As Corrections Officers we serve something much greater than ourselves. We take pride in our profession and the cause in which we serve. We are the final step of the criminal justice process, and our role is vital; entrusted by the law to uphold the law behind those walls. We are Law Enforcement. We are not just a stepping stone job to policing, or a job for washed out cops. We are not “guards” and we are no longer just “jailers”. Additionally, we are not JUST Corrections Officers, WE ARE Corrections Officers, and we are proud of that title.
Corrections is often under-recognized for the noble professional it is. Understaffed, overpopulated, outnumbered and overworked. We manage sometimes over a hundred inmates without the reliance of a firearm. It’s us, the inmates and our ability as a leaders to manage them through influence, wisdom and respect. It’s no easy task, but it’s necessary and takes a special character with a unique heartset and mindset to do our job. We have to be firm in our principles, fair in our treatment and consistent in our actions and decisions.
Our job is not to punish, that’s for the courts. Rather our role as Corrections Officers is one of many hats. We are the first responders to every crisis that occurs. At times we fill the roles of mental health and medical staff. We are negotiators, diplomats, confronters and enforcers. While we are sometimes disciplinarians, we are also teachers, counselors and role models, for many who have lacked that kind of figure in their lives. But most importantly we are master communicators. Our profession has evolved and our roles have changed. Our training, knowledge and skill has to constantly adapt to these changes and needs of our communities. The rise in mentally ill inmates has risen to over 65% in our jails and 53% in our prisons across the nation. The heroin epidemic has created a revolving door and increasing death toll to our jails. Now we’re facing a synthetic drug rise that is bringing officer safety to a whole new level. Everything we do in the glass house we work in is scrutinized by the public, but it doesn’t stop us from our unconditional service. We are perpetually optimistic and our values are unwavering. Everything we do is objective and done with good purpose. It’s that purpose that defines our action, and practical wisdom that shapes our decisions. A mindset that is legal, professional and safe. We train to win as warriors of a noble cause, and all strength and force is applied with good purpose.
While we are warriors always, we are guardians first. Defenders, protectors and keepers. We defend that blue line and we defend the constitution. We protect our communities from the most dangerous and damaging members of society; those who have been cast out. Some who are manipulative, violent predators with nothing but evil intentions, and nothing to lose. But we still watch over them, protect their rights, and protect them from one another. We do so because we believe in accountability, and that people who commit crime should be held accountable for their actions. And when people say “how can you serve, protect and respect the criminal?” We say it is not because we respect who they are or what they’ve done; but because we respect ourselves, the situation, the profession and the cause we serve. One can’t give what they don’t have, and one can’t expect what they don’t give. Respect starts with us. And while there are a small percentage that are truly evil, majority are not. And most people who walk through our intake doors are at the lowest points of their lives. Struggling, broken addicts who made poor decisions. But they are still people, human beings we took an oath to serve. Sometimes people we know and love. We are the first step of reentry for these people, and sometimes the last light of hope. True reentry starts with us, through dignity and respect. Our desire to leave people better off than the way we found them; hoping to remind them that their past and current situation should remind but it should not define. We know that every interaction leaves an impact, and every interaction has an opportunity to make a difference through the power of influence. It can be a negative one that is damaging and discrediting to the profession and all we do, or it can be a positive one that is corrective and life giving, helping restore trust and confidence from the communities and people we serve.
We are not naive, and our way of being is not soft. It’s just good tactics, making operations safer and more efficient, and it makes each day worth living. We are mission focused and purpose led. We are tactically sound and we are mindfully aware. We leave our ego and judgment at the door, and replace it with curiosity and confidence. We are friendly without being familiar, and we do not demonize. We are fit physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually; constantly sharpening our saw. But most importantly, we too are just human. We make mistakes and we have bad days. We become emotionally and mentally drained, and sometimes detached. Our fitness is often put to the test during conflict and crisis. We are humbly reminded that we too are but one bad decision away from being on the other side of the badge. But we know that no matter what, we never lose, we either win or we learn, because we are professionals.
No kid ever grows up wanting to be a Corrections Officer, but almost every kid grows up wanting to make a difference. That is exactly what we CO’s are doing each and everyday. Even if we only reach one out of a hundred, we are doing our job. And we will do that with pride and honor until we retire when and how we want to. That is success. And this is why Corrections is so incredibly noble.