Why are Stress and PTSD Rates Alarmingly High in Corrections?

Despite having many less deadly violent incidents than police or military, why are stress, PTSD, and suicide rates so high in corrections? Soldiers and police deal with violence at extreme levels where guns and other weapons are involved. The stakes are high and the consequences are deadly. Soldiers and police use tools, and the procedures are more goal driven. Police officers stop bad guys, and bad guys want to sell drugs. Soldiers kill terrorists, and terrorists try to kill them back. In prison, everything is up close. It’s personal. Contained inside the environment of cinder blocks, concrete, and razor wire is concentrated evil. Manipulators, con men, predators, sociopaths. They’re there, always trying to stroke their vain ego and have power over others including the staff that work within those walls. That’s the currency is inside a prison. Status.  While there may not be as much physical trauma, having the verbal confrontations trigger the same chemical reaction as a physical fight. This happens more often than in the other occupations due to the sheer concentration of people, and the enclosed environment. Day in and day out, there are those problem individuals. The ones that exist to try and ruin our day for their own amusement. Some are predatory by nature and they act accordingly, with their asocial cues. They see others only as an objective to a goal, or an obstacle in the way. These types will try to use others as they see fit with zero regard for anyone but themselves. Some will simply hate you for the cloth you wear with the emblem stitched on it. Now, here’s the worst part.  In the other areas of the tactical world bad things either happen so fast that we are forced to deal with them immediately, or we plan ahead and know that there is potential for trouble. In prison though, we see that trouble coming. It’s that individual mentioned just above. They get let out, and we know the conversation will never be enjoyable, it may be straight up confrontational. It may be members of a gang looking to establish more dominance and so they attempt to intimidate staff and others, in groups in, common areas during times when movement occurs. This is where those feelings of anxiety start. Our bodies are already letting a little trickle of the chemical cocktail into the system in case things go sideways. Things can go sideways very quickly when we deal with others that have poor emotional regulation. These are cues that we become better at recognizing over time. This actually makes the job harder because we know the fight is coming and have to face it. Take all of this into consideration and pile on things from our external lives. Sick kids, marital, money, or other stressors in general. These things all distract us and we still need to be on point. And when that violence happens? Most of the time it’s personal and is always up close. It takes time for hatred to percolate.  It may involve some rusty shitty piece of metal that some sociopath is willing to stick into us because we do not let him go to the gym when he is not suppose to. They have a high opinion of themselves and who is some lowly servant to tell them what to do? One of them may have selected one of us due to our stature. Inmates will assault someone they think has a lower risk of causing them injury in retaliation to accomplish a goal. At the end of the day else stripped away during these confrontations. No barriers, no real tools. It’s you and the person standing in front of you and boils down to your willpower, mental resilience, and physical ability. This type of stress and abuse causes so many problems is because most of the time the target is personally selected. This can cause all kinds of problems such as insecurity, self-doubt, depression, to name a few. Now re-create this type of scenario over years and it does not paint a pretty picture. Considering all those points, it’s not hopeless. Far from it. Something needs to be understood about this profession. Corrections is concentrated humanity at its very worst, and very best from both sides of the spectrum. If we can learn to thrive in this environment, then we can improve our lives at work, at home, and anywhere our life journey takes us. We also see the best in people. Our co-workers are always there, toughing it out with us. As we collectively respond to incidents over and over together we build an unbreakable trust and bond. But first, we need to understand a few things about ourselves to make this all work, and have a healthy mind at the end of our careers. This involves taming the monster inside of us that’s hiding there, just under the surface.

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