Below are 6 principles to live by that will optimize your safety and wellbeing as a corrections officer.
So much of corrections related training and demands are focused solely around the tasks, liabilities and things that help move the organization towards achieving “its” mission. This is very important, unfortunately, it can often be forgotten that it is “the people” that make operations run and that relationships require just as much investment as operations. The people are a priority, and investing in them is not a task, as “life” itself is the core of all core values. We owe a service to our communities, and we cannot serve and protect our communities at full potential if we do not take care of ourselves and take care of each other.
Corrections officers walk one of the toughest and most challenging beats out there as first responders behind the walls, with the risks and rigors they are faced with each day. They spend 8, 12, sometimes 16 hours supervising those who have literally been cast out of society, responding to suicides, fights, assaults, overdoses and other crisis. With the challenges of such a noble and necessary profession, taking care of “self” is probably one of the most critical elements in truly optimizing the best out of the person, the people and the agency.
A corrections officer can train significantly on how “not” to become a victim to inmate manipulation and assaults, but if they fall victim to themselves, they have already been compromised. Sometimes a corrections officer is his or her own worst enemy. Our corrections staff deserve better, and they also owe that duty to themselves to look after their own personal health and wellness.
Below are 6 elements for total wellness I refer to as “Life on P.A.R.O.L.E.”. However, it’s a different kind of “parole” which actually lets you live free from the restrictions we often place on our own lives. These are strategies that you can apply to optimize our wellbeing both personally and professionally, getting you ON MISSION through a life of service and accountability. The whole idea is to make each of these steps a habit and ultimately a way of being. Doing this will require both disciple and consistency, and will also require taking ownership of your life. However, in the end it will be worth it. There is no greater way to live, than to live ON MISSION for your faith, your family and yourself. Make no excuses, start taking ownership of your life today, and get ON MISSION through P.A.R.O.L.E. What you feed and nurture will grow, but what you starve and neglect will die.
Below are the 6 elements of P.A.R.O.L.E.
P – Understand and stay rooted in PURPOSE:
Purpose is the foundation of “why” we do what we do. It is easy to explain to someone “what” you do and “how” you do it, but it takes deeper thought to explain to someone “why” you do what you do. The “why” is the driving force that what makes life worth living, provides us with meaning and value, and keeps us grounded in knowing the greater purpose in life. Many entered this career with a service heartset and mindset, and that is where you should stay rooted. When you ask yourself “how and who can I help” and make it a daily goal to leave people and things better off than the way you found them, as simple as it is, that alone is enough to drive your “why” each day.
Constantly evaluate your purpose, and whenever you think about giving up, fall back to remembering why you started. Corrections is an incredibly noble profession, and even though it may be implicit, you are making a difference each day you work behind the walls.
As much as you should take pride and be committed to the profession, it should never take priority over your faith, your family and your home life. It is critical to keep your home life and work life separate. Purpose runs deeper than just your career, however, it is not unlikely that if your purpose is to make a difference, it is fitting for both realms. Yes, you should view success as retiring when and how you want to, looking back at an honorable career of service, but if you fail to go home and love your family, you’re missing the bigger picture of success itself. Success is only one part of purpose, so don’t miss the journey. Ultimately, the true value of life and success may simply be measured by how much of life itself you are willing to give away in service.
A – Find ACCOMPLISHMENT through ACCOUNTABILITY:
At the end of the day, we all look for a true sense of accomplishment, and people often over complicate it. In fact we sometimes tend to overcomplicate corrections itself. It’s not about being better than others, it’s about being better that you were before. It’s also about making others better. In fact, the more it is about doing unto others, and the less it is about personal gain, the more fulfilling that sense of accomplishment is. The little things really matter when it comes to fulfilling purpose, value and accomplishment, and they come in all shapes and sizes. The little things are especially relevant in corrections. You do not need to move mountains to make a difference. Sometimes a random act of kindness makes the largest impact. There is also a deep intrinsic sense of accomplishment when you help someone out in need. As you recapitulate at the end of the day, a random act of kindness can be the very thing that you find gratitude in, which you can then express, and in turn strengthens relationships, promotes positive thought and emotion, and makes life truly fulfilling.
