Sunday, June 21, 2009

What I Am And What I Do

I am a Correction s Officer.

You may have guessed that already.

But as someone pointed out on The Sally Port, we are much much more than that. It's not enough to be just a C.O. To be really effective you have to wear as many hats as there are inmates in the prison.

The academy teaches us that our watchwords are "firm, fair and consistent". But to be truly a working piece of the corrections world you also have to be malleable, harsh and unpredictable.

You have to learn to change with not only the rules, which change every day but also with the offenders, who also vary from day to day. It's not like you deal with exactly the same people every day. The old offenders leave and new ones come in. Sometimes the old ones come back after awhile. But the dynamics are always in flux.

The rules are constantly changing. Sometimes they change from the top down. The Governor has a new project he wants to try; so, we try it. The Warden doesn't like the way a certain thing is done, so we don't do it that way anymore. The FUM wants to do this, the Captain wants to do that. And depending on which Lieutenant is working your side of the camp that day is how things get done that day.

Sometimes they change in the opposite direction. We find something that works and we go with it. It works and the Sarge says it's cool and we go. Sometimes our changes work their way up to the top and things get the official Sherman T. Potter okey-dokey stamped on them.

We have to be fair and attempt to treat all of the offenders exactly the same. As human beings, rather than representatives of their crimes. We have to treat child molesters the same as we treat alcoholics or drug abusers. We have to treat multiple murderers the same as car thieves.

And if you don't think that's difficult, give it a try sometime.

We have to be cruel when the occasion calls for it. We have to pick up that cigarette off the walk and throw it away rather than slide it under a cell door. We have to suit up and go in and forcibly restrain someone who doesn't want to take their psych meds anymore. And we hold them down and hurt them if necessary and let a nurse stick a needle in their butt because a judge somewhere said that they had to take it.

We have to act the same and do the same things every day, yet at times remain unpredictable so they don't learn your routine and get around behind you. Because if they do learn how to get around behind you, 99% of them will just sneak a cigarette. But the last 1% will come up and slit your throat.

I go to work every day knowing that most of the people on the inside would happily kill me of they could. And I go to work every day knowing that most of the people on the outside think I'm an uneducated goon.

Luckily for me, I know there are a few people on the outside who think otherwise.

Even though I get the privilege of wearing a highly flammable polyester uniform, I also get to be a fireman and a first responder if things go bad.

I am trained to save lives and I am trained to kill if the situation calls for it. One day in recertification training they teach us first aid and CPR. The next day we train with shotguns and pistols. It is possible that one day I could save the life of an offender choking or having a heart attack and the next day shoot him dead if he tried to climb the fence.

I am a plumber and maintenance man. I am a teacher and a counselor. I am a babysitter and a hospice worker. I am a food service worker and a housekeeping supervisor. I am a psychiatrist and a grief couselor. I am a beat cop and a detective. I am a cryptologist and an expert on slang and symbols. I am a physical fitness coach and a nurse practitioner. I am a soldier and I am a negotiator. I am a trained killer and an EMT.

This all sounds like I'm trying to come off as some sort of bada**. I'm not. If I were, I'd actually use words like "bada**" every now and then instead of using asterisks.

These are what I am and what every single Corrections Officer in this country is. All of these things and more.

This is what I am.... what we are. And this is what we do.

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