demonstrated the abilities to use various tools and equipment that includes lethal and non-lethal devices that are used to control and subdue predatory and violent behaviors. They have been trained to be refined, secure and confident in such handling of these tools and have successfully passed any proficiency test to use such devices. Their intelligence ranges from computers to picks and shovels but their basic staple of the radio, mace, and handcuffs reveal they are indeed superior in the ability to handle any situation faced with during their tour of duty. No guns, just guts with no fear of fear itself.
Memory - Exposing a secret of the beast is the fact that there are individuals that rely on infallible memory to do the job, recognize hazardous and routine situations and mentally capture their sensory information at a particular time and place and store it for future use if needed. This ability to maintain a memory for a prolonged period of time thus makes them the ultimate human being to remember things. Inept thinking is rare as the courage to perform motivates this beast to step up and demonstrate heroic and stoic behaviors.
Self-awareness - Self-Awareness is a definite boosted attribute or human sensory element that is very important when working in a most volatile and unpredictable environment. The ability to recognize others for what they really are gives them insight on potential problems and solutions used to correct or demonstrate an ability to recognize, diagnose or identify hostile or non-hostile situations quickly. Awareness is vigilance and the main tool of the correctional officer is to see and observe anything and everything within their span of control.
Intelligence - Homo-sapiens are the wise ones. They are gifted with the ability to think and reason to a great advantage and strategic benefit. The different kinds of intelligence allow them to use the brain in many different ways. It can also benefit the officer’s ability to recognize causal reasoning and mentally deduct how to deal with a new or complicated problem effectively.
Building - Correctional officers excel in the art of Team Building. They can farm an idea, cultivate it and cause it to grow and ignite a team spirit that motivates and energizes others to perform at a higher and more effective level. This team building concept can be simple numbers of two all the way to a platoon or shift that acts as one and covers each other’s “six” at all times giving them maximum protection and strategically designed advantages.
Abstract & Logical thinking - Last but not least this human beast has the ability to perform abstract and logical thinking which is often taken for granted. Just so we are clear, abstract thinking is not random and incoherent thoughts. It is a deliberate process that is most complex to describe. Logical thinking is the cornerstone of working in a safe and secure environment. Not only does this process give us the ability to question or recognize the assertions, ideas and actions of others, it also gives us the ability to question our own assertions and actions so we can compare them to our own legal and moral codes of conduct and standards.
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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