Thursday, April 22, 2010


DWCO's Anonymous Correctional Worker Survey for Post-traumatic Symptoms

Desert Waters’ anonymous, 25-question Post-traumatic Symptom Survey for Correctional Workers can now be accessed from the home page of its website at
The survey takes about 15 minutes to complete. PLEASE ANSWER EACH QUESTION. Your input is critical. Help us put this much overlooked issue firmly on the map.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Well, I Do!

I always thought I had gotten away from corrections without too much damage. That is until I read this month's Desert Waters news letter. I now must admit I may just have some PTSD symptoms.

Yes, I have some of the same problems that some of the staff in the newsletter have. I have at least one weapon in each room. We have no small children in the house and my guns are loaded. In the past I pulled away from anyone not in corrections. To this day I trust very few people. I always sit when possible with my back to a wall. I tried the drinking scene. Anger, divorce, not caring. I keep trying to chill out with some of my quirks I picked up over the years that I worked inside the walls.

Oh, yes my friends, I know what you are going through. What I haven't been through myself I know of others who have, even suicide. I lucked out, my second wife worked in corrections. And she is a very understanding lady. I don’t know what I would have done without her.

I know not everyone has someone. You do have Desert Waters and the staff there. Call no matter where you live. If we can't help, maybe we can recommend someone or someplace. You do not need to give your name. Please let us or someone else help.

Receiving help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of knowing we can't always handle every thing on our own.

The Old Screw

Saturday, December 05, 2009


Sanity Tip--Good Relationships

Research, personal experience and history testify that one of the most effective ways to weather tough times and stay sane is to have good relationships. Good relationships form a safety net under us. They are a refuge, a place to refuel, a way to give and to receive, and a means to be held accountable.
Corrections work only too often takes its toll on relationships, as weary staff tend to lash out in anger or withdraw in reaction to even minor irritations.
If you want to make a priceless resolution for the new year, determine to say something encouraging, comforting or complimentary to those who are important to you whenever you interact with them. Make it an intentional goal. Or make it a game in which you are competing with yourself, ignoring old habits and strenghtening new ones. Do whatever it takes, but do it. Keep a log of what you said, to whom you said it and when until this new practice becomes second nature to you. And for extra benefit, make a point to listen with a caring and compassionate ear to those who matter to you.

Monday, November 02, 2009


Yet Another Staff Suicide

It hurts my soul that another exemplary correctional worker killed himself yesterday. His suicide blind-sighted & knocked the wind out of all who knew him. It hurts that he was all alone in his pain to the end, tormented by what proved for him to be unbearable heartache & hopelessness, yet he didn't feel safe to confide in any of his corrections "comrades in arms."
What do you think drove him to pretend everything was manageable & that he was OK?
From having spoken with 100s of you 1-on-1 over the past 9 years I'd say it's the culture that mocks & tears down whoever is perceived to be "weak." (For "weak," read "human.")
Paranoia prevails about being seen as a wus, because staff witness how those who do seek help get treated by their peers. Just admitting they're in emotional pain may render them an outcast in a hurry. Others are afraid (apparently for good reason) that seeking professional help will ruin their opportunities for promotion.
It's such a tragic choice to have to pick between being human & disrespected vs. respected & dead.
There's LOTS wrong with this picture. The picture needs to change yesterday!
And it's not just about intervening with people who have hit the wall & are on their last legs emotionally. It's also about being proactive & promoting staff & family wellness from the start, from the Training Academy & on a regular basis after that, & putting our money where our mouth is. Staff IS the most valuable asset in corrections.
Got to wire people for LIFE & to equip them to weather life's storms.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Sanity Tip—Optimism

While growing up my grandma repeatedly quoted to me the ancient Greek saying, There is nothing bad without some good mixed in with it. (The way you say it in Greek is, Outhen kakon amiges kalou.) The English equivalent is, Every cloud has a silver lining. So since early on in my life I was taught to identify positives in the midst of negatives. This practice has contributed greatly to my sanity to this day.
What always amazes me is the power of perspective, the fact that how I evaluate something—as good or bad—can affect my life for better or for worse. It is also very sobering that it is up to me whether I fixate my mind on the glass being half full or half empty. No one else can do it for me.
So I’ve learned to remind myself to look at mistakes as learning opportunities and closed doors as blessings in disguise. I may have to grit my teeth to get there, and even fake it till I make it sometimes, but when I get there I invariably find it to be a much better place than where I was before. If someone asks me, Do you think this event is good or bad? I reply, Yes. I know that if I see something as bad and expect bad outcomes, I’ll get demoralized and give up. And of course it will turn out to be a bad deal for me. If I maintain, however, that good can come out of the situation, I hang onto hope, persevere, do the right thing, and eventually identify blessings and opportunities for progress.
So, the bottom line is that how we respond to something may prove to be much more important, critical in fact, than what happens to us. And how we choose to respond is the responsibility of each one of us.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Sanity Tip--Spend Time Outdoors!

