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Drafting Tables and Blueprints: Part I
By Bernita Carmichael, Managing Director at SAFEPAC
Published: 09/01/2014

Freshidea In life everything has a formula or some sort of foundation to reference something. Just like learning how to tie your shoes, write an essay, train a pet, and master a game. Builders can't build without a foundation and those seeking to advance in their career may not get there without the proper building blocks. Now it’s given people get to places occasionally by who they know, some have falsified resumes, and others have earned their keep. Guess what else? A portion of them don't carry the spirit with the title, others might have a degree but don’t know how to execute what they learned, and another portion of them are actually needed because they have been identified as subject matter experts for a critical need. In corrections, public safety, and workplaces everywhere I have observed that many employees are not self-motivators, people fear advancement, complacency is by choice, opportunities aren’t always afforded to all or equal, being institutionalized is as real as being oppressed, internal mentors are few, clashes between generations, diplomacy isn't taught, politics isn't passed down, and many don't have a network to call on. In efforts to make this read not too lengthy I'll draw 3 of my observations and provide input; in your spare time pick a few that resonate with you.

Many front line Operations staff (Officers) fear advancement. How do I know? Well in my Drake voice as my generation would say, "I started from the bottom; now I'm here". I recall "senior" Sergeants going on and on about how they're not trading in their "union security" or overtime to be a Lieutenant, Captain, Chief, or Major. It appears you just may be content with your formula but it appears you're also not up for the challenge. In reality, if you're doing a good job you don't have to worry about your "Union Security" and as far as overtime you're actually working harder not smarter. The additional hours you spend to work another shift you're missing networking opportunities for career advancement, a continuing education class, family time, and overall the pleasures of escaping your work grind. Now you may say I have plenty of leave but then you become addicted or codependent on the extra money coming in because you then centered your life style on it. For instance, a purchase of the latest luxury vehicle, luxury apartment, new home, brand clothes for image, and you see where I am going.

Supervisors may stay late, may be on call, or come in early here and there but don’t be fooled. For the private sector corrections many of those managers receive bonuses. As long as managers are being honest and doing their job typically they don't have to worry. The same applies to you but guess what you're also paying union dues annually at $800 or more a year (Wowzers). Now let's count that up with how many times you actually use their services or how many times you've overpaid waiting for an agreement on an increase. They do feed you good and throw a holiday party but I would want more bang for my bucks! Although Supervisors may agree with you at the time of sharing that you make more than them; they probably don't want to shoot your balloon out of the sky, lose your support by sharing otherwise, or the discussion is totally irrelevant to their career path.

As you fear your advancement; it's unintentionally and intentionally passed down to new hires. In return it's just as deadly as a sink or swim theory. Either they'll think outside the box or find themselves 20 years later trapped applying “the fast money formula". At the start and end of the day it's understood you have to do what's best for you but let's be a bit more mindful of our impressionable new recruits. Other reasons advancement is feared; high turnover rate of managers terminated for unjust causes, not lifestyle friendly for single parents, salary just might not be desired for the amount of work, and continuing education isn't afforded. Some examples of unjust causes for terminating managers are power trips, group thinking, nepotism, or the worst one personal matters. Employers do play a major part in this fear and if they’re not equally contributing to the promotion and retention programs others will opt out of applying. What are some of the signs? Typically, employer’s pool of applicants will get smaller and/or soliciting outside the company begins. Just as detainees have 24-hrs to study people the same rule applies to the higher ups; employee’s study as well. So I say to all we have to equally counter the fear in efforts to restore balance in promotion and retention.

Next is politics! In my opinion, politics is very critical for longevity in our industry. You not only have to keep up with what’s current you also have to understand the future. Forward thinkers; this is for you! Do you know we’re in a cultural shift right now? The world of Corrections being its own little island won’t be for long. How do I know? Well Orange Is the New Black is not only a hit but did you notice how they’re also positioning #TransRespect? Transgender respect is another example of the cultural shift we’re in. I’ll bet my 1st month’s salary America is gearing to announce a 3rd Gender; Male, Female, and Transgender. How did I come up with this conclusion? Well although Corrections and the world have processes in place to service the transgender community; we have yet to publicly recognize them as a 3rd gender. It’s like having a program in place that doesn’t have a foundation for reference (No Policy). Marriage equality has swept the nation and although everything is about numbers; recognizing a 3rd gender will be the next greatest public sweep (Netflix Orange Is the New Black Recognized).

