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Yes You CAN Icebreaker
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 01/30/2017

Power The following is an installment in "Operation Icebreaker: Shooting for Excellence", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

Sometimes opportunity knocks with a quiet persistence. Once you answer, you realize that it is with no regrets. You see, this was a request from a quiet, but not totally silent student. When he spoke in class, it was a good insight. He was a man of few words, but they were worth the wait. This student was Bradley Brandenburg.

He asked to speak with me away from the other students. When we were alone, he showed me what appeared to be an ordinary can of pop, or soda can, if you prefer. Smoothly, he unscrewed the can top, revealing a faux can – a contraband vessel. He explained that someone at his workplace showed this to him.

I asked if we could use the can to test the search prowess of his fellow students. He agreed, stating that it was his hope that we could do so. He even volunteered to sweeten the pot with a dollar as a prize. Anyone who discovered the contraband can would win the one-spot portrait of our first president.

I instructed him to write “simulated contraband’ on a small slip of paper, place it in the can, tighten the lid, and place it in front of him in the classroom. I did not need to tell him to employ a poker face: Previous to this, I had observed that he could effectively conceal his emotions.

He and I entered the class and I talked of a few other things first. Then, I held the legal tender aloft and told them that the prize for finding the contraband in this room is the dollar. I offered only a few guides:
  1. The contraband was in the room.
  2. I removed my coat and folder. I stated that the contraband would not be found there.
  3. “Do not tear the place up!”, I said.
  4. There will be no other hints. As in a correctional setting, an informant said that there is a weapon or other contraband, but would say no more. Hints exist in different forms and levels. This happened to be a hint of the existence of contraband – nothing more.
I left the room and the students got busy. I gave the students about five minutes to search. After all, there were about ten of them and it was a small conference room. Some curious things happened:
  1. Students performed a covert search. They blinded me to their progress by drawing the curtains. I could not see in the windows.
  2. The door was locked. I could not get in. I actually ended the exercise by “threatening” to issue lower grades for non-compliance to my demand of an open door.
  3. One student told me that one person tried to rally the troops and put together an organized search.
When I entered the room, I found that no one had found the contraband or discovered the real nature of the can. Recriminations flew back and forth. The class recounted the other students to whom I spoke earlier, not just the initial antagonist in this story. In addition, the student with whom I commute was labeled as a person of interest, someone who may have been part of hiding the contraband.

I concluded the exercise by stating, “It is the quiet ones you need to watch”. I thanked Mr. Brandenburg and displayed the can/vessel. He reclaimed the dollar and we deconstructed the exercise.

Weeks earlier, I had planted contraband in this class and initiated a search. Still, this was the first instance that it was initiated by a student. It truly demonstrated the dynamics of a search. More important, the questions that they posed prior to the search were very interesting and helpful.

In the end, contraband control is not always the successful act of finding the shank in the hollowed book and saving Western Civilization from perpetual darkness and chaos. Real corrections does not work that way. The successful completion of a search is not the norm. Contraband control is tedious and does not traditionally yield instant rewards.

However, students who think outside the box will be better able to detect contraband. The ultimate goal of this exercise is to get students in a frame of mind to walk around the problem and solve it. In the field, the ultimate end is to remove dangerous and saleable items from circulation in order to keep safe staff, prisoners and the public.

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” and "Operation Icebreakers: Shooting for Excellence". 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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