As we journey through life we (hopefully) learn what helps keep us afloat and moving forward. Some of what we learn is worth sharing with others. And since for me personal experience tends to be the proof of the pudding, I want to share with you “tried and true” tools that keep me sane.:) I plan to do that by posting a Sanity Tip pretty much every week.
The Sanity Tips fall in the following categories: Attitude, Conscience, Overcoming, Refueling, Relationships and Responsibility.
After posting my thoughts I’d love to hear your comments. Let me know what you think. Tell me if you put the tool into practice and how it worked for you. Perhaps you’ve already been using the tool for years. If so, comment on that also.

Sanity Tip—Spend Time Outdoors
Oh, the outdoors! Sunshine, moonlight, birds chirping and squirrels squawking, flowers exploding with indescribable color, the wind whistling through trees, rain, snow, mountains, lakes, roaring rivers, the saltiness of the sea. I’ve always felt refreshed by being outdoors—whether it’s stepping outside for 15 minutes or going away for five days. There is something about the sounds, sights, smells and tastes of nature that refreshes my soul. Whether a faraway place or a city park—even a walk around the block—put me in touch with something bigger than me, something majestic and amazingly complex. Even insects can be fascinating. I often spend time watching ants go about their business. And I find myself breathing more deeply and relaxing, sometimes even smiling, and getting refreshed before I go back to the grind.
Now I know that for some of you the world has become an unsafe place and being outside no longer sounds appealing. That’s the outcome of what I call Corrections Fatigue. You’re very aware that you can never tell who you may run into that has connections with offenders or who is a released offender. To you I say, please, try very hard to come up with places, times and ways you can enjoy the outdoors again. One of the people I know worked swing shift. After coming home at night he’d saddle up his horse and go for a ride, usually around midnight, in the foothills around his house. He told me that doing so helped him maintain his sanity. Especially after being cooped up in a corrections facility for 8 hours or more, you NEED to spend time outside regularly soaking in the beauty of creation.


Sunday, November 02, 2008


Looking Back

Submitted by ex-correctional worker.
I still often think of those days when I worked behind the gates and walls. A lot of the people skills I learned in prison I have learned to apply in the free world, because in every place of work there are always difficult people to contend with. During those years of working in a cauldron of human personalities and characters I learned to communicate in every type of situation. My past experience gives me confidence when I talk to supervisors, and I am able to articulate myself with my coworkers.
What I find most interesting about myself is that it is really easy for me to communicate with people of all races and to break down the barriers that society has created because of the differences in our skin color. I see apprehension and tension sometimes between white folks and others at work. We all work together, but I sense the discomfort and the invisible barriers that exist. Because of my experience working in institutions, I am able to transcend those barriers and communicate with them without any discomfort. It is like having magic glasses. I see their initial discomfort when they first meet me and then I see that discomfort melt away when we begin to talk, work, and hang out together.
Yes, I do think about my old job with pride. Sometimes I really miss it. It was a unique profession and now that it is behind me I think of all of the valuable lessons I learned there, the very special people I worked with, and the very important work that is accomplished in a job where at times it feels like you are doing nothing. I truly respect Correctional Workers. No street Police Officer or any other type of Law Enforcement profession is like Corrections. It is its own world set apart from the rest. I know that when I was there I didn’t feel that way. Many who work in that environment don't realize that what they do, what they see, and what they experience is unlike any other job out there. Correctional Workers deserve a lot more respect than they get and they deserve a lot more pay than they receive. The reason why so many folks on the outside barely know that they exist and what they go through is because they do their jobs so well. They should claim their “invisibility” as a sign of a job well done. I pray for their safety and happiness.


"What Am I Doing Here?"

