|We Say A Lot of Things|
|By Corporal William Young|
A lot of us, if not the majority of us would say that one of the hardest parts of working in Corrections is dealing with the other Officers. We sit around and complain about the old school knuckle draggers, the thug huggers, and the door holders. We slander and shun and we mock and talk about every mistake, mishap, and misstep that our fellow Officers make.
We continuously second guess the split second decisions that our brothers and sisters had to make with no real knowledge of the situation or the events that led up to that particular situation. We hold grudges and spread gossip and rumors roll off of our tongues like, well, something that rolls easily off of something else.
I am ashamed to admit that I have participated in a few of these conversations throughout my career and my excuses for doing so are lame. Was I just trying to fit in? Or was I was so frustrated that I didn’t know how to properly handle the situation? Or was I just being a big fat jerk? As I reflect, the latter of the three is probably the closest to the truth.
So, one day I had a thought. How is that we, as Corrections professionals, maintain our composure as an inmate is screaming in our face, threatening to kill our family while they are at home sound asleep in their beds, but we can’t seem to contain our emotions when our co-worker calls out on the radio for a restroom break? How is that we can successfully talk down an inmate that was just sentenced to 150 years in prison and convince him that it would be in everybody’s best interest if he would just go to his room, but we want to strangle a fellow Officer for forgetting to fill out some paperwork that won’t even be collected until Monday morning?
We speak of rehabilitation and re-entry in regards to our clientele. We use patience and professionalism when dealing with the inmates. We acknowledge that some behaviors have a root cause and that the screaming-banging-wall punching inmate claiming to hear voices telling him to scream, bang, yell, and punch might actually be hearing voices.
So why don’t we use that same logic, that same empathy and understanding when dealing with our co-workers?
For me the answer is simple. I just don’t care. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t care about my fellow officers because I do. I honestly love each and every one of them and when I pray, I pray that they all make it home safe and sound at the end of their respective shifts. So when I say I don’t care, what I really mean to say is that I’m so emotionally burned out that I have nothing let give. What I mean when I say that I don’t care is that I have wasted all of my patience and professionalism and compassion during the first half of my mandatory double shift. In other words, I am in the throes of Corrections Fatigue.
I think that this is true for a lot of us. Because we are tired and stressed and because we are going to miss our son’s basketball tournament this weekend, we lash out on those that are closet to us. We don’t take the concerns of our fellow officers into consideration because all we can think about is home. Our only concern is how we can get out of here unscathed and on time. We seem to forget that the officer that forgot to submit her paperwork in a timely fashion didn’t forget because she was being lazy, she forgot because she just found out that her vacation request was denied and she will also be missing her son’s basketball tournament this weekend. We seem to forget that the officer we are currently frustrated with might be the very same officer that saves our life.
Because of our fatigue and because we are cynical by nature we automatically assume that EVERYONE is working some sort of angle. We assume that when our fellow officers calls in sick that they are abusing their earned benefit. Their poor work ethic disgusts us. We speculate as to why they aren’t at work. We say that they’re “sick” because it is payday or because they had to work in an undesirable location within the facility. We say that they’re scared of the inmates or of work or of both. We say a lot of things because we’re upset that we are here and they are not.
What we don’t say, what we don’t assume is that maybe their child is sick and that their significant other couldn’t stay home this time. What we don’t say is that maybe they really are sick. What we don’t do, at least consistently, is check on them to see if everything is okay.
So here’s what I’m asking you to do.
I need you to acknowledge and understand that the environment that we work in, the things that we are subjected to, change us. The stress and the spitting and the swearing and the silence affect all of us in very different ways. It’s okay to not be okay with the things that we see and hear.
The other thing that I need you to do is to try and give your fellow officers the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they didn’t call in because they’re lazy or scarred. Maybe they called in because they just found out that a close family member had passed away or that their spouse has been unfaithful or maybe their children are getting pushed around at school and they stayed home with them to make sure that they didn’t hurt themselves or maybe their dog died. Or maybe, they just couldn’t do it, not today. Maybe today was not a day that they could handle the noise and the threats and the politics and the fact that they were going to have to work a mandatory double shift and miss parent-teacher conferences. Maybe it’s worse than all of that. Maybe they stayed home to see if the electrical cord that they tied to the support beam in the garage was strong enough to hold their weight.
Or maybe they are being lazy. Maybe they’re staying home because it is payday and because they want go shopping instead of going to work. I’m telling you that the reason should be of no consequence to you. I know that it feels like it directly affects your life but it really doesn’t. What does affect your life is the bond, the foundation that we build with each other.
What matters is the way we interact with each other. So let’s bestow a little empathy and compassion upon our fellow Officers because when things spin out of control and all hell breaks loose, WE ARE ALL WE HAVE.
Officer William Young is a 14 year veteran of the Douglas County Department of Corrections in Omaha, Nebraska. He has worked throughout the facility in various areas ranging from Sanitation to Segregation and is currently assigned to Community Corrections as a Work Release Officer. Officer Young is a certified Emergency Preparedness (LETRA) instructor and also teaches Motivational Interviewing and “From Corrections Fatigue to Fulfillment”. Officer Young is a member of the Crisis Intervention Team and the Crisis Negotiation Team.
Officer Young understands and acknowledges the damage that working in a Correctional environment can do to a person’s physical and mental health. Battling Fatigue himself, Officer Young is determined to assist his fellow brothers and sisters by helping them identify, manage, and reverse the side effects and symptoms of working in such an environment.
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.
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