By Brandon Anderson
THE ROLE OF A CORRECTIONS OFFICER – A GUARDIAN AND A WARRIOR
As a Corrections Officers, we take pride in the profession we work in and the cause in which we serve. Corrections plays a vital role in the realm of law enforcement as the final step of the criminal justice process. We have been entrusted by the law, to uphold the law behind the walls. This runs deeper than being a “guard” or “jailer”, which is often what we are referred to as. Also, we are not JUST Corrections Officers, WE ARE Corrections Officers, and we are proud of that title. We don’t treat our career as a stepping stone job into law enforcement, or a fallback job for washed out cops who couldn’t cut patrol.
As Corrections Officers, our role in Law Enforcement is unique, and our career should be recognized for the noble professional it is. Understaffed, overpopulated, outnumbered, and managing over 70 plus inmates without the reliance of a firearm. It is us, the inmates, and our ability as leaders to manage them through the power of influence, practical wisdom, respect, courage and effective communication. It’s no easy task, but it is a necessary one that takes a special character with a unique skill set to do the job safely and effectively.
Our job isn’t to impose punishment, that’s for the courts to decide. Our role is also not to demonize and mistreat anyone, instead hold them accountable, keep them safe and perpetually attempt to influence change. Our role as a Corrections Officer is one of many hats. We are the first responder to every crisis that occurs behind the walls: suicides, suicide attempts, assaults, fights, homicides, overdoses and sometimes riots. The list goes on as some are daily occurrences. We are at times the fill-in mental health providers and the only medical staff on site. While we are at times disciplinarians, we are also teachers, role models and counselors for individuals who have lacked that kind of figure in their life. We are not just guards, rather guardians. Defenders, protectors and keepers, and not to forget warriors, who are tactically sound and equipped at all times to always win every fight for a good cause.
The risks and rigors of our ever-evolving profession continue to rise, while corrections remains out of sight and out of mind. Our training and skills continue to adapt, fighting to stay in compliance with the changes and demands of our evolving profession. The rise in mentally ill inmates has risen to over 60% in our jails and over 50% in our prisons across the country. The heroin and opiate epidemic has created a revolving door to our jails with heightened risk for overdose and death, and now we are facing a synthetic drug rise that is bringing officer safety to a completely new level. However, the nobility of our profession is just as strong, if not stronger than it has ever been. We continue to serve objectively, reasonably and honorably.
Everything we do in the glass house we work in is scrutinized by the public; our words, our actions and our decisions. However, as Corrections Officers who believe in perpetual optimism and values that are unwavering, we continue to stay rooted in the purpose in which we serve, and operate in a way that is legal, professional and safe. We are committed in training to win as warriors of a noble cause, and all of our skill and strength is used with good purpose. Conflict is never personal, and all of our force is objective, reasonable, necessary and justified. We are not paranoid, but always prepared, guardians first and warriors always. The safety of our staff, officers, inmates, and facility are always the top priority. Everyone goes home — that is our motto.
We continue to watch over and care for all who have been kicked out of society, to include the most manipulative, dangerous and violent individuals. We continue to protect their rights, protect them from each other and protect our communities from the most damaging members of society. We do so because we believe in justice and accountability, and that people who commit crime should be held accountable for their actions so that our communities can live at peace.
While it is easy to fall victim to the jaded cancer often preying on us within the walls, we recognize when it is time to detach, look at the big picture and reevaluate. We have the right to be human, but purpose keeps us reasonable. We remain objective and empathetic, never to be confused with sympathetic and compromised. We know that a wise decision is the right decision, meaning we know the right way to do the right thing, with a particular person, in a particular circumstance and at a particular time. Every person and situation we face is different. There are a percentage of inmates that are truly evil, but the majority are not. Most of the people that walk through our intake doors are at the lowest points in their lives; struggling addicts frequently making poor decisions. However, they are still people, and sometimes people we know and love. Every person has a story, so we meet people where they are at.
