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Correctional Officers and Paranoia
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 08/11/2014

Paranoid Once upon a time there was this correctional officer that worked inside one of the worst prisons in the country. Certainly listed in the top ten at the time this prison was filled with horror stories how inmates there were murdered, mutilated and burned to death and that staff who worked there suffered many atrocities at the hands of these thugs that roamed the huge corridors when the riot occurred a few years ago.

Needless to say that correctional officer was me and as a rookie I was very paranoid about the job I took in Santa Fe New Mexico back in the early eighties and right after a riot. A human trait often seen inside prison, people huddle up in masses or small bands or groups for safety and security. Correctional officers try to do the same but rarely enjoy such a moment of being in a group or mass number enough to offset the huge number of inmates that surround them. This creates a feeling that one is vulnerable to attack and causes anxiety.

We learn how to defend ourselves against predatory attacks and psychological mind games but even as we secure a safety zone around us, we still worry about the unknown or unexpected what could happen to us. That feeling is called paranoia. Our minds are hard wired for safety. It is natural for us to be on guard against an act of hostility or misconduct that put us in harm’s way. We expect the unexpected to happen while on duty and nothing distracts from the fact that it certainly could materialize.

One might ask “what’s wrong with that?” An honest answer is that paranoia helps us prevent compromising our organizational and personal security. It is a tool of the trade unofficially kept close to prevent an attack or breach of security. It keeps us alert and prevents compromising things that could contribute to a failure of some kind. Paranoia can be a friend when it is used in a positive and productive way to test your own ability within the environment challenged and makes you better at how you deal with those tests.

Paranoia is like having a good firewall on your computer. It warns you of potential virus infections before they occur. Your mind is automated to test the environment in various ways to ensure an invincible defense is available to avoid injury or harm to your system. It prevents compromising you job or duty and keeps you safe and alert at all times. It can prevent external threats as well as internal threats. External threats are different for internal dangers impact your trust and confidence levels in yourself. Secondly, external threats may be intentional and give you warnings however internal threats can cause you to make an error in judgment that can be fatal to say the least.

One thing we have learned over time is the threat of being compromised is real and exists wherever you work. You must accept this fact and allow your paranoia to work in your favor to prevent this concession. Readiness is preparedness and gives you the ability to minimize damage. Act and perform like you were trained and be constantly on alert for suspicious behaviors.

Stick to your principles and only give inmates the privileges and things they are allowed. Perform with mixed up routines and unpredictable behaviors and rotate tasks out of cycle that makes you unanticipated to the inmates. Secure those things they aren’t supposed to have access to and protect your integrity and confidentiality your job gives you.

Build your gestures with resilience in many different ways so you don’t have a standard model they can read. Don’t rely on one single solution to protect and make your risk assessments complete to address all kinds of threats. Accept the fact that some of the time you spent inside a prison will expose you to manipulation and attempts to be compromised. By being a persistent person you can minimize threats while emerging stronger.

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:


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