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Blood is Thicker than Water - Your Correctional Officer Family
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 04/04/2016

Water  splash scaled
You have heard it said a million times, Corrections or prison work is a lot like being a family – whether you like it or not, we are all connected one way or another. Unlike family where you can’t pick your relatives, the friendship of corrections is like a family but you can pick your friends. Fortunately, and for the sake of safety in numbers and force, it might be better not to pick blood over water as a bond inside prisons, as this would be one case where blood is not thicker than water and hopefully, your real family understands this anomaly.

The bond is almost unbreakable and much stronger than family ties on the outside when on duty. For me, it was always difficult to separate my work from my personal life but in time, I succeeded to break the two apart and find a reasonable balance between the two cultures. Since family relations can be contentious and pretentious, the same applies to work-related family. You have to find a value in the relationships to make sure you are applying the right amount of energy and effort to maintain it in good condition.

Unlike biological family who we can’t choose, we all have some friends who have no business being invited or welcomed in your life. However, the same principle applies whether they are family or friends, some are destructive and manipulated relationships you can best do without and leaving them behind is sometimes the best thing to do for you own sake.

In Corrections, you play the cards you are dealt – your span of control is very limited and decisions related to your association or connections to other people is driven by work assignments, culture and other intangible factors you recognize in the workplace. Yet, just because you are dealt a hand of cards, that doesn’t mean that at some point or time, you may need to draw new cards from the deck or keep the ones you have and draw closer to those who are your family and friends. In other words, there is a time in your career where you chose who you want to spend your time with. Finding a wide-ranging or healthy balance is the key to making the right choices.

Reflecting back, before you accepted the job as a correctional or detention officer, family life was generally the center or hub of our own existence. This interaction was vital to growing up and learning or experiencing new things in life. How we interacted created a blueprint of your life and relationships. This blueprint changes as you grow up and mature as well as seeking work in a criminal justice profession where all relationships are created into a bond or circle of trust and interdependence.

Although in theory, your allegiance is always stronger towards your biological relatives, it has been demonstrated that the support and dependence on your extended family at work does have a significant influence in your work, job, decision making and personal relationships. Hence the fine balance where you carefully consider each person’s value and importance to your own existence or life.

Sometimes it comes down to understanding. Family don’t always have the capacity to fully understand the workplace stressors or anxiety elements. Like a mother, who wants all her children to get along and love each other equally, the fact is that working inside a prison creates conflict and friction based on real threats or imminent dangers; thus elevating the need for attachment or teamwork. Sometimes, emotions take a back seat. At work, it is common to disagree on many things including relationships or work habits, but ultimately, the response required is unified in force and voice. It all comes down to working in harmony or being on good terms with each other because the need to back each other up is stronger than your decision to express disagreement to the point of division or becoming viewed as the opposition on the same shift, or response team. Unfortunately, in this case, blood is not thicker than water. My need to have my co-workers back me up in dire strait situations, is more important to me than some of my relatives will ever be.

If someone wants to ultimately take the side or go be with someone who is not a blood relative, so be it but in a prison or large jail setting, relationships are very important and critical elements of your own survival and existence that nobody will understand unless they walked a mile in your shoes so in many cases, blood is not thicker than water as the circumstances dictate the importance on such perceptions.

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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