So, you’re contemplating a career in corrections. You are considering joining the hundreds of thousands of brave men and women that work behind the walls and the wire, maintaining the safety and security of their respective facilities. You have read and researched all you could about this very noble and notorious profession.
And while I’m confident that you feel you’re as prepared as anyone can be coming in to a situation such as this, I’d like to share five things that you REALLY need to know before you begin your correctional career.
No one can be sure if you’re ready for the world of Corrections
It doesn’t matter what you think you know about Corrections. Until you are walking the top tier by yourself, you have no idea how or if you’ll be able to handle it. You can watch every episode of Lockup Raw and Oz and memorize every line in The Shawshank Redemption. You can take whatever college course you want and listen to professors. You can research, Google, and you can ask around, but until you lace up those boots and meet Vernon Schillinger in person, you don’t know how you’re going to react.
You will meet people inside that you didn’t even know existed. From drunks to delinquents to pedophiles with Ph.D.’s, all sitting around a marred up stainless-steel table watching Jaws on AMC for the third time this week.
You will need to communicate with people that you would never interact with in the real world. You will need to find a way to motivate a population that does not want to be driven by you. You will need to treat them with a level of respect and professionalism that is counterintuitive to the way you might actually want to address them.
So, can you maintain your poise and control your fear and your anger? Can you keep a straight face when you want to laugh, and can you smile when you feel like crying? The fun part is, I don’t know if you can, and neither do you.
Working in Corrections is both dangerous and thankless
As a Correctional Officer, you’ll be asked to patrol the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. Everyone that you will encounter has been accused or convicted of a crime against society. You will be surrounded by professional tough guys, gang bangers, and drug dealers. There are no little old ladies that need help crossing the street, and no children are playing in their front yard.
The role of a Correctional Officer is mostly proactive management. We see the potential for a problem, and we act accordingly. We make extra rounds, we separate inmates, and we gather intelligence. We stop “it” before “it” ever happens. Here’s the fun part, nobody ever thanks you for the things that never happen. You won’t get “Officer of the Month” because nobody is tracking the things that didn’t happen on your shift, and you won’t get the “law enforcement” discount at your local burger shop because we operate behind the wall, out of sight, and out of mind.
It’s not like veteran staff doesn’t trust you, it’s just that… they don’t trust you
We are one giant dysfunctional family, and until you prove yourself to us, we won’t trust you. This has very little to do with you and a lot to do with us. See, us salty old vets have been through a lot together. We have broken up fights, and we have responded to medical emergencies. We have been outnumbered and understaffed for years. We have missed important family events, we eat like crap, and we rarely have time to exercise. We don’t like that you are positive and happy and that your uniform actually fits you the way that it should. We don’t want to get to know you right away because we have watched numerous officers come and go (for various reasons) and all we know is that we have to work a double shift again.
But please don’t misunderstand what I’m telling you, we want you here, we need you here, we love that you are part of our team. You just remind us of who we were before we started carrying the weight of this profession. But, over time, we will get to know you and trust you and love you.
Working in Corrections will change you
The Correctional environment isn’t like any other you have ever encountered. If you let it, the setting will influence your world view, where you sit when you go out to dinner, and how you react to your kid spilling his milk.
Not only is Correctional work extremely hazardous in the psychical sense, but it can also be dangerous to your emotional well-being. This is due to Correctional Officers being exposed to unmentionable evil and an insane amount of stress. Correctional Officers have a shorter life span than the general public and are at a higher risk for obesity, diabetes, divorce, and suicide.
Although Corrections is incredibly demanding, it is also astonishingly rewarding
You spend copious amounts of time with our population; talking to them, counseling them, and mentoring them, you will have the opportunity to plant seeds in the community. You can plant these seeds and watch them grow into something useful and productive.
You will have the potential to change a person’s life for the better. The way you interact with the population, the way that you behave and speak, and act towards them has a direct impact on how they behave and speak and act when they get released back into society.
You’ll be fine. If you rely on your training and you listen to veteran staff, and you remember these five things, you’ll be fine
There, now you are ready, now you can lace up your boots, buckle your belt and walk the tier with your head held high. You got this; I know you do!
About the Author
Correctional Officer, Author, & Corrections Instructor
William has worked as a Correctional Officer 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. William has been an instructor for his facility since 2009, teaching courses such as Emergency Preparedness (LETRA), Stress Management, Motivational Interviewing, and “From Corrections Fatigue to Fulfillment” (CF2F). He is a member of the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) and is the Assistant Coordinator of the Crisis Negotiation Team (CNT). William is a regular contributor to the “Correctional Oasis”, a monthly Ezine produced by Desert Waters Correctional Outreach and is the author of “When Home Becomes a Housing Unit.”
More of William’s work can be read in the “Correctional Oasis”, a monthly Ezine produced and published by Desert Waters Correctional Outreach and in his book “When Home Becomes a Housing Unit”.