|By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ|
Most people in our communities have no clue what you do as a correctional officer, behind the rows of razor wire and what is often hidden out of sight, out of mind. Many are also unware of the multiple challenges you accept working with incarcerated individuals who have already demonstrated an ill will towards the rules of society and their inability to follow the rules of those working there.
One could literally say they are a captive audience with a locked in environment that makes working there extremely dangerous. As for the job, there are many just too weak to apply for such a dauntless position and have often chosen to avoid the many challenges to work under such potentially hazardous experiences. They chose not to endure or experience the slamming and clanging of heavy steel doors closing shut behind you. For those who chose this kind of work, they know there are no guarantees of coming back out alive; you do your job the best you can and work with a level of boldness that only others who work there, understand.
Limited in the possession of any weapons or self-defense chemical agents, you walk the long and darkened corridors in this locked down environment without any fear of doing your job because you have the mettle of steel and the courage to face those obstacles, challenges and problems with a mindset that is the very backbone of your profession. Unafraid to meet the population heads on, you initiate the necessary actions to take control and secure those areas you are responsible for making it safe for yourself and others.
Confronting your nemesis with respectful actions, you resolve and stand your ground as you address inappropriate behaviors as well as acts of criminal intent or violence. It is your courage that benchmarks the line of tolerances and enforcement ensuring your actions are the first and last defense for effective public safety standards. Although you are responsible for taking the right actions, you cannot control the outcomes of those actions around you, as these prisoners have already demonstrated the resolve to violate law and order in and out of prison walls.
The word “afraid” is not in your vocabulary but the word “caution” is ever present as you are in the midst of those who share unpopular and sometimes vile opinions of yourself or others wearing the uniform and badge. Courage prevails and courage is what carries you to the end of the shift as you are sometimes put in precarious situations that can spell disaster in a flash second and put you in situations that are volatile and unpredictable in a moment’s notice.
While facing these capricious nemesis, you also face the fear of criticism. Not overly concerned about being criticized, you attempt to do your job professionally and accordingly to the standards trained and within a work culture that demands compliance as no other alternatives are available most of the time. Overcoming the fears around you illustrates your willpower and your abilities to get the job done.
There are many times you have to decide to “fight or flight” knowing that flight is improper and unacceptable in your line of work. You have learned to stand your ground as it is the only action left to take and face the consequences of disrespectful and confrontational behaviors.
Overcoming fear of harm is the same as overcoming fear of criticism as you are fully aware of the need to engage professionally and actively according to best practices for such activities. Thus you have learned to deal with the fear of consequences for your own actions and the actions of those around you.
Working with such complexities of the job is not for everyone. Not every person is up to the challenges created within the structures of a correctional setting which have many negative penalties if not handled the right way from the beginning. The para-military structures help you make your decisions as you make your words and actions very real and clear to deal with in a time of crisis or a time of need.
The public is unaware of your devotion to the “code” of keeping the peace, they don’t understand your perseverance in enforcing rules sometimes beyond your means and with risks of failures or criticism but you accept those responsibilities at free-will and do you job the best you can with total disregard to your own safety and acceptance that while other fear failure, you are effectively dealing with the issues and making them work for you daily. Oblivious to the words fair and consistent, they look the other way.
They don’t understand your predicament, vulnerability and your triumphs over fear. They have no idea of your distinct level of courage and that you voluntarily accepted the need to enforce and implement order where there is often melee and disorder. Misunderstood and often criticized without just reason, the public fails to see what you do so successfully and fails to have the capacity to recognize you more completely and how the responsibility to do your job impacts fear, failure, and courage.
Surprisingly, it is not just the public but the media as well that misunderstands you and your position inside prisons. They have the social, moral and legal responsibility to report the truth and often fail to do so because of their own lack of passion and commitment to seek the truth rather than follow tips or clues of gossip or rumors that circulate faster and much a larger realm of reality.
A reality that is false in perceptions. A misnomer or gross disservice to those who wear the badge and uniform. Such happenings are often much more today than anything else today in social media. Rarely do they see or realize, what courageous thing or things you have done recently in your profession to keep the prison safe and the public safer.
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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