Question for THRers who work in corrections


July 21, 2005, 06:36 PM
I know this isn't gun related, but I do ask the mods to keep it open a little while anyway.

Today I just took the exam for a job as a correctional case worker for the State of Maryland. It was the second level of screening for this job (I may be called for an interview within a few weeks if I move to the next level). This is not a correctional officer position of course, it is basically social work (looking at an inmate's history in and out of prison, some interviewing, and determining security placement, education placement, work release placement, and possibly being one level of evaluation for parole).

I know real life isn't the movies and again this isn't a CO position, yet the people I'd be dealing with if I get this job would not exactly be boy scouts.

What can I expect if I get this job? I know some people in this position would not exactly be pleasant to deal with (to say the least). Some would be outright hostile and possibly violent, especially if they thought I'd recommend something contrary to what they wanted. I assume there would be backup whenever I would deal with an inmate (at least nearby on call). Of course, I would not have access to any weapons (I'm not even sure if I'd be allowed pepper spray). In the non-correctional officer, support positions like this one, do inmates usually respond better than to their CO's? Is it a less advesarial relationship (I'd assume so since teachers, psychologists and social workers try to establish some degree of rapport)?

While I know that in general having better unarmed defensive techniques is always a positive thing, in a position like this would it be a good idea to seek more training now? In your state/city/county (or whatever administrative unit is in responsible for your job setting) are people in these positions even allowed to fight back if attacked or are they required to rely on help from nearby COs?

Again, the bottom line is- what should I expect if I get this job?

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July 21, 2005, 07:16 PM
You should PM Dave McCracken on the Shotty Forum

July 21, 2005, 07:35 PM
I think too armoredman is a member here - sure he is a CO. Of course Preacherman also has a wealth of experience from prison work.

July 21, 2005, 07:44 PM

If you would like to meet some of your potential clients, you can come hang out with me at my school :neener:

Paging Dave McCracken....Mr. McCracken please report to this thread :p

Standing Wolf
July 21, 2005, 09:49 PM
I was a prison guard briefly quite a few years ago.

Social workers seemed to be fairly well regarded by the inmates: they were thought to have a certain amount of power in the system, and could sometimes be prevailed upon for preferential treatment.

Be prepared to hear a good many lies.

July 21, 2005, 09:56 PM
Dont worry about it, prison is not like the movies, or the HBO show OZ.

The worst thing you have to worry about as a staff meber in a prison is your fellow staff, it is often they are the ones holding the shank in your back.

July 21, 2005, 10:37 PM
I frequent MCIJ, MCIW, Patuxent Inst, and a few others in the course of a day's work. The one really odd thing I noticed was how close of a relationship many inmates build with their CO's. For the most part there SEEMS to be a bit of mutual respect - at least enough to avoid complete chaos - although I'm sure there's plenty of exceptions. I'm as nervous as a long tailed cat in a house full of rocking chairs in those places, especially MCIW - Maryland Correctional Institute for Women. The ladies there ARE NOT very nice to a semi un-ugly white guy.

Chaim, I hate to be the first one to say it, but your faith will probably cause you some grief, hopefully nothing more than some schoolyard-like teasing.

July 22, 2005, 03:14 AM
Chaim, I hate to be the first one to say it, but your faith will probably cause you some grief,

I've thought of that myself and I'm pretty sure you are right. Some white power and black power types (two groups who especially hate us) aren't exactly the cream of the Earth and seem more likely to end up in prison.

If I get the job there is a chance I'll not wear the yarmulke at work. I'm not sure yet because there is also the chance that once they get to know me, other than the white power and black power types, some people there may give me a little credit for being sincerely religious. Sometimes it seems to get respect from some of the strangest quarters.

July 22, 2005, 03:26 AM
I'll run your question past my mother this weekend. She used to hold that same type of position (social work) for the Florida Dept. of Corrections until two years ago.

Dave McCracken
July 22, 2005, 04:18 AM
Thanks for the headsup, folks....

Chaim, a couple things.....