DIGNITY AND RESPECT
Through deliberate practice, we have learned that treating people with dignity and respect is not only vital to safe and effective operations, but also a true reflection of our character. We do not demonize — we leave our ego at the door, as we know that ego and disrespect is one of the quickest ways to create a dangerous and unsafe situation. The formula of our respect as Corrections Officers is that we don’t expect respect in order to give our respect. We operate out of respect regardless, not because we respect the crime or the behavior, but because we respect ourselves, our values, the situation, our agency, the badge we wear, the profession and purpose we serve. We know a person cannot give what they don’t have, and when an inmate doesn’t even have respect for themselves, we can’t expect them to give it when we demand it. Instead, with tact and strategy, we work to create trust with each interaction, finding what motivates that person and what is important to him/her. We are less suspicious and task focused, and take an active approach in being more curious and outcome focused. This is the foundation of influence and positive change, and it is only possible through actually caring. As a result, we then have the first step of reentry. Yes, corrections and the Corrections Officers who work courageously behind the walls are the beginning of Reentry. Ultimately, it starts with the person behind the badge, making a difference, leaving people better off than the way we found them and fulfilling our intrinsic value of purpose and accomplishment for the greater cause. Purpose is the root of it all, in “why” we do what we do. Sometimes giving people some dignity and respect who are at the lowest point in their life, dealing with addiction, have mental health issues, or both, just may just be the shift in true reentry that the criminal justice system needs. We try to correct through influence, helping individuals become safe and productive members of society once again.
We are not soft and naive nor hard, ignorant and arrogant. As guardians we are both warriors and scholars, strong, skilled, knowledgeable and wise enough to use discretion to know when we are dealing with violent, hardened, manipulative and evil criminals, versus those who just made poor decisions. We fully understand that many aren’t going to change their ways, however, without hope, optimism and purpose rooted in service, we are only part of the problem. That is where faith in knowing we serve something greater than our self comes in to play. We let integrity, purpose and the nobility of what we do drive us towards our destination of success.
LEADERS OF INFLUENCE
As leaders of influence, each and every interaction has an impact and the opportunity to make a difference. With each mindful interaction, we’re curious, humble, confident and tactically sound without getting that confused with being judgmental and egotistical. We leave our ego at the door. We know that one interaction can cause damage to the entire profession and discredit all we do. However, one simple interaction can also make positive difference and impact the profession as a whole, helping us restore the trust and confidence that has been lost from some of the communities we serve. Even if we reach just one person out of one hundred, and help change their life, we are making a difference, making our communities a better place and moving our profession in the right direction. Empathy, dignity and respect go a long way. Not only does it make operations safer and more efficient, but it reminds offenders that their past and current situation does not have to define them, it can only remind them.
We have the power of control which is necessary at times, but more importantly our power of influence is the most powerful tool we have. Our power of influence is built off of a desire to solve problems and leave people better off than the way we found them. We never miss a moment to make a difference and impact a life, as this is the heartset of many Corrections Officers. An under recognized, yet unconditional form of public service. We are proud to be a Corrections Officer, and proud of our profession. Life is all about making a difference, and that just so happens to be what corrections is all about. No kid ever grows up wanting to be a Corrections Officer, but almost every kid grows wanting to make a difference, and there are Corrections Officers out there making a difference every day.
Brandon Anderson is a Police Officer for the Sumner Police Department in Washington State. He has spent the last few years as a sergeant/frontline supervisor with a large regional jail in Washington. He joined the Marine Corps in 2007 and started working in corrections in 2012 at a small county jail. He has worked both indirect and direct supervision as a frontline officer and frontline supervisor. He spent two years as the training coordinator and primary TAC officer for the Corrections Officers Academy in Washington State from 2015-2017. As a Master Defensive Tactics instructor, Blue Courage instructor, Emergency Response Team instructor and Use of Force instructor, he is very passionate about training and optimizing the best out of those in our profession.
“David Rodriguez, Chief Human Resource Officer & Chief Diversity Executive, discusses the scope of employees wellness including relationships, physical and mental well being, and a sense of purpose in the company and beyond.”
By Editorial Board
For the Chicago Police Department, 2018 had been a rough year that couldn’t end fast enough. Cmdr. Paul Bauer was shot to death in February as he pursued a suspect in the Loop. Officer Samuel Jimenez died in a November hospital shooting. There had been a number of suicides.
Then came the evening rush hour of Dec. 17. Two officers from the Far South Side Calumet District, both new on the job and both fathers, were hit by a Metra train and killed while chasing a man after a report of gunfire.