This doesn’t mean stop setting goals for yourself. Just don’t make those goals the defining factor of accomplishment. Also, each time your brain has a success, do not change the goal post for what success is supposed to look like, just continue to set realistic goals, and stay disciplined in accomplishing those goals one step at a time. Find accomplishment in the present, don’t define it by the future.
The quickest way to tear down the bridge between goals and accomplishment is both a lack of discipline and a victim mentality. Discipline, consistency, and having an “I can” attitude despite the circumstances is what bridges the gap between goals and accomplishment. This takes practical wisdom in knowing the right way to do the right thing, with particular people at particular times. Cutting through the black and white, and into the grey of situations. It’s knowing how to play and win the game, placing principle before rules, without compromising safety, integrity and honesty. When you learn to master this craft in doing not only the right thing, but the wise thing as a servant, you start to find victory in even the smallest successes.
Additionally, you must also have accountability in your life. Someone or something has to hold you accountable to the accomplishment you set for yourself. You must acknowledge and own the problems and challenges that occur, as well as your current circumstances. If we have nothing to hold us accountable, we tend to cheat ourselves. Accountability requires courage, discipline and consistency, which in turn pave the path to accomplishment. You must do the best you can, with what you’ve got, in your current circumstances, leaning on friends and mentors for support, wisdom and accountability. It’s perpetually reminding yourself that as long as you’re breathing, you never lose, you either win or you learn.
R – Maintain meaningful and authentic RELATIONSHIPS:
As social animals, people were made to be in relationship with one another. Relationships and healthy human connections are one of the most vital aspects of life, as they enhance trust and unity amongst each other. In corrections, it is easy to feel isolated in a POD surrounded by inmates, working 12 hours out of sight and out of mind from the rest of the community. It is easy to get caught up in the tasks demands and operational needs of the day. However, tasks and operations do not override people and relationships. People first, mission always. You literally depend on strong professional relationships with your peers and supervisors, and strong professional relationships do not exist without trust. Fostering and maintaining a culture of trust and transparency can sometimes be an obstacle in itself. While you should trust carefully, you should also keep a mindset of curiosity rather than suspicion, looking at intention over perception. Make it a goal to acquire trust from not only the peers you work with, but the inmates you supervise. This requires practicing good emotional intelligence in recognizing and regulating emotion. Corrections can be an emotionally challenging and depleting environment, and it’s okay to have bad days. As a peer, it is important to not only recognize this, but be supportive of this as well. This falls back to servanthood and purpose, in asking “how and who can I help?” Think of your peers as family, not just-co-workers; family united behind the walls. Negative and broken relationships can not only cripple operations, but also affect your wellbeing. However, strong, meaningful, positive and authentic relationships can be the driver in flourishing operations and a thriving culture.
Again, relationships at home are the most important. Your family always comes first, so don’t neglect them. Go to work, work hard, then go home and love your family. Family needs constant investment and nurturing. Nurture positive, meaningful and authentic relationships, remembering they are one of the most important aspects of life.
O – Stay perpetually OPTIMISTIC:
It’s easy to look for the negative in everything, but it’s not productive. The difference between pessimism and optimism is the same comparison as a victim and a survivor. One loses, the other either wins or learns. So don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution.
Yes, the small things matter in corrections, and it is important that you pay attention and do not compromise the small things. However, that does not mean you should sweat the small things, just fix them. You have to surround yourself with positive relationships but not expect everyone and everything to be compatible with you all the time. We must remain flexible, empathetic, and open minded in how we harmonize with the flow of life and our relationships. Optimism starts with managing positive thought and emotion and staying mentally and emotionally fit. This is paramount in solving problems. You have the choice to be part of the problem or part of the solution. Gossip, complaining and pessimism are all cancerous vices that will pollute an organization and damage relationships. However, being part of the solution fills the void of achievement and accomplishment, and is the easiest way as a leader to humbly set the example in solving problems. Ideas are important, innovation matters, and having a creative mind will not only promote positive thought and emotion, but create safer and more effective operations.