Submitted by anonymous correctional employee.
It was May of 1988. The H.R. department called me and offered me a job as a Correctional Officer. I was 20 years old and I thought, "This is cool, I get to be the police." I got my uniforms, and started on shift the next night. No basic training, not for another 6 months. They just told me to show up for work at 2300 hours. My second night on the job, while conducting a shakedown of a common inmate area, I found a freshly sharpened 10 inch shank. I thought to myself, "What am I doing here?" 20 years later, 2 great supportive parents, 2 awesome kids, 2 divorces, the loss of 5 fellow correctional officers, God only knows how many shift changes (I think 16 times), 4 promotions and numerous inmate on staff assaults, including 5 on myself, and to add to that, high blood pressure and PTSD, and I still ask myself "What am I doing here?"Over the past 20 years, I've been constantly asking myself why I do what I do. Do I do it for the money, the prestige, the notoriety? I sure don't do it for the glory because there ain't no glory in this line of work.I come to work every day and put up with verbally assaultive inmates, physically assaultive inmates, hard-to-deal-with unhappy co-workers, and then there's my family who wants me to stay home with them because they miss me and don't want me to leave them, or there are days when I just dread coming to work because I know it's going to be another one of those days. I again ask myself, "What am I doing here?"

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Corrections vs. Police Officer Career Survival

Contribution from anonymous correctional worker:
I thought of your outreach services as I was sitting in a class last night. I've been taking part in the local police department's Citizen's Academy, and last night they talked about officer survival. One of the key points was that after any violent incident they have to talk to their Crisis Intervention Response Team. They have those instances on a rare basis during the course of their work, but most correctional officers are involved in violent incidents at least once a week.

They also talked about how working 24/7 365 days a year takes a toll on police officers and their families, and that they are watched for signs of distress, then sent for counseling. Correctional officers deal with the same issues, but are taught to just swallow their anguish and go on. It's a shame that correctional professionals are not given the same level of respect and care that police officers are. Instead, they are considered the bastards of the justice system. Many police officers wouldn't last a day as a correctional officer, because they wouldn't be able to keep their 21 ft. distance, nor would they be carrying a sidearm.

Keep up the great work that you do, and keep getting the word out that it is OK to seek counseling.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Here Is My Rant

Submitted by an anonymous Corrections Officer:
Here is my rant, my vent, my rambling, my words...
Judging by your webpage I imagine you have heard a lot of stories about COs and the various things they go through. Interesting to see how committed you are to the group of us malcontents and misfits. I am not real new to the career nor do I have all the experience that The Old Screw has. I am somewhere in between, along with a lot of my brothers and sisters. No, I do not have a problem with women in this workplace. They can do the job as well, if not better, than a bunch of the guys I work with.

There are good guys and bad guys everywhere you go. Most of the good guys where I work are staff and most of the bad guys are inmates. It’s all part of the job. And it is quite the job! I spend most of my days around convicted felons who are guilty of rape, murder, robbery, and more of the most heinous crimes. They are locked away from society for varying lengths of time for their crimes. Most of the time I do not care what they did to get into prison, though many of them share it willingly. Goes something like, "Motherf----r, I killed four f-----s on the street and more since I been locked down. You think I give a s--t about you or what you askin’ me to do? Motherf----r must be stupid." This coming from any number of inmates after being told “No.” It’s all part of that "fair, firm, and consistent" plan everyone talks about. It works great.

Now why would I go home and talk to my spouse or girlfriend about that? Why would I tell that story at a party of friends that do not work in the field? Why is it you find me hanging out with folks that understand what I go through on a daily basis? Folks outside of corrections do not have any idea what is like. No more than I know what it is like to be a surgeon, lawyer, or psychologist.

I have heard that I will never pass a psych eval again due to the stress of working in prison. I tend to think those folks are probably right when they make that claim. This job changes people. It has to, or you will not survive. The only folks that it does not change are the ones that were messed up to begin with, long before they took this job. There are plenty of those folks, too. So tough, and trying to act hard, that they make the job harder for everyone. Only thing worse is the weak ones that give into every demand of an inmate. Some get walked out. Others make it to Executive staff level. :)

I am not trying to dump on inmates, executive staff, co-workers, or even myself. Hell, we all have made mistakes. They are of varying degrees or they did not get caught. The corrections industry is a business. We are not here to rehabilitate or facilitate inmates into being model citizens. We are here to keep them locked up. I have deadly force as one of my tools to make sure the inmates stay in the warehouses we continue to make for them. There is little reprisal in most prisons for inmates who continue to do wrong. They get time added and move on to other places. And they keep breaking the rules and laws. What other choice do they have in this environment?

And just ‘cause the guy sitting next to you in traffic or on the bus is free does not make him a nice guy. We know what the folks in prison did to get there. We do not know a d--n thing about the guy next door. Makes me laugh every time I hear it. "He was always such a nice guy, quiet, never caused any trouble," Right in the news story of how he killed a family or raped innocent kids.