First, do not trust anyone. The MD system is rife with corruption, and inmates have deception down to a fine art.

Second, Bigotry is the most common indoor sport. One shift Commander I had was fond of using the word Jew as an adjective, as in Jew Doctor, Jew Lawyer, Jew Town, Jew Boy, ad nauseam. A good friend of his is the current Warden at MCIJ. Both benefited greatly from Affirmative Action.

The White Aryan Resistance had members and sympathizers in both the staff and clientele. So do various "Islamic" groups, which are little but gangs in prison.

My Religion was probably a factor in my not advancing past Lt. The black bigots hated me on GPs, and the white ones for not laughing at their "Jokes".

The case workers I've known have been a greatly mixed lot. Some were fine people, others little different from the clientele. They pack a fair amount of weight inside, since they can put people in for jobs(A privilege), lower security status, and parole.

A mistake there by a case worker can release a monster on the street, like the late Flint Hunt or the late John Thanos. The former was paroled when he ambushed a cop, the later killed four teens in convenience store robberies because he "Wanted everyone to be as miserable" as he was. He had been released early due to ar error by his "Case Counselor". Both received the Death Penalty.

A case worker sent James Ireland to a minimum camp,where he set up a plan to lure young girls into his reach. He is still doing life for rape and murder.

Another wanted to parole Alfred Lawson early on his 20 years for 1st Degree Sex Offences on minors. One of his victims was his own 8 year old son, who required surgery to repair the lower end of his digestive system after the attack. I stopped that move myself....

Few things are respected inside besides power. Case workers have some power, but the kind that most inmates respect the most is physical power. You may have some backup from nearby officers if things get hinky, but that backup varies greatly in quality. Like all prison systems, MD's biggest problem is lack of competent, trained and motivated personnel.

Learn to fight. It's a job skill inside. And no, you won't have pepper spray, or any other weapon available. Or course, almost anything can be used as a weapon.

As to whether getting that job is a good idea, that's not for me to say. The job needs doing, but the conditions inside are life shortening.

FYI, half the COs who make it to retirement die within 5 years, most from stress related disorders. Average life expectancy is shortened by 12 years or so.

HTH, PM me for anything you still are unsure about.

July 22, 2005, 04:33 AM
spent four years as a correctional officer.Not familiar with your exact position but did have social worker types to see inmates. Trust no one. You will be lied to. Even if you get into a nervous situation remain calm, cool, collected and don't let it show, and I'm talking about inmates and staff. You don't want things to ever get to the physical level so be tactful and professional with others at all times, verbal skills (the ability to communicate with various types of people) are very important. Be prepared to get burned out, but of course don't go into it with that attitude. If you tell someone you are going to do something, do it. Don't make promises you can't keep.

July 22, 2005, 05:50 AM
The ladies there ARE NOT very nice to a semi un-ugly white guy.

Oh? Who else was with you? :neener:

July 22, 2005, 09:54 AM
I am a Correctional Sergeant here in AZ, working a high medium sex offender yard. Our system is slightly different than what you guys describe. Our programs side is a separate, but still part of the correctional officer series. To wit, thus;
Correctional Officer I - rank of cadet, probationary officer.
Correctional Officer II - where most line staff are.
Then, staff can either promote to the supervisory side, or the programs side. Program ranks are CO III and CO IV, pay grades close to LT and Cpt, respectively. They wear civilian clothes, and handle all inmate programming, but have gone the route of being officers, and carry OC, radio and cuffs. They can promote or demote out of programs, as well, and some of the best Lts were COIIIs before promotion, as long as they did Sgt for 2 years as well. This way no one can sidestep supervisory requirements, and go COII,III, Lt.
Make sense? This ensures our prgrams staff have the same skills we do.
Reccomendations? Easy - get self defense training, of any kind you can, the dirtier the better, unless being held hostage while being gang raped sounds like fun... See if you can qualify for the OC training and authorization to carry it. If MD has half a brain cell, you will be issued a radio while inside the walls. Learn the radio emergency procedures, and practice them. Keep your radio ON YOU, not on the desk, not in your bag, not next to your hat, ON YOU! Don't turn it off/down, because your interviewee is talking quietly - THAT'S WHAT HE WANTS. Think about what can happen after an inmate gets you to turn off your radio..
Trust absolutely nobody incarcerated. They are there for a reason, and it isn't jaywalking. Yes, there are innocent people in prison - just ask them....
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES REVEAL ANY PERSONAL INFORMATION OF ANY KIND. This includes your first name, where you live, what you drive, what you do off duty, your religon, etc. Inmates can use the oddest sounding information in strange ways - remember, they have 24 hours a day to figure out how to screw with staff, and a lot of them do exactly that. Not all of thier time is spent plotting to escape, or kill their cellie, but just plain mischief, and most importantly, how to corrupt staff. Anyone can bring in drugs...
All illegal substances came into prison one of three ways - staff, visitors, or delivery. Don't let your self be gamed into this - it's a great way to unwillingly switch sides, and see how much prison time MD gives for promoting prison contraband. This can be items as innocent sounding as a paper clip - straightened and sharpened, can be used in a number of ways, especially with fresh infected blood on it. AIDS won't transmit easily that way, but Hep C will, and Hep C is EVERYWHERE in prison. Good idea - carry a few pairs of latex gloves in your back pocket while inside. So get very clear direction on what is or isn't contraband, and what items staff may carry/have, and what inmates may have.
Get to know your staff, the officers who will back you up. This may sound corny, but bring in a couple dozen doughnuts to shift briefing, and ask permission to introduce yourself.
Be aware, staff can also set you up for games, usually just stupid hazing, like asking for air samples, window press checks, stupid things like that, but some prison systems allow for dangerous idiocy like the "Heart Check", when an unsuspecting officer is locked into a rec pen with unrestrained inmates, and they are given a few minutes to thump the new fish, to see " if his heart is in it". This can, and has, gotten people killed.
If you work a female yard, prepare to be told you are the sexiest, most handsome guy in sight, as long as they think they can get something out of you, something as little as makeup, all the way to "smuggle me out in an A/C box. (happened) Females fight less, but whine a LOT more.
Last, and weirdest, I have to say, this can be fun. There are tons of interesting personalities inside, and although you have to take all stories with a ton of salt, you can hear the most bizzare the guy under the forced shower involuntarily keistering the scrub, (true), or the guy who used feces to write "Kill COs!" on his cell wall,(true),or the guy who made a complete chess set from feces, (true), etc...
Whew - sorry for writing a book.....

July 22, 2005, 01:29 PM
Second, Bigotry is the most common indoor sport. One shift Commander I had...
I kinda figured in addition to likely having some bigotry come from some of the inmates that some staff would have a problem as well. That kind of job, any job where there is a potential for danger, kind of generate a feeling of brotherhood and brotherhoods usually aren't very tolerant of people who are different from the rest. Also, while most people in such jobs are good, decent people, CO and police positions have a certain degree of power and thus sometimes attract people who simply want the power over other people but who may not be the greatest group of people (I'd also assume most such people wouldn't get promoted very high, but you never know).

They pack a fair amount of weight inside, since they can put people in for jobs(A privilege), lower security status, and parole.

I figured that as well. Given that, with the exception of those inmates who just don't have the brain power to figure things out, I would assume this might lead to somewhat better treatment from most inmates.

A mistake there by a case worker can release a monster on the street... That is pretty much the only thing that actually scares me about possibly getting this position. No one is perfect and everyone occasionally makes mistakes. My hope is that when I do make mistakes (if I'm offered and if I take the position) it is on side of caution and someone who may "deserve" to get a privilige or release doesn't because of my mistake and not the other way around.