L – Live with LOVE and gratitude:
Life is full of both battles and blessings, so we have to stay strong, fight the good fight and live with gratitude and love. Gratitude alone is one of the most powerful and healthiest emotions you have and it is one of the purest forms of love. It is incredibly contagious, and the more gratitude you identify and express, the more that expression of gratitude becomes a daily way of being. Despite any circumstance, there is always something to be grateful for. It is a matter of perspective, and when you are rooted in purpose, and realistically optimistic, gratitude is literally the cherry on top to your mental and emotional wellbeing. Make it a habit to journal 1 to 3 things you are grateful for at the beginning or end of each day. You will relive those positive experiences. However, do not just capture that gratitude, but express it as well. It is not enough to just feel grateful, but the expression of gratitude completes the circle for meaningful and successful relationships, and successful relationships complete the circle of successful operations.
Gratitude stems from thought, so you must also manage your thoughts and emotions. With the millions of operations it performs each second, and the 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts it has each day, your brain is one of the most powerful tools you have in determining the course of your life. Many think that it is the circumstances themselves that define happiness, when in reality, you hold the key to almost every situation. Your thoughts are the very thing that shape your subconscious, and your subconscious that ultimately shapes your reality. Sure genetics and circumstances can definitely be factors in your state of happiness, but approximately 40% of that happiness is your choice. Be mindful and perpetually optimistic of the past, present and the future. Also, be very careful where you spend your thoughts and energy, especially in your facility where many would label as a negative environment. Unmanaged depleting emotion and unhealthy thought will only cripple operations, relationships and a fulfilling life.
Keeping a glass half-full perspective will not only improve your view of work, but your relationships, creativity and performance. Studies show that humans are actually 31% more productive in the positive, than in the negative, neutral or stressed. With corrections, not only are you more productive in the positive, but safer as well; and safety will always be the top priority. James Allen said it in this way “a man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all of his thoughts.” While God has ultimate control over all, God gave us control over your thoughts, even though sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. It is okay to have depleting emotion such as anger and frustration, but we must recognize and regulate that emotion so that we can use it for good purpose. Our own mind can sometimes be our biggest enemy. So as you go throughout your day, learn to scan the world for the positive. As you practice emotional intelligence, don’t just be good at recognizing emotion, but master the regulation of your emotion and use it appropriately. Constantly ask yourself “how do I feel, and how do I make others feel?” Constantly ask yourself “how and who can I help?” Constantly ask yourself “is the lens in which I am viewing things the right lens?” If not, change it. Remember that love and gratitude are not based on conditions or compatibility, they are base on principle, choice and action.
E – EXERCISE and find flow:
Living in vitality means staying resilient, coherent and fit. Often when people think about the term fitness, they think salads and treadmills. Bottom line is that your physical health is only a quarter of your overall resilience in being fully fit for duty. There are 4 domains to resilience, and they should all flow with one another as they deplete and renew throughout the day. Below are the 4 domains of resilience:
Physical – nutrition, proper rest, exercise
Mental – positive thoughts, optimism, proper rest, exercise
Emotional – positive relationships, positive thoughts, flexibility, patience
Spiritual – faith, morals, values, tolerance, servanthood, PURPOSE!
It is easiest to think of each of these 4 domains as rechargeable batteries that all sync with one another, and require balance and charge. The heart, the mind, the soul and the body all require exercise. When you exercise physically, generally you feel better mentally. When you think positive, you generally feel better emotionally. Staying rooted in purpose, thinking positive and expressing gratitude as listed earlier, are just practicing habits that keep your mental, emotional and spiritual batteries charged. This leaves the one domain that people often neglect, and requires discipline and consistency in eating healthy and exercising. Unfortunately, “I don’t have time” and “I don’t have a gym” is not a valid excuse. All you need is 10 minutes a day. Remember, exercise is also a contributing factor to your mental and emotional wellbeing. Below is a simple Tabata exercise that requires no equipment and only takes about 10 minutes of your day depending on the number of sets you decide to do:
- 20 Seconds: Exercise (push-ups, sit-ups, lunges, burpees, planks, body squats)
- 10 Seconds: Rest
- Repeat 8 times (4 minutes total)
- Do at least 2 sets (8 minutes total)
- Rest 1 minute in-between sets
- Try to alternate between exercises (push-ups, rests, sit-ups, rest, body squats, rest, repeat)
Corrections can be physically, mentally and emotionally demanding, so stay disciplined and keep those batteries charged. Exercise regularly, eat healthy, and get adequate rest. Most importantly, don’t forget to breathe. Heart focused breathing is the quickest and most effective way to align the heart and mind, and come back to a state of coherence. When safe to do so, clear your mind, close your eyes, find that feeling of inner ease, breathe in for 4-5 seconds, hold it for 4-5 seconds, exhale for 4-5 seconds and hold it for 4-5 seconds. Focus on your heart as you do this for 1 to 2 minutes. This is like the CTRL, ALT, DELETE for the human body, and we all need a reset every once in awhile.