I am rambling because that is how I unwind. I have a dark sense of humor that is twisted and skewed. My outlook on life matches that. And I am supposed to share that with my loved ones or a counselor? I think not. If most folks knew the mindset of many of my co-workers they would think we needed to be locked up. We are! At least eight hours a day, five days a week, and 52 weeks out of the year I am behind multiple gates or doors with a set of keys that opens up doors in my area. So far, the keys have not been valuable enough to get me hurt or killed for an inmate to get somewhere else. Others have not been so lucky. And I hear folks say that is all part of the job. It is indeed. Some folks handle it better than others. Many of my co-workers stop by at the local pub on the way home. Hell, many of them would stop by on the way in if the bars were open and they knew they would not lose their jobs. Others find other outlets. Hobbies, hanging out with folks outside of the prison community, church, or other safer outlets. But inside the walls we are in it together. Dysfunctional, neurotic, psychotic, and prayerful.

My options are few outside this world. I make good money that supports my family and keeps a roof over my head. If I, and my co-workers, can make it to retirement, we have it made. Except that we get addicted to the adrenaline and something in our body snaps. Life expectancy for someone who spends their life working in a prison is less than 60 years old. Spend 25-30 years in a thankless job that no one in their right mind would do, and then you die. I keep hearing the famous saying, “It is all good. Another day in paradise." It is not all good, and this is not paradise. Every prison I know of is short on staff, but not short on inmates. The inmates have the capability of taking over just about every prison yard across the US. State, county, private, and feds. We will get them back. That is what we do. That is what we are paid for. That is what we signed on for, whether they told us that upfront or not.

Who would have taken the job if they knew? We have to keep it a secret so that others will still explore the option. The word is getting out though. New prisons are finding it hard to hire and retain staff. The pool to choose from is getting smaller and folks that leave are talking about their experiences. Sooner or later it will get out how bad it is and they will extend retirement age and some of us will die working. That is not the epitaph I want. I much prefer, "He was such a nice guy, quiet, never caused any trouble." :)

I wish only the best for the crazy folks that call this a career, the inmates and their families, the suits, and the people in the towns and cities that we keep the criminals locked up from. We are on this road of life together. We are headed toward a major train wreck if there is not a change. I just hope someone sees it. I hope that some grassroots organization is able to open a few eyes to what is going on behind the walls and that the right folks react and actually do something. I do not care if you call me screw, hack, bossman, CO, correctional officer, or neighbor. I will keep doing my job, to the best of my ability, until I move on. That is what I do. For now.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Major Source of Staff Stress--Other Staff!

We keep hearing that the biggest source of stress in the day-to-day operations of a prison or jail is other staff. What's that about? And how can it be prevented?
The other day we received this email.
I hate to say this, but I found there are plenty of employees who choose to be miserable! It isn't bad enough they chose that for themselves, but they also choose to spread it around to others! This fact can be proven by how many staff often make the statement "It's not the inmates I can't deal with—it’s the staff!" I am in agreement with this statement. Being prepared to work with the prisoners is difficult enough, but to have to constantly deal with the "private agendas" being contrived by staff could best be compared to a bunch of junior high school students experiencing hormonal changes. (Except these are adults I'm talking about!) You just never know what’s coming next...
What is needed for staff to make each other's life easier, not harder, on the job?

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Biggest Challenge

I would like to hear from all corrections staff out there--security of all ranks , case managers, mental health, administrators, medical, educators, maintenance, etc.
What is your biggest challenge at work? That is, what is the issue that causes you the most stress in your workplace?
Once you identify it, could you also suggest a way to resolve it?

Saturday, May 05, 2007


From Road Cop to C.O.

Anonymous submission by jail employee.

A C.O. with a road cop mentality needs an upfront introduction to a federal lawsuit involving a C.O. and the aftereffects. Watch your home, paycheck, pension, personal life etc. go right down the toilet because you treated an inmate differently than a person on the street. Jailhouse lawyers abound and appointed attorneys are a dime a dozen.

C.O.s are held to a higher standard. You have more intimate training and a duty to perform according to your policies and procedures.

There are two things you need to remember about an inmate (and this part ain't easy):
First is, the un-sentenced inmate is the same as a person on the street. You violate his/her civil rights inside and create an environment that is seen as hostile to the inmate and you are screwed same as a person on the street. No administrator nor people you work with will cover your tracks and watch your back if you screw up and they see they are about to lose their stuff when it was your screw-up. They won’t buy into it. They will give you up in a heartbeat. Do not make the mistake to think that all C.O.s stick together when someone is about to lose something. You are a face to them and 20 years down the road you will be another long-lost memory the walls will talk about. When you are out of the circle you are done. Friendships go bad and the others that give you up wonder why you put them and their jobs in jeopardy.