Few things are respected inside besides power. Case workers have some power, but the kind that most inmates respect the most is physical power...
Learn to fight.One thing that concerns me, I've worked jobs with some strange rules before. In the MD prisons are caseworkers, teachers, psychologists, and others who aren't on the CO staff even allowed to use force if needed? Common sense would dictate that one can defend themselves, however many jobs have rules that defy common sense. I can easily see such a workplace requiring human service workers (who need to have a bit of rapport with the people they are working with) to rely on nearby COs for their protection. Now, even if there are such rules it won't stop me from seeking additional self-defense training (we are all responsible for ourselves and I want to be prepared) but it would be good to know what I'd be facing. A friend has a friend who did her internship for her MSW in the prisons who was thrown up against a wall by an inmate, and if he really wanted to hurt her some real damage could have been done by the time the COs got there (as it was the inmate only wanted to scare her) and I will develop some more ability to do for myself if/when needed.

July 22, 2005, 01:59 PM
Even if you get into a nervous situation remain calm, cool, collected and don't let it show, and I'm talking about inmates and staff.

I'm usually pretty good with that. Everyday small scale frustrations and anxieties can lead to me getting a bit anxious, frustrated, or angry ("Darn it! Where are my darned keys", "oh my gosh, I'm going to be late, I can't be late! Darned traffic jam!", etc.). However, I've had several experiences where things could have become very ugly and I know in a real situation I react calmly and deliberately. Years ago when I worked at a major department store a guy came in with a gun to "visit" one of my coworkers who had reported this guy for shoplifting. Everyone (customers and employees) scattered, I stayed calm and while my coworker and the security guard on scene delt with the guy with the gun I stayed about 10 steps back to keep an eye on the thug's buddies in case things got out of hand. At the same store, the head of security needed help subduing a shoplifter who was fleeing and was now trying to fight him, most of the employees hid when he asked for help- I helped. When in a long term substitute teaching position at one particular middle school I had to break up fights weekly and I was one of fewer than half a dozen people who would be willing to step in to stop it with certain of these kids (some of these kids were near my size and stronger than I am, and this was a neighborhood where the kids definately knew how to fight). I've diffused people who wanted to fight me or friends, I've had a gun pointed at me, I've had encounters with bigots- I know in a "real" situation I react quite well.

Be prepared to get burned out, but of course don't go into it with that attitude. I doubt I'd be there long enough to get burned out. If I take the job (assuming it is offered) I only plan to be there for a couple years. I think it would be very interesting to work in the prisons and would be a good experience for me. However, I would only do it while I went to graduate school- when I'm finished I actually want to work primarily with children with educational issues or depression (plus possibly adults with PTSD).

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES REVEAL ANY PERSONAL INFORMATION OF ANY KIND I've worked with children and so I am used to keeping my info guarded from everyone but my co-workers.

With one exception:
This includes...your religon I won't have to tell anyone my religion for them to know what it is. The yarmulke is one giveaway. Even if I didn't wear it at work (and I probably would), I'd have to put it on when eating and whenever I had to say a blessing (and there are many times during the day when that is necessary), so it would occasionally be seen by staff and/or inmates. Also, I wear tzitzis under my shirt- basically an additional undershirt with strings connected to it. While I wear the strings tucked when at work, they often will work their way out and it will generate interest and questions in others. Also, people who are paying attention may notice that I never work Saturday, Friday evenings (and have to leave early on Fridays in the winter), or any of the Jewish holidays.

As for being careful about bringing anything in to anyone or becoming too friendly with inmates, I doubt it would be a problem. While human services workers need to establish rapport, keeping professional distance is just as important. I would not let myself get too friendly. As for bringing in anything, I'm usually pretty good at following the rules- especially those that make sense (and I know people can make very unlikely things into weapons). Heck, if someone wanted me to bring some food to them, I'd probably check with my supervisor if I felt any inclination to do so (but I doubt I would even be inclined to do so since I try very hard to be fair and part of that is not playing favorites- if I brought food to one inmate, I'd have to bring it to all inmates I would be working with).

The introducing oneself and bringing simple "goodies" (umm, doughnuts [/end Homer Simpson voice]) to staff in the beginning is probably a good idea. I am usually pretty good at being friendly with my coworkers.