The Kansas Highway Patrol have a saying that goes “when you chose law enforcement, you lose the right to be unfit”. The only thing to remember, is that there is a deeper meaning to the term “fit”. Fitness and vitality requires balance, discipline and consistency, and when you become engaged with life and find your flow, you’ll realize that a body in motion stays in motion.
It’s important to also remember that practical wisdom and a survival mindset play a critical role in not only your metal and emotional wellness, but are key players in finding daily flow. This doesn’t mean choosing the path of least resistance, it means learning how to improvise, adapt and overcome while staying balanced and in control.
Recapitulation and evaluation
Finally, it is critical to take time to recapitulate and re-evaluate at the end of every day. Along with taking time to journal thoughts, problems and ideas, mentally replay your day and your interactions and ask yourself:
- “what happened today?”
- “so what did I do?”
- “now what do I need to do?”
- “Is my attitude productive and beneficial to me or others?
- “Am I giving my best, or is my best yet to come?”
- “Where and how can I do better?”
Re-evaluate your purpose, your attitude towards life, friends, family, and your career. Do you need to control alt delete? I think we all do every once in awhile.
Bottom line is, your wellness matters, so take charge of the life you have been given in such a noble profession. Each day is a gift and tomorrow is never promised. These are steps that you can apply starting today that will help you change that pattern and lens through which your brain perceives reality, and help your body, mind and soul harmonize with the current flow of life. A happier and healthier you, means a happier, healthier and safer work culture, more effective operations, a happier family and an overall better life. You have to take care of yourself because you cannot pour from an empty glass. Getting ON MISSION starts with you.
I challenge you…
21 day challenge
Find flow for 21 days in a row by going through each of the following steps:
- Start your day early and be thankful for it. Each day is a gift to be grateful for, so own your current circumstances, smile and find flow with the day. Reflect on your purpose by asking yourself “what’s my why?”
- Journal 1 thing about the day that you are truly grateful for, and ask yourself “how can I express it?”
- Ask yourself “how can I serve, and who and how can I help?”
- Serve through a random acts of kindness. Maybe it is simply expressing your gratitude to someone and letting them know they are appreciated, whether it is verbally, or through a letter or text.
- Find a safe, quiet and calm place of solitude; sit down, relax, close your eyes, and practice 2 minutes of heart focused breathing, or several rounds of power breathing. Capture and hold on to that positive emotion that puts you at ease.
- Complete at least 10 minutes of physical exercise even if it is simply getting out and moving.
- Drink 8 glasses of water and maintain a healthy diet, the mind and body need it.
- Journal all thoughts, ideas and problems that come to your mind. All ideas are worth writing down, and all problems have a solution. Ask yourself “where and how can I do better?” Journal the “what” about the day, then ask yourself “so what, and now what?” Put words into action.
Here is the simplified checklist you can use to take you through this new journey of P.A.R.O.L.E. and get you ON MISSION:
☐ Own the day, your current circumstances and smile / “What’s my why?”
☐ Gratitude / “What am I grateful for and how can I express it?”
☐ Random act of kindness / “How can I serve and how or who can I help?” ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
☐ Get out and move! (At least 10 minutes of exercise)
☐ Hydrate (8 glasses of water)
☐ Heart focused breathing / Meditation (At least 2 minutes)
☐ Thoughts, problems and ideas / “Where and how can I do better?” / What, so what, now what?
I hope this helps, because your wellness matters.