Politics is also a form of fellowship, expanding your network, and branding who you are as well as where you are in your industry. I hear many say like our dear Sweet Brown “I ain’t got time for that”; however you might want to make time to move around in the public safety circles a bit. Some ways of doing this; research industry partners and become a member. We have the Mid-Atlantic States Correctional Association (MASCA), American Correctional Association (ACA oldest running), American Jail Association (AJA), Maryland Criminal Justice Association (MCJA), National Institute of Corrections (NIC), and many more partners (Feel free to post your links in comment section). There are workshops; people from all over the world to get to know, compare notes and stories, continuing education programs, and seats available for those up to the challenge of being a partnering driver of corrections. How do I know? I’ve been doing it since about 2007. I first attended the ACA Fort Worth Texas Conference and introduced to Corrections Corporation of America/Central Treatment Facility and District of Columbia Department of Corrections the ACA Corrections Certification Program (Yes, to contribute and push my peers). Currently, Washington DC has the highest enrolled which contributes to the stakeholder’s and community interest. There’s plenty to explore that can make your experience from Front Line all the way up to Executive more rewarding. It can be costly at times however budgeting helps, there’s free programs, or place a request within your agency or company. You can’t always wait for your company to pay; something my brother’s taught me “you also have to pay to play”; GRIND!

My next brief spill is about diplomacy; something that’s rarely taught to front line staff in their 6-week trainings. What’s diplomacy? By definition; it’s a skill in dealing with others without causing bad feelings. This is a critical piece one of my mentors mentioned to me one day. To give you his exact words, “They don’t teach you young folks diplomacy”? He’s a political science major and to answer his question; No, in basic training of front line staff as well as Managers; there’s very little curriculum on professional imagining. Why? Are we not “Sowing Seeds for the Future? Case in point; corrections have a higher volume of front line applicants who only possess a high school diploma; it appears curriculum on professional image is warranted. This may shape the mind and develop a working knowledge of why having diplomacy is so important and how lacking it can stunt your career growth. It’s ok to be expressive, opinionated, and you have a write to question however in everything you do; you must have a certain level of tact. “There’s a formula to everything”, one of my mantra’s. My favorite quote by the late First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right for you’ll be criticized anyway”, brings to mind that even if you have tact; people are going to be people. As the saying goes, “If they’re talking about you it can only mean one or two things”. In this industry you will come across partners, officials, offspring’s following their parent’s footsteps, potential future colleagues, and you must be mindful of what you share, aware of your surroundings, and what you do. Whether you have your career goals set to high, medium, or low this is applicable at all times.

Drafting Tables and Blueprints Part I will be a series of information for all to build on so stay tuned for Part II. So the three takeaways are, “Don’t fear advancement, get political, and use diplomacy. In closing, in the words of the late great Dr. Maya Angelou, “If you get, give and if you learn, teach”.

Corrections.com author Bernita Carmichael began her 12-year long career in corrections with the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) Central Treatment Facility (CTF) in Washington, D.C. For the last six years she has been a ProBoard Registered Fire Protection Specialist and Registered OSHA Instructor for the District of Columbia Department of Corrections where she built a fire and safety program from the ground up. She has also contributed to the delivering of Department of Homeland Security Grants into Emergency Management/Interoperability Communications. She also sits as the Secretary on the District of Columbia Homeland Security Interoperability Communications Committee spearheaded by the DC Statewide Interoperability Coordinator Jeffrey Wobbleton and governed by the Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Paul Quander. Her passion to serve has birthed her newest creation as Managing Director of SAFEPAC which she states, "Is a seed in progress" for the many seeds her supporters have planted in her.

Other articles by Bernita


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