Last, and weirdest, I have to say, this can be fun. There are tons of interesting personalities inside...
That is part of why I'm considering this position. Maybe I'm odd, but I think that sometimes this job would be a lot of fun. I realize that normally it would be just like any other job, sometimes it would really suck, but sometimes it would probably be very interesting. While the people in prison may not all be exactly likable (an understatement perhaps), there will probably be a lot of interesting stories. Then, while I know it is rare, there are those who come in a thug and actually do leave "reformed"- some people do get their lives cleaned up in prison (drug rehab, education, whatever- and come out and get jobs and lead decent lives). When that actually happens it must be a great thing to see (and yes, I know it is rare to the point of almost being non-existant- I'm not that naive or idealistic about this potential job).

July 22, 2005, 02:17 PM
I have worked as a "social worker" for the VA DOC for going on 18 years, so can claim a small amount of experience, for what it may be worth to you and working in MD.

First, there is little if any brotherhood inside, unless you are one of the residents. I have seen less gossip, backstabbing, and setting up of other folks in college sororities and in old folks' homes than what goes on in some of our smaller and lowest-security facilities. I always consider myself abandoned to the wolves when I pull up in the parking lot - just removes the time it will take to be PO'd when nobody comes to help. Do not count on your strength of conviction in being a religious/observant Jew to get you any credit or breaks. It is just one more place they will chip away at to see what happens once they get under your armor. And what the inmates will do will be even worse.

Second, even during the years that I worked inside doing "therapeutic programs" and "individual casework" I do not think I made that much of a difference in the lives of my clients, and I'm not sure I did much for public safety except keep them busy thinking about what I was doing so they weree not concentrating on other plans to screw up or with the system.

Third, there is a heck of a lot of paperwork that has to be done for so little progress accomplished. Unless you are looking at a position that is specific to drug treatment of mental health (I looked at the openings and read the limited job descriptions) I cannot see much between what MD calls a SW and VA calls a Case Manager. Both are paper pushers. I know that classification is important, and how much harm can be caused inside or outside by bad classification decisions. Dave has given you some of the best of what went wrong.

All that being said, working for the state can be a great career, and if you understand the tradeoff between pay and benefits in state vs. private-sctoor employment, there is a good financial incentive to work for the state.

What keeps me going is that I know my first objective is to go home at the end of the day with no more openings in my body than I started out with, my second objective is to be true to my own moral/ethical convictions, my third objective is to make what difference I can where and how I can, and my last objective is to live long enough so that there is nobody around to tell stories about what I have done in my career.

Just to end on a high note - years ago at a statewide Wardens & Superintendents conference, the Deputy in charge of Operations (running the prisons, as opposed to paperwork or personnel) announced the ultimate solution to any future "incidents" (we do NOT use the "R" word - ever!) at any facility. I was to be paged, and to report to the facility ASAP. The Warden would tell the inmates they have 5 minutes to surrender, or I get put inside and they have to keep me. :what: That was the highest priase I ever got, and I hope I can still fulfill his expectations. :D

stay safe.


El Rojo
July 22, 2005, 02:57 PM
PM Me your phone number and I will call you and tell you about my experience as a teacher in a federal low and minimum. These guys already hit most of the basics. Main points:

1) Never trust an inmate, EVER!
2) Inmates are not your friends, don't do an inmate any favors.
3) Don't take work home with you.
4) Establish trust and cooperation with the COs. They are the ones who are going to come save you. How much they like you depends on if they get their "slow walk" on or their "fast walk" on. I used to help the COs with their counts and they really thought that was cool since I really didn't have to do anything to help them.
5) If you don't know an answer, don't answer. Get back to them. They are not going anywhere, anytime soon.
6) Be respectful towards the inmates. They respect respect. At times you will have to say no and they will have to deal with it, but you don't have to be an ahole. Inmates tend to dislike COs, but they have a different attitude with programs staff.
7) Love paperwork. If you don't love paperwork, don't apply.
8) Don't talk about other staff members with inmates, don't listen to inmates when they talk about other staff. If they try to talk trash around you, tell them you won't tolerate it and the subject is closed.
9) Quite literally it is the staff vs. the inmates. Don't ever forget it and refer back to rules 1 and 2. Back up your other staff memebers at all times, even if the staff member might be wrong. Talk to the staff member later when the inmate isn't around.
10) Good luck. I loved my nearly 3 years of prison experience. I think it helped make me the successful public school teacher I am today.

