My career began with taking a civil service exam when I was a junior in college. By the time I was a senior, I had been interviewed and scheduled to start at the Correction Officer Training Academy. Strangely, we had to report to work on a Friday afternoon, whereupon we were put on a bus and driven out of state to a prison that was empty of inmates. We spent the weekend as prisoners so as to have some understanding of the condition in which inmates exist. After that, there was eight weeks of training, then orientation and on-the-job training at the institution. There we worked different shifts and assignments so our supervisors could gauge our capabilities and determine what level of supervision we would require.
A crucial quality required for this job is to be able to be an instant supervisor. I was regularly in charge of a block of men. I had to supervise and facilitate inmates coping. I managed inmates on individual and group levels. Basically I brokered virtually all their life’s issues. Being a correction officer meant securing medical attention, supervising distribution of food, passing out linen, enforcing house rules, inspections and searches
The importance of this position, it is the last stop in the criminal justice system. A few will die there mostly of old age or of other natural causes, but most will be released. The character of the interaction with prisoners, the leadership a correction officer demonstrates, the integrity, and the ethics may rub off on some. Most likely success for the officer is doing no harm. Administering in a responsible fair manner is the officer’s charge. Additionally there were times I had to step up and deal with realities I would rather not and intervened when I had to. It is possible that I left a positive impression with some of these men and women.
I worked with increasing rank and transferred to all security levels. I found the most rewarding work at community based-prerelease centers. People came down from the prisons and while under supervision, got jobs in the community, addressed whatever needs they had for training education, spirituality or substance abuse services and succeeded more often than not. Over the years I held titles such as sergeant, lieutenant, supervisor of security, and director of training. I feel positive about the work I did there, though the tasks were daunting and frustrating.
I continued my schooling although that was not required for the job. Correction officer positions sometimes are paid an educational incentive. After working direct client contact for most of my career, I transferred into training where at various times I ran computer training, basic training, inservice training including staff orientations and executive training. I worked with experts throughout the country and internationally. I enjoyed training people to work in the correction system. I was satisfied that my training priorities of integrity, assertiveness and caution were good messages for the people who I trained.
I went back to school one more time and became a professor of criminal justice. In higher education, I have had the opportunity to research issues as varied as domestic violence and police officer bicycle patrols.
I find my years with the correctional system provide texture and context for my teaching and studies. I learn by studying and experience. Correction office is considered a lower status position in the criminal justice system. I am convinced that it is the individual who possesses the dignity not any particular job.