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Home > Mental Preperation, use of force > Walking With the Predators

Walking With the Predators

September 15th, 2009

5c5a870c9a776a88An officer, who is well liked and respected by his peers, returns from a well deserved break at 0230.  The malicious darkness looms of what seems like an ordinary and routine third shift in the facility.  But for him it’s a restless night and he knows that time will continue to drag.  He wonders if his shift will end uneventful and after only eight hours or if he will be mandated to work first shift.  He remembers the day an operational manager once told him that he was going to go places within the department.  As quickly as the promise of his big promotional chance came, it vanished just a fast.  Politics, idle talk, becoming a union activist, and not knowing who the resourceful players are has sent him down another path.  In the darkness of a lonely midnight shift that leads to nowhere, he contemplates his current situation, his future.  It is then that the exhaustion overwhelms him and even though he is comfortable, he begins to sweat.  


However, time is now his lifetime enemy as he ponders the future, wondering why he is no longer energized and dedicated to the career or the people that he works side by side with.  He is second guessing his motives for taking the career path he has chosen.  He starts counting down the years until his retirement and counting those same years of more senior officers allowing him to ascend the ladder of seniority.  He wonders if he has become as cold a person as he now feels.  He is now at the point in his career where he feels too old to effectively play the game anymore.  He feels the promise that the union and management have made is just empty hype and have fallen short of the desired results.  “Where do I go from here?”  He often thinks about quitting and taking out his pension money to start a small business to escape the daily stress, fear, and micro management of the administration.  Sound oddly familiar?


94e0fbefd64e363cThis scenario is like many individuals in the corrections field everywhere.  Those once strong officers that have been broken down by the years of career stress, poor management and the leadership failures.  We all start our correctional careers excited and ready to make a difference.  Officers showing their desire to excel and bring their education and experience into the field, only to be denied the satisfaction of advancement.  We turn cynical toward any decisions and skeptical of changes that the administrations make and often criticize those who take the side of supervision.    Regardless of what state you live and what agency you work for, the difference is minimal depending on the security level and department for which you work.  Corrections work is unfair and the strong feelings of frustration can be overwhelming throughout your career. 


7c2e4ceb3b39241eIt becomes difficult balancing long working hours, rotating shifts and different posts, watching the pain and conflict placed on one another by the inmates and management.  It may be the reading of negative feed back portrayed by the media and watch dog inmate advocates attempting to govern and change the way that we enforce our rules, policies and laws.  The constant pressure of being locked up with the predators of society for eight to sixteen hours a day contributes to that relentless monster called stress.  We are under trained, understaffed and society cannot possibly comprehend what we endure each day in an attempt to protect their public interests.  It is difficult to comprehend why an officer punched a handcuffed inmate after a violent restraint, but those who do the work can sometimes empathize.  


“It is the nature of man to rise to greatness, if greatness is expected of him.”   John Steinbeck


f7f4656077b1993eWe hope that our families can understand why we are short, angry and frustrated when things get confusing at home.  It is often difficult to explain what our day actually encompassed because if you tell them the truth of what you endure, they may worry and become fearful everyday you leave for work.  Along with our health and emotional well being at stake, the levels of occupational and self induced stress contribute to the break up of many marriages and lead to large divisions between our children.   


We are more critical of our children each day because we see the result of poor parenting and undisciplined behavior in the inmates we are charged to correct.  We are the keepers of the kept and it is difficult to separate our assertive demeanors from our family lives.   We want so badly for our families to understand our dilemmas and plights but we don’t want to seem fearful, soft and out of control.  Corrections is a career that demands assertiveness without panic and perfection without delay.  Shortly into your career you will begin to question your desire to carry on the service and have to force yourself to come to work each day.  Everyday brings another reason dispensed to go to work and if you have acquired enough sick time that day, those reasons may not be enough to make it into work. 


Corrections officers are the forgotten peace officers of the law enforcement society.  We work in minimum, medium and maximum juvenile and adult correctional facilities.  We are empowered by the state to maintain stability within the fences that cloak the occurrences of extreme violence from the public.  We walk among the predators of society regulating the rules, laws and policies each day without the notice of the loyalty of our duty.  The neighborhood that we police is inhabited by violent convicted felons who are authority defiant, aggressive and prone to assault us without any consequence of their actions.  The intestinal fortitude necessary to walk into a pod full of predators bent on manipulating, bewildering and sometimes disabling you is immense.  We walk among the predators and silently serve, because nobody else will!


Our specific job is to maintain order, establish safety and attempt some sort of rehabilitation while maintaining professionalism and composure.  We are second guessed and micromanaged by individuals whom we question their knowledge and abilities.  It is easy to forget where you came from as you start the ascent up the ladder of success.  Those same ineptness criticisms that you as an officer once spoke about your administrations is now how you may be managing your officers.  As a leader of men you should know that managers tell officers to do things but leaders say lets do things together.  We need more leaders and fewer managers in the corrections field.  “Example is not the main thing in influencing others; it is the only thing.”  Everyday we attempt to establish dominance within our institutions hoping that we can walk out the front doors at the end of our shifts.  All tribulations are often blamed on officer inadequacies.


We are understaffed everyday as I have never known any institution that had too many officers.  It is not uncommon to have a fourth of your officers out on some sort of leave such as sick, disability, and inmate related injuries and yet we are pressured and divided by the administration while maintaining a low moral level because of our staff outages.  Corrections as a whole, is a stressful unforgiving career choice that will task your mental stabilities.  You will see many leadership shortcomings and individuals who are made bitter by the stress of the job.  I only hope that you can overcome those shortcomings and pitfalls so that your initial dedication and reasoning’s you started with, eventually return.  Bond together and create those strong lasting relationships with the individuals which are going through the same hardships you are.  I hope that at the end of your career you can look back; smile, and say that you made a difference. 

“The harder that you work; the harder it is to surrender.”   

Vince Lombardi


“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by obvious realities.  We need men and woman who can dream of things that never were.”  John F. Kennedy

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Tracy Barnhart Mental Preperation, use of force

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