July 22, 2005, 03:58 PM
10) Good luck. I loved my nearly 3 years of prison experience. I think it helped make me the successful public school teacher I am today.

:D +100,000,000,000,000,000,000,001.

I did public school (high school English teacher, 9th & 12th grades) first and still think working in a prison is easier than those 3 1/2 years with the children.

You have my admiration.

stay safe.


July 22, 2005, 04:03 PM
.... Good luck. I loved my nearly 3 years of prison experience. I think it helped make me the successful public school teacher I am today. There is just something about that statement..... :what: :p

July 22, 2005, 05:22 PM
What everyone else said plus;

There's a book titled "Games Inmates Play" published by the American Jail Association. Find it, read it, read it again and take it all in as truth. It will help you keep your job, and possibly keep you out of prison yourself.

Always tell the truth! They will not always like what you have to say but, if you get a reputation of BSing them, you're done.

Keep your personal life out of the jail, PERIOD!

Inmates are criminals. They lie, cheat, steal, con and manipulate all for their own percieved good.

Never back down, no matter how scared you may be. Once you cut and run, keep going all the way out the door because, it's over.

I have three rules I teach every new staff member.
1. Don't take anything from an inmate
2. Don't give anything from an inmate
3. Don't ever forget who's side you're on.

Good luck!

El Rojo
July 22, 2005, 05:47 PM
There is just something about that statement..... You know I wasn't joking when I said that, but I can see the humor in it if you haven't worked at a prison.

What I mean is I know how to successfully interact with individuals now. I know how to say no, how to get compliance without yelling or screaming, I know that I am never to completely trust my students and to always check on everything they claim. The proper prison employee mentality really is a good one to have. You learn so much working in prison that when you get out of prison you realize a lot of work places don't have it.

For example my co-workers have their head in the sand half of the time and they most certainly don't understand that it is the staff vs. the teachers. I work at a continuation school, but no matter where you teach, all kids are the same. They will lie, cheat, and steal if they can get away with it. Just today we had a parent calling giving us heck because her son said he had been going to school for the last three weeks. Oops, no actually he stopped attending two weeks ago. She asks her son again and he says he was at school but in some other male teacher's class. Guess what? There are only three teachers and I am the only male. Mom still believes her son. Grab a clue! He isn't stupid, he knows which class he belongs in and second the "other" teacher would have kicked him out if he wasn't on the roll.

Seriously, I think we would be better off if all teachers had to teach in prison first. Inmates are much easier to deal with and the environment is more controlled. That way when our teachers get to public school, they know how to handle discipline and they can manage a classroom. It has nothing to do with our schools being run like prisons and everything having to do with just giving teachers skills they need to more effectively deal with a cunning and tricky student population. Anyone who thinks teaching is just about teaching is ignorant. Teaching is about discipline, classroom management, paperwork, and bureaucracy.

Sorry, enough thread drift.

July 22, 2005, 08:10 PM
I work for the AR Dept of Corrections as a CO.
Like Mr. McCracken said, do not trust anyone. There are a lot of bad COs out there and they will stab you in the back to make rank. Luckily here at my unit all the officers we have are good ones. I can say this because there arent many of us and we all know each other well.

You dont want to treat inmates like they are animals, even thought some of them seem like they are. Most of them are human and have feelings. I treat inmates almost like I would someone on the street, and you do get respect for that. I rarely have to raise my voice. When I do have to, it is definitely not pretty. Arts grammaw would probably keel over.

At the same time you do have to remember you are in charge. They will try to tell you how to do your job. They will try to play games with you at least until they feel you out. When they are doing something they should not be you cant let them get away with it. Even one time and they think its ok.

