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The Elephant in the Room: What the hell is in that cell?
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 10/17/2016

Elephant in room One of my colleagues used a wonderful expression recently. She proposed small, persistent action to combat a seemingly insurmountable problem. She asked, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer is, of course, one bite at a time.

For the purpose of this essay, the elephant represents the contraband problem in any correctional facility. To some it is like a huge problem that no one wants to talk about. In other words, sometimes we do not wish to address the elephant in the room.

Elephants can be dangerous and imposing. When they are out of control, peril is inevitable. Like contraband, if they are not managed, innocent people can be hurt. Our profession controls contraband with the safety of staff, offenders and the public in mind.

In another respect, like an elephant, the contraband problem may not be easy to move. And when we make progress against the forces of illegal trade, it may be hard to increase positive momentum when it finally gets moving.

If contraband is a huge elephant and it looms large in your facility, can it be disposed of? Is this large danger dispensable? Can we really eat the contraband elephant? Read on to explore possible consumption tactics. Here are some step in managing the dangers. In other words, here is how to eat the contraband elephant.

Find and measure the elephant- You may have to take a walk around the entire problem before you decide what sorts of resources you can utilize. How big is the contraband problem? Is there a substantial part hidden? Is it like an iceberg where the visible surface are much smaller than the entire whole? Knowing the dimensions of the problem before you act can help you marshal resources optimally.

Take the first bite - What part do you attack first? Is it the cell phone problem or the tobacco? It is around the yard perimeter or in the kitchen? And who do you assign to take the first bite? Where you start in your contraband control may have a lasting impact on how the continuing efforts proceed.

Pace yourself - Once you have started, you have to remember all of the other parts of the facility. Are you neglecting something else with a focus on contraband control? Will over-securing safety in one area compromise it in another? It is important to balance and prioritize all duties.

Digest - After you have consumed so much of the problem, you might want to step back and assess. From there, you can catch your breath and decide if there is an area of concentration to address. Consider if you need to have engage in another round of attacking the problem.

Plan the next meal – As you clean up the mess after all is said and done, prepare for the next time. Contemplate what you have learned. Perhaps there are new hiding places discovered during the latest rounds of searching. Record what was found, by whom, and where. Look ahead. These clues can assist in the next wave of contraband trading.

One colossal Jumbo or just a few baby elephants - contraband will never truly go away. Unfortunately, the rewards for incarcerated entrepreneurs outweigh the punishments. But you can control it, to a degree, with firm, fair and persistent enforcement. The first big meal may be the last one you need to have, given that you can then manage the smaller varieties. If you can knock out the most mammoth contraband enterprises, you will have smoother operations that will have some of the most persistent contrabandists packing their trunks.

Just as a journey of 1000 miles starts with one step, controlling a huge contraband problem begins with one bite? Feeling hungry?

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

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