Treat one inmate differently and you have an obligation to treat all inmates the same way. Otherwise you get sued. Lawsuits are a dime a dozen and municipalities pay what’s called "nuisance money" to an inmate to get him/her to drop the suit. The municipality realizes it costs too much to litigate a BS case in court. Even if they settle, you are found guilty at a civil level and your job is toast. Don't make the mistake that this doesn’t happen. You just don’t see the people it happens to in your little microcosm.

Secondly, for sentenced inmates the same applies. They are guilty and just like being grounded and sent to your room, they are being punished by a system (not you) designed to keep civil order and protect the people. You may not agree with it, but that’s the way it is. Politicians make your job harder and if you think for a minute a municipality will cover you, you are sadly mistaken. There's this thing called "vicarious liability." You are given the tools to do your job in the form of policies and procedures that keep you livelihood safe including your working environment to a degree. Policies and procedures are always a work in progress. Stray from the policy and vicarious liability bounces off the municipality and drops on you (also known as ...S--- rolls downhill). These are your 1984 federal lawsuits.

All inmates by federal and state law have to be treated equally and fairly. That’s what the Constitution says. And yes, you can have your doubts as to their (the inmates’) sincerity and guilt/no guilt, but follow your polices and procedures. You screw up and the inmate owns you. The inmate wins, you are dirt now. The shoe is on the other foot. Be cautious, be careful, but don’t be stupid. Get rid of the “John Wayne and a bucket of hand grenades” attitude.

Corrections has changed, and if you want to be the scapegoat to make more changes, then have the street cop mentality. Unfortunately inside you are outnumbered with many "witnesses" and log books. (Do you read all the log entries or informational reports sent up the chain of command?? Bet you don’t.) Only no one will know you are the reason for a change in the system. They are not going to name a law after you, not a policy or procedure. But at least, while you are flipping burgers at McDonald’s, you'll be content in knowing someone else won’t burn.

Now if you can afford to lose your job…. Not sure how it is in your state, but here in NY if you are fired from a civil service job you can never hold another civil service job again, not even a security job that pays minimum wage. And heaven forbid if you cop a felony conviction for something stupid on the inside. You are done. You can never hold another cop job or any professional license ever. Look at your state laws. Probably it is the same. Get fired as a cop (corrections, police, peace) and you are done...period.

Been there, done that, and was saved in time from being one of those persons by an old timer. Did I have that same attitude when I went from the road to the jail?? Yes, right from the get-go. Did I survive? Yes, because someone showed me what I was doing wrong. The difference from others who went before me was ... I listened. Been at this 25+ years now and do I think inmates are coddled?? Yes. Do I think they have more rights than you?? Not really, but it seems like that. But I choke it back and do the job according to the book and am still at it. Additionally, if inmates see you as consistent in your practices you do generate a bit of respect. Do I maintain an attitude that my rule is the way it is according to the policies? Yes, my house, my rules.

The best way to deal with an inmate is to give them what they are entitled to and nothing else. Entitled does not mean blowing them off, or trying to be the tough guy because you have the rules on your side and you choose to bend them more than you legally should.

A line officer has very little latitude with bending rules, a corporal has more, a sergeant has more, a lieutenant has more, etc., right up to the man that has his name plastered all over that book as being the one that owns the rules. Change the rules and you are now pissing him off and administrative remedies is his way of getting back at you. You think he's going to give up his cushy job because you screwed up?? Nope. Get real. You don’t stand a chance. Remember that, when he's out tying a load on, laughing, enjoying life, sleeping real comfy in his bed on his mega money salary. You too can do that on your minimum or just above minimum wage job outside of corrections.

Inmates have time to think of scams 24/7, and, just like with little kids, you can’t lose your temper with them. Show them they can’t get over and that’s more powerful and effective than anything else. Your rep will spread. Don’t coddle either, but be fair and just in your decisions and temperament.

Something to think about. However, for some until they get burned or see someone close up get burned, they won't learn.

Saturday, April 07, 2007


A Nurse's Point of View

Recently I’ve started on my 31st year of nursing. I have worked everything from level 1 to level 6 mental health. I have enjoyed being a correctional nurse for the last 13 years, but I have had the same feelings as correctional officers do, from being stressed to feeling burned out to hating my job. Nursing staff are viewed in a wide range of different opinions from giving inmates what they want to what I am called sometimes—cold hearted.
Being a RN in corrections is harder than it is on other side of 2 chain links fences. I answer to everyone but no one answer to me.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Increasing Staff Retention

What work conditions might help increase staff retention in corrections?

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