The deaths of Officers Eduardo Marmolejo, 36, and Conrad Gary, 31, were a sickening blow to the department. The Calumet District already had experienced more than its share of loss. Marmolejo and Gary were the fourth and fifth officers in the district to die in 2018, two others by suicide and one of an apparent heart attack.
A few days ago, in a story by the Tribune’s Madeline Buckley, a new detail emerged from that awful evening that speaks to the shared sacrifice of first responders. It also offers an example, amid heartbreak, of what leadership looks like:
Superintendent Eddie Johnson and other top brass had been the ones to reclaim the young officers’ remains from the Metra embankment, sparing other officers the anguish of the task.
Continue reading here.
By STATESIDE STAFF• APR 9, 2019
In the past two years, the Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson has lost four correctional officers to suicide. Earlier this month, his family and co-workers honored Michael Perdue, a long-time CO at Cotton, who died by suicide this year.
Corrections officers across the state are hoping these tragic losses will bring attention to the pressures of working in prisons.
Cary Johnson has been a corrections officer at Cotton since 1995, and she is part of an effort by the Michigan Corrections Organization, the union representing corrections officers, to better understand the mental health issues that impact prison staff, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Johnson says that Michael Perdue’s suicide had a ripple effect throughout the prison.
Continue reading and listen to the audio of the interview here.
POSTED 3:58 PM, APRIL 3, 2019, BY BEN BRADLEY
CHICAGO — A spike in suicides among Chicago police officers has members of the department sharing stories of their own struggles.
Four Chicago officers committed suicide last year and there have already been three this year. CPD’s rate of suicide is more than double the national rate for members of law enforcement.
In the video, four current and former Chicago cops sharing piercingly personal stories.
Their stories are part of a new department video that was shown to officers for the first time Wednesday.
Watch the video and continue reading here.
A dozen or so police officers gather once every month in the basement of an office building and talk — about handling holidays with families, about nightmares so bad they are reluctant to share a bed at night.
Most of the officers were involved in a shooting while on duty, and here they share stories of what that has meant. Sometimes they cry.
“This is what trauma looks like,” says Carrie Steiner, a former Chicago cop turned therapist who runs the counseling center. “This is what PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) looks like.”
Responding to that trauma is now a top challenge for the Chicago Police Department, where alarms are sounding after six officers killed themselves over the last eight months.
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SAMANTHA MICHAELSFEBRUARY 19, 2019 6:00 AM
On the dimly lit second floor of Stockton, California’s police headquarters, Lieutenant Brad Burrell addressed a room full of recent cadets: “Please come into this with a very open mind,” he told the seated officers, who had just signed up to patrol one of America’s most dangerous cities. Burrell, a tattooed combat veteran, was leading a daylong training intended to help the city’s next generation of cops talk about their feelings and cope with stress. “I sat on these very seats many, many years ago and thought, ‘I don’t need this junk,’” he said. “I was very wrong.”
In 2014, after the killings of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York sparked nationwide protests over police violence, Barack Obama created the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The committee would develop strategies not only for building trust between cops and communities, but also for addressing mental health problems among law enforcement. Nationally, more active-duty officers die from suicide than from shootings and traffic accidents combined—about 11 or 12 per month, according to some studies, and at least 27 so far in 2019, according to Karen Solomon, president of the group Blue H.E.L.P. And an estimated 150,000 cops show up to work with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that’s often linked with heightened vigilance and could potentially affect their decision-making in fast-moving, high-pressure encounters—like when a suspect on the street reaches into a pocket for what may or may not be a gun.
The science is new, but as researchers begin to explore how trauma might affect cops on the job, more police departments are paying attention to their officers’ emotional wellbeing. They’re trying out everything from meditation apps to napping protocols to more traditional resources like counseling and chaplain programs. Last year, 115 agencies applied for a national awardrecognizing innovation in officer wellness and mental health programs, up from 10 agencies the year before.
Continue reading here.
By Katelyn Newberg / Las Vegas Review-JournalFebruary 7, 2019 – 8:13 pm Updated February 8, 2019 – 8:27 pm
Corrections officers Neal Bengil and Jose Miranda were new to the job when a prison dormitory turned into a scene of chaos the night of March 9.
