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Are You Cautious or Paranoid?
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 05/29/2017

Paranoid The following is an installment in "Icebreakers 101: The College Edition", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

Has someone ever labeled your caution as paranoia? This is likely something that happens to all corrections professionals at one time or another. Of course, our caution keeps us safe on the job. Those outside the profession cannot fully appreciate the distinction unless they are in our vocational shoes.

I teach criminal justice classes for a local college. As a corrections professional, I strive to integrate vocational realism while delivering information about the structure, functions and history of corrections. At times, I see the surprise of those not in the profession about the intense caution that we take for granted.

While explaining the concept of masked actions and ulterior motives, a student asked me, “Are you paranoid?” I assured her that I am just cautious: The job in corrections strengthens that attribute. To buttress this point, I crafted a short classroom exercise.

This classroom exercise can be conducted at all levels of corrections – from pre-professionals in introductory classes to seasoned veterans.

First, the facilitator delivers the definitions.

Caution is an alertness and prudence in a hazardous situation; care; wariness. “Caution – Falling rocks. Drive with care.”

Paranoia is an intense fear or suspicion, especially when unfounded. “Mark was certain that a swarm of carnivorous ants would interrupt the picnic.” Paranoia is no laughing matter. It can be described as a mental disorder characterized by any of several types of delusions.

Then, the instructor presents each of the fifteen scenarios and asks the class: Does this make you feel cautious or paranoid?
  1. You park your car and you double-check that you locked it? What if you do so twice?
  2. At home, you pat your pocket for your work keys and panic when you do not feel them.
  3. In a public bathroom, you double back to see if you flushed the toilet.
  4. You hear voices outside and on your neighbor’s lawn. You peer out your venetian blinds, being careful to open them only a tiny bit so that no one will see you looking.
  5. You do not answer your telephone because the caller ID lists a private number.
  6. You place a clean sheet of cardboard on your driveway under your engine overnight to see if you are leaking oil or transmission fluid.
  7. You believe that your neighbor is siphoning gas from your car, so you tape a razor to the gas cap in hopes of snaring the culprit.
  8. You store a few gallons of clean water in your car in case your radiator malfunctions.
  9. You change your passwords on your computer once a month.
  10. You dismantle your Facebook account when a childhood friend that you never liked tries to friend you.
  11. Another vehicle passes your car on the highway. Your cruise control is steady at 54 mile per hour in a 55 zone. You keep a close eye on the car that just passed you.
  12. You observe someone walking around your car. The person looks at your license plate and starts writing on a pad.
  13. You see a mouse in your house one morning. You buy and place a dozen sticky traps.
  14. You come home from the grocery store and find that the apple sauce you just bought has a popped up freshness indicator. It looks like the seal was broken and you contemplate the integrity of the applesauce.
  15. You get a bowl of soup from the crock on the salad bar at the restaurant. You find a kinky, long red hair in the soup. You look at others who have also selected soup.
There are no right or wrong answers to this. Many of the circumstances can be qualified by the instructor to make the point that distinctions are not always easy. Active classes will certainly have lively discussions.

In corrections, it is good to know how you may react to certain situations. An exercise like this is helpful in that manner. It is useful to ask oneself, Am I cautious or am I paranoid?

Thanks to Brooke Mleko for asking me “Are you paranoid?” That was the catalyst for this exercise.

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

Other articles by Bouchard:


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