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Riddle of the Footprints
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 01/25/2016

Sneaker The following is an installment in "The Bouchard 101", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

Early one morning, I walked to the school building in the prison at which I work. I saw a single set of foot prints in one half inch of snow that showed that someone had walked out of the building. I noticed that there was no set of corresponding footprints going towards the building. It was 0730 hours and I was puzzled that there was just one set of prints. Why was this?

With that told, there is an opportunity for an icebreaker.

First, show the class a photo of one set of footprints in the snow. The footprints must lead away from any building but towards the camera perspective. Alternately, this can be depicted by a simple drawing on the marker board.

Bring this scenario to the students. These are some of the facts:
  1. One half inch of snow fell by 0730 hours.
  2. There was no snow on the ground at 0700 hours.
  3. Midnight shift ended and day shift started at 0700 hours.
  4. Rounds are made of the building on all three shifts, usually, but not always at the beginning and end of the shift. This varies, and is not a certainty.
  5. You did not hear count clear on the radio.
What are the possibilities?

Have the students break into groups and discuss how the many ways the prints could have been produced. Give them ten minutes to compile theories. Be prepared for participants to ask questions of clarification. It is up to you to fill in details or omit them as you see fit. What you allow or deny will impact their theories of why there was just one set of footprints.

When five of the ten minutes have passed, suggest to students to explore unlikely but possible ways that this may have happened. This is important, as it opens the minds to possible but not necessarily probable explanations.

As participants discuss possibilities, it is a good time for the facilitator to assess group dynamics and make a few notes.

When the discussion time has expired, have groups report out what they think could have happened. Let them state if the proposed solution is likely to have happen or just a slight possibility. Below are a few possibilities.
  1. There was no snow on ground when person approached the building around 0700. There is only one set visible because the person left after the snow fell.
  2. There was a back entrance to the building. The round was started on the other side of the building and concluded by walking away from the other side.
  3. Someone was in the building all night and tracks to the building were covered.
  4. Someone walked to the building after then snow fell building and carefully walked back on their own footsteps.
  5. A prisoner may have hidden there and left the building between 0700 and 0729.
The facilitator can a few more questions: Is this an issue that warrants investigation? Has safety been compromised? The exercise can continue in another direction when the facilitator opens discussion on group dynamics. Here are some sample questions:
  1. Was there a de facto leader?
  2. Were there competing factions?
  3. Was a particular idea that took the lead?
  4. When odd but possible ideas were considered, was there a person who specialized in these?
  5. Did dynamics change?
  6. Was there anyone who did not feel he or she could contribute?
One set of footprints can spark a healthy discussion. It also is a great opportunity for us to hone our speculative skills.

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014”. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


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