|By Corporal William Young|
In Corrections we dedicate a great deal of resources to our physical safety while on the job. We write policies and make alterations to our buildings to maintain a certain level of security. We hold fire drills and severe weather drills and stage mass casualty events. We learn to defend ourselves in case of an inmate attack and how to respond to medical emergencies.
What we don’t drill for, what we seem less concerned about, is our emotional safety. See, what they don’t tell us in the academy is that we are going to be under attack for the duration of our shift and for the duration of our career.
What they fail to mention and what was left out of the brochure is that THIS JOB WILL CHANGE YOU.
Spend a couple of minutes talking to a Correctional Officer, or better yet, talk to that Correctional Officer’s family and friends. Ask them if their loved one has changed. Ask them if their loved one is more irritable or more tired. Ask them if their loved one enjoys going out in public anymore. Ask them if they have to sit in a certain chair when they all go out to dinner. Go ahead and ask them. I’ll wait.
What did they say? If you asked my family they would tell you that there are days that they walk on eggshells around me. They would tell you that there are days when I am upset for no apparent reason. They would say that I used to be happy and funny and that I used to be the life of the party.
Knowing that I am a much different person than I was prior to putting on this badge is unsettling to say the least. So, to do something positive about it, I went over my emergency preparedness training, and I compiled a list of some things that we as Officers can do to protect ourselves from the side effects of our chosen profession.
Pay Attention to the Traditional Warning Signs
Any Correctional Officer that has spent any significant amount of time inside of a Housing Unit can tell you when some- thing isn’t right. We can’t always put our finger on it, but we can feel it, we just know. It may be too quiet or too loud or maybe all of the Hispanic inmates are congregated on one side of the day room and all of the African-American inmates are on the other. It may be as simple as the guy in room 16 has sat in a chair outside of his room for the past sixty days but today he has decided to keep his cell door shut. Such warning signs should prompt us to conduct extra rounds and engage the inmates in conversation. We see the potential for a problem and we react accordingly.
This type of situational awareness is necessary for us to survive this environment, but we need to be as aware of the internal warning sign as we are of the external signs, meaning we have to pay attention to that little voice inside of our heads that says, “I'm not okay with this,” or “That really bothered me.”
The things that we are exposed to on a daily basis should bother us and we shouldn’t be “okay” with everything that we see. If we don’t learn to process the trauma, if we don’t actively combat the side effects, eventually we will succumb to Correctional Fatigue.
Recognize your “Hot” Issues
In Emergency Preparedness, a “hot” issue is anything that would cause the inmates to react in a negative and violent manner. For example, locking down the Housing Unit early and without warning could trigger a negative response from the inmates assigned to that area. Canceling visits or taking away phone time or issues with commissary can, and usually does, cause us to receive a negative response from the inmate population.
It’s the same with us. There are times when we want to be surrounded by friends and family, and there are times when we just want to sit on the couch and do nothing. Every noise, every disagreement, every complaint is like adding fuel to an already out of control fire.
A correctional facility is an environment where a candy bar isn’t just a candy bar. It’s currency, it’s status. And on our side of the fence, a flat tire isn’t just a flat tire, it’s another example of another thing that has or will go wrong today.
Understanding and recognizing your “hot issues,” your triggers, can help you avoid them. If you’re having a bad day and you don’t feel like going to the family get-together, then don’t go. If you do go and you don’t feel like talking to your sister’s new boyfriend because he reminds you of an inmate, then don’t talk to him.
Correctional Officers are very proactive. We see the potential for problems and we act accordingly. If the dayroom is too loud, we pay attention. If it is too quiet, we make extra rounds. There have been thousands of thefts and assaults and suicides that have not happened because a Correctional Officer was proactive.
So, now we need to do the same for ourselves, for our mental health and wellbeing. We need to recognize the potential for problems if we don’t take care of ourselves. We need to have an outlet. We need to have something that we participate in outside of the world of Corrections that is positive and uplifting, something that will help mitigate the damage and elevate some of our stress.
We have to take time to read a book or go to the gym. We have to get outside and go fishing or hiking or kayaking. It doesn’t really matter what we do, we just need to do something.
If we don’t do anything, if we aren’t proactive, if we don’t take some time to decompress and to recharge our batteries, the symptoms of our fatigue will eventually overwhelm us.
You Must not be a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
A correctional facility is a dark and violent place full of society’s undesirables. Crazy and terrible things are going to happen inside the walls. But if we let that thought consume us, if we report to our posts certain that we’re going to have a bad night, then guess what, we will have a bad night.
The same goes for that family get-together and your sister's new boyfriend. If you show up to the party and you are already pissed off and you are looking for a fight, trust me, you’re going to find one.
Just like we set the tone inside of our respective facilities, we can set the tone in our households as well. For example, if you know that you have to go to Walmart on a Saturday afternoon, just embrace it. It’s going to be crowded and people are going to be rude and the lines are going to be long, so just enjoy it. Just take a deep breath and watch everyone else freak out and be miserable.
There will always be obstacles in your path, you can’t control that. But what you can control is how you react to the things that you can’t control. By being proactive, by paying attention to the traditional warning signs, by recognizing your triggers, and by not damning your day with negative thinking, you will be better prepared to handle whatever the universe throws at you.
You’ve got this. You are confident and competent and you have walked a much scarier beat than Walmart on a Saturday.
This article as been reprinted with permission from the January 2019 Issue of Correctional Oasis, a monthly e-publication of "Desert Waters Correctional Outreach". Corporal William Young has worked as a Correctional Officer in the state of Nebraska since March of 2005. He has worked throughout his facility in various areas ranging from Sanitation to Segregation and is currently assigned to Community Corrections. Corporal Young is a member of the Crisis Intervention Team and the Crisis Negotiation Team. He is a certified Emergency Preparedness (LETRA) instructor and also teaches Motivational Interviewing and the award winning course “From Corrections Fatigue to Fulfillment” (CF2F).
If you have any questions, comments, or feedback that you would like to share, please contact William at Justcorrections@gmail.com orwww.facebook.com/wllmyoung/.
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 author and not necessarily those of the agency.
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