The officers, along with three co-workers, were unarmed when they went to stop a fight that had broken out among 24 inmates at Southern Desert Correctional Center in Indian Springs.
It was the team’s bravery during the massive fight that earned the five officers awards from Corrections USA, a nonprofit group that represents government corrections officers, Chairman James Baiardi said before Wednesday night’s awards ceremony at Harrah’s.
Continue reading here.
By Karen SolomonPublished on Jan 30, 2019
Karen Solomon is a national speaker, author, columnist and advocate. Karenis also the co-Founder and President of Blue H.E.L.P., and she will be speaking in depth about the rise of officer suicide during her Accelerate 2019 sessions.
In 2016, an officer who served his community very well for 17 years died by suicide. He had spent the last two years of his life struggling from post-traumatic stress, a direct result of two on-duty incidents. After his death, his Lieutenant told me that he wanted to give this officer a funeral with honors because he deserved it – but some of the officers in his department thought otherwise.
Those officers said he didn’t deserve it, he wasn’t one of them anymore. He chose to leave them. He chose suicide. Others in the department countered that he did deserve honors, saying that he served for 17 years, he was one of them, and he literally gave his life to the career. Some members of his community, the same people he served for seventeen years, said, “We don’t want to waste our money or our resources on him. He did not die a hero.”
The Dalai Lama speaks to the necessity of educating the heart and mind.
By TENZIN GYATSO THE 14TH DALAI LAMANOV 13, 2017 | 4:00 AM
When the president of the United States says “America first,” he is making his voters happy. I can understand that. But from a global perspective, this statement isn’t relevant. Everything is interconnected today.
The new reality is that everyone is interdependent with everyone else. The United States is a leading nation of the free world. For this reason, I call on its president to think more about global-level issues. There are no national boundaries for climate protection or the global economy. No religious boundaries, either. The time has come to understand that we are the same human beings on this planet. Whether we want to or not, we must coexist.
History tells us that when people pursue only their own national interests, there is strife and war. This is shortsighted and narrow-minded. It is also unrealistic and outdated. Living together as brothers and sisters is the only way to peace, compassion, mindfulness and more justice.
The time has come to understand that we are the same human beings on this planet. Whether we want to or not, we must coexist.
Religion can to a certain degree help to overcome division. But religion alone will not be enough. Global secular ethics are now more important than the classical religions. We need a global ethic that can accept both believers and nonbelievers, including atheists.
My wish is that, one day, formal education will pay attention to the education of the heart, teaching love, compassion, justice, forgiveness, mindfulness, tolerance and peace. This education is necessary, from kindergarten to secondary schools and universities. I mean social, emotional and ethical learning. We need a worldwide initiative for educating heart and mind in this modern age.
At present our educational systems are oriented mainly toward material values and training one’s understanding. But reality teaches us that we do not come to reason through understanding alone. We should place greater emphasis on inner values.
Intolerance leads to hatred and division. Our children should grow up with the idea that dialogue, not violence, is the best and most practical way to solve conflicts. The young generations have a great responsibility to ensure that the world becomes a more peaceful place for all. But this can become reality only if we educate, not just the brain, but also the heart. The educational systems of the future should place greater emphasis on strengthening human abilities, such as warm-heartedness, a sense of oneness, humanity and love.
I see with ever greater clarity that our spiritual well-being depends not on religion, but on our innate human nature — our natural affinity for goodness, compassion and caring for others. Regardless of whether we belong to a religion, we all have a fundamental and profoundly human wellspring of ethics within ourselves. We need to nurture that shared ethical basis.
Ethics, as opposed to religion, are grounded in human nature. Through ethics, we can work on preserving creation. Empathy is the basis of human coexistence. It is my belief that human development relies on cooperation, not competition. Science tells us this.
We must learn that humanity is one big family. We are all brothers and sisters: physically, mentally and emotionally. But we are still focusing far too much on our differences instead of our commonalities. After all, every one of us is born the same way and dies the same way.
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual leader of Tibet and a Nobel laureate for peace. He wrote this op-ed with Franz Alt, a television journalist and bestselling author. This piece is adapted from their new book, “An Appeal to the World: The Way to Peace in a Time of Division.”