Can Corrections be a Good Career?

Corrections is one of the most punishing careers out there.  We are surrounded by society’s proven worst by their actions.  The environment is full of manipulative, violent predators who hate us just for the crest we wear on our shoulder. Can we make corrections into a good career?  Read on, and judge for yourself. “Corrections can destroy you, or it can set you free”.  This is something I keep in the back of my mind, especially after a challenging or frustrating day.  Working in this environment exposes us to concentrated humanity on extreme ends of the spectrum.  Day in and day out we deal with people that have poor emotional regulation and murderous capacities. If we can win in this environment, we will become truly strong.  The glaring question of course is how? It helps to re-frame the goal.  Converting these incarcerated people to be like us is not the goal, that comes later.  The goal is to make ourselves strong inside the storm.  I want to be clear here, weathering the storm does not mean shouldering abuse day in and day out.  That isn’t winning either.  That is simply the continual struggle until we collapse under the weight and pressure of it all. Understanding perspectives and language outside of our own is key.  These people come from a different environment and upbringing than we are, and wired differently.  They learned to survive physical and emotional abuse, drug addicted parents, poverty, etc.  This does not justify their actions, but we need to understand why they act this way so we can respond appropriately.  Criminals understand the use of violence, bribery, extortion, intimidation etc. as the language they communicate with. Alright, that’s the starting point of understanding the environment we chose to work in.  It will take effort, study, and application to be successful. Behavioral studies are a must.  Understanding why people act the way they do helps tip the de-escalation scales in our favor.  In a split second, this helps determine if an action is personal or merely venting.  It’s very important to understand this concept.  A person who is venting off will calm themselves down if not provoked further, but a personal attack is significantly more dangerous because we are the source of the anger.  There is a high degree of unpredictability here as well, which may involve drug use, mental illness, and emotional state.  A more direct approach is required.  Remove ourselves from the area, or intervene immediately. The bonus in learning behavior as a skill?  It affects every other interaction in our personal lives as well.  The value of this can’t be understated. On to the next section, physical ability. A prison environment is full of individuals that respect strong capable humans.  Fitting into this category will instantly lower the many problems we face.  Our muscles work better, our posture is correct, and we walk with more confidence when we are physically fit.  That’s only part of the equation though.  We do not have the affordances of tactical equipment at our disposal.  In a prison setting it comes down to humans in a caveman type setting.  Learning a combative type discipline with live resistance is a must.  Most people don’t understand how hard it is to physically restrain another human, and to do it without causing injury is even harder.  Definitely not a lesson to be learned the first time when it matters. The bonus in committing to this training is that it continually allows us to vent out our own frustrations in a safe manner.  When we have unpleasant encounters, we still get a trickle of the chemical cocktail.  The chemical cocktail is nature’s performance enhancer.  The downside with the cocktail is if we don’t burn it off, it accumulates in our system and causes problems.  It makes us jumpy, quick to react to things, and more defensive.  It’s like putting race fuel in your car, but the race gets cancelled and we are idling around with it in the tank. To conclude, corrections can be very difficult to strive in.  It takes dedicated work, and effort on the part of the individual.  It’s a great environment for personal development if we make it the goal.  This is how we inspire and motivate others to do the same, and how we set the example for those incarcerated.  While we may not change their outlook on life completely, we can all learn to better get along inside the same space. A little personal time invested may save years of stress.

12 thoughts on “Can Corrections be a Good Career?”

  1. Very well said, I worked as a correctional officer for 36 years, in multi level institutions, from Maximum to minimum, to native healing lodge.
    I came from a similar background as most inmates, and this is not excusing their behavior, it is about personal choices. It did however give me insight into their behavior and conduct.
    You don’t have to be bad, just because you were brought up badly, that is each persons personal choice.

    1. Hi John, thank you for taking the time to read, and give us a little more perspective and insight. Understanding, and being able to work in that gray area seems to be the key. Did you find some things that were consistent between all those different environments to use as a foundational approach?

      1. I learned some advise a long time ago from an inmate who was serving a 2 life term for murder my first year on the job. He said rookie, there are three things you need to know when your working with the likes of us, 1, never lie to us, if your dishonest, it means you cant be trusted. 2 is we understand yes or no, there is no maybe. And 3 never back down or look away, stand your ground and look us in the eyes, never back up, we respect strength.
        Worked for me during my career..

        1. I 100% agree with you on this one John. Strength respects strength regardless of what side of the bars we are on, and in life in general. There is a huge difference between being patient and understanding versus not wanting to “rock the boat” so to speak. At some point we all end up in the spotlight and it can be a very defining or detrimental experience. One thing I make sure to always point out, especially for newer people is when they are successful in that test for that very reason.

          1. You also have to factor in the human side, when you do a that little extra, something as simple as a extra phone call because he had a fight with the G/F on his recent visit. Its a simple thing, and it shows them that you are humane.

          2. For sure. As always, little things like that are harmless in that context and also may help down the road. They watch our actions all the time. These types of things – being fair but firm are seen and respected in future engagements as well.

  2. I am a retired first Military career (26 1/2 years) and Corrections Canada 14 and a bit years. Corrections Canada can be a fascinating and rewarding Career but, the odds are not on your side. If you are capable of leaving your brain on your car when you get to work and then put it back in when you go home. Pay is good, Pension good, and you meet a whole new family. Would do it again tomorrow

    1. Hi Jim, thanks for taking the time to respond. When you say leaving your brain in the car, do you mean detaching emotionally from the place, or more so literally just going through the motions? I have seen people do both of those things, myself included at times.

    2. Jim, I agree with you; I served for a short time in the Canadian Navy, and enjoyed serving my country, along with the comradeship. When I went over to corrections, it was somewhat of an adjustment, but as you say you its a new family, and being a team player I would do it all over again.

  3. I too have spent my career working with the Correctional Service of Canada. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience. It was a daily attack on my belief system.

    In a quote from my first book, Serving Life 25- One Guards Story, I describe going to work where we were hated so much that given the chance they would slit our throats. Just to be clear, I am speaking of inmates.

    My second book is titled Beyond The Gates Of Hell-The Untold Stories.

    Nothing can ready you for the relentless attack on your senses. While we expect inmates to be trouble, it was staff that gave us more trouble.
    Good article.
    Cheers Neil MacLean

    1. Hey Neil, thanks for the reply! I will check out your books for sure. It’s always good to find the consistencies across the board to use as a foundation to build a better “operating system” to use as a guide.

      I agree, it’s quite a shock for sure to be dumped into that environment and have to learn everything by the seat of your pants. I think the best thing to do is being aware of upsets/bothers us and do the diligence to work with it, as opposed to avoid it.

    2. I think this can depend on personal experiences. I came to corrections from the infantry. The biggest issue I had initially was how things aren’t as strictly regimented. Of course that approach also doesn’t fit this environment either. Having the higher bar of resistance to stress was definitely a help – it still was there, but it was easier to back up and re-evaluate.

      For the every day type people jumping into this profession without prior similar experiences you’re definitely right and I have seen that too.

      In a way, it’s hard to blame staff. They get taught law and policy, how the place operates and then get handed a uniform. We literally take someone who was raised in a somewhat secure environment most of the time and throw them in the wild to he wolves. There’s a lot to adapt to. It can be overwhelming and scary.

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