You should be ok doing social work. You will be the one that decides if these guys are gen pop, pc, whatever, and where they should be unit-wise. You shouldnt have any problem there, but keep on your toes. Some inmates will attack the very nurses that are doctoring them up.

You mentioned OC spray. You gotta feel it to deal it, so if they do allow you to carry it, it will be after you get a blast of it to the face.

A couple rules I go by are common sense things like:
Never give an inmate food (other than what they are fed by the kitchen) and never accept food from an inmate. Never buy anything from/sell anything to an inmate. I dont know their policy on tobacco or if you smoke, but never smoke around them and never offer them a smoke or dip (That is automatic termination here). Trust inmates only as far as you can physically throw them. They will snitch on you as quick as they will snitch on each other. Speaking of which, there will be inmates that will come to you will valuable information-keep an eye on these guys. They are the ones that wake up dead. Dont get wrapped up in any games they try to play, because they will try. Dont be their buddy or pal. You are like their parent or guardian. You are responsible for them and you tell them what to do. Dont let the line get fuzzy.
MOST importantly- Never bring work home with you. When I go to work I put on my badarse mask. I take it off at the end of the shift. When you go to work you must appear sure of yourself and confident. Be cocky, but dont be a jerk, either. When I come home I am me. (Mostly) normal, quiet, regular guy. You cannot get them mixed up. This is the reason a lot of people in this job drink a lot, go thru divorces, and just appear to be arseholes in general.

All that being said, I dont want to scare you off. I love my job. The pay is decent, good benefits, all holidays paid. Plus the work can just be plain fun at times. Im set to go through the firearms instructors course coming up in September, armorers courses, and a hostage negotiation course, and that with only 4 months on the job. Where you go in the dept is entirely up to you, even outside of security positions.

I know this is/was a rambling post, but there is a lot to it, and I havent even scratched the surface yet, I'm sure some of these other guys will cover more ground.

July 22, 2005, 08:40 PM
lots of good advice, all I can stress is to not lie to inmates. If they think your a BSer you will never be respected. and NEVER talk about your personal life. As mentioned, your religion will be a magnet for hate, hope you have thick skin.

July 22, 2005, 09:21 PM
Someone mentioned the book 'Games Inmates Play' by the AJA. I have not read the book, but while going through academy we did have a course specifically on this, and constant reminders about games throughout the rest of the courses. Our instructors even set up our class with the inmate porters who work at the academy. We had no idea we were getting played and that is frightening. I cant stress it enough. Anytime an inmate wants something, ask yourself if this could be part of a game. Anytime, anything, any inmate. Some games they play arent serious security wise, but if you unwittingly play and lose, you feel like a moron. Things you think are nothing to yourself are everything to them. If that makes sense. It is a terrible feeling to know they are laughing at you behind your back.

There is so much more I could say. I keep thinking of things to add.
Someone mentioned compliance without yelling or screaming...Verbal judo is probably the most potent weapon in the prison system. An inmate comes to you with some type of problem, while at the same time you are trying to resolve another problem or are working on something (counts, grievances, whatever).
Inmate: Mr. So and so, I blah blah blah....
Staff member: I understand your frustrations/problems and we will take care of it ASAP, but right we need to [whatever]
I: but, but, blah blah
SM: Yes, I understand, I hear you, etc, but right now I need you to do[whatever]..

This can go on for a little bit, but no matter how excited the inmate gets, calmly reassure him/her that you will be taking care of whatever it is, but you need them to get into line for chow, catch a rack for a count, whatever it is that has to be done. And then when you have time to resolve the inmates situation, DO IT.

July 22, 2005, 10:33 PM
El Rojo;Seriously, I think we would be better off if all teachers had to teach in prison first. I have a good friend who is a high school teacher (actually he was my teacher). We frequently comment on the similarity of our jobs. We joke that we're the only ones that believe each others stories.

July 22, 2005, 10:45 PM
I have a lot of respect for the civilian teachers in our system. Teaching here is bad enough, but the way it's done in lock down, (where I did my first 2.5 years), is so far out of a normal classroom as to be unsettling to unaware teachers - do your desks have locking cages around them??
Hey, to all the staff I see posting here...wanna move to AZ? I could use some more officers with heads screwed on straight. We pay for experiance...
Beive it or not, we were never told about that book, but we did have several classes on inmate games. Some are frightening, some stupid, and a very few downright weird. Nothing an inmate wants to do to you is good. Ever. They can come up with hobbycraft they built with your name on it, plus any private info you let slip on the side, (picture a painting of you in front of the 66 Corvette you were talking about to another staff member, without realizing the quiet little porter was listening), and you, being normal, may feel obligated to accept. DON'T. It's a setup. Inmates will snitch on corrupt staff the second you are no longer usefull, 100% of the time. I have seen it. It's disgusting. Going from brown to orange is the LAST thing I want to do.....

El Rojo
July 22, 2005, 10:57 PM
Yes, never trusting an inmate goes along with realizing that they will rat you out in a heartbeat. That is why I never understood the idiots that would bring contraband in for inmates or even worse have sex with inmates. An inmate will rat you out for all sorts of reasons and none of them have to be good. Just remember, if you do something illegal for an inmate, you will get caught. Maybe not right away, maybe not in two years, but eventually you will get ratted out and it will most likely be by an inmate. I never understood relying on an inmate to keep a secret.

Again, NEVER TRUST INMATES. EVER! You are there to keep them in line, not be their friends, not be their buddies, not do anything other than process their paperwork and do your job.

July 23, 2005, 12:18 AM
Some good advice already offered.I recommend finding a different job.If you are determined to have the experience:Have a very thick skin.Don't say anything about your personal life to anyone,this includes employees,some are compromised.Never say anything you cannot back up.When you say something stick to it.Be ready and willing to fight.Never be a hostage,understand this.Be professional at all times.Be ready to deal with the POS that threatened to kill you, when he shows up in town a few years down the road.Realize your life will change,some of it will be good,some will not.Good luck.

July 23, 2005, 12:40 AM
I think others have already said all that I'd have to say. To re-emphasize a few points:

1. Never, ever trust an inmate.

2. If you feel inclined to trust an inmate, see #1 above.

3. In spite of #1 and #2 above, if you ever find yourself trusting an inmate, it's time to change your job.

El Rojo
July 23, 2005, 01:08 AM
I don't know if you chaim fully understands what we are saying here, so lets say it again.


Ok, if we say it a few more times, he might understand the seriousness of what we are saying. :p

Dave McCracken
July 23, 2005, 04:04 AM
A couple things from when I broke in rookies, besides the many good points covered.

First, about fear. If you're scared all the time inside the razorwire, you need a different job. If you're never scared inside,you need a different job right now!!

Oft fear results when we pick up unconsciously subtle clues that things are hinky. If a seasoned roller says something doesn't feel good, get set for action.

Deal with your fear and it becomes a tool.

Second, inmates are like children, they manipulate because it's one of the few tools they have. And they are artists at it.

Note body language. If someone is talking and the hands are in motion, it's a story being told. It may not be a lie, but it's a story and well rehearsed.

Do not trust appearances. One old inmate who looked like Santa that I knew served as part of the info Harris used when he created Hannibal Lector. They closed down 43 murder investigations from MD to MO when he was convicted of Murder here. FYI, Harris did his research at Patuxent Institution, right over there in Jessup.

Make no commitments you cannot keep. Again, they're like children.

Never forget you're dealing with human beings with hopes, fears, goals and plans. Evil as they can be, they do not regard themselves as evil.

And, from day one to day last you're either building a reputation or destroying one. If you get a rep as fair,firm,consistent,effective,etc, your rep will do some of your job for you.

Office politics in the MD system are vile and reprehensible. Keep your stuff locked up, I lucked through at least one setup.

And, for the record, good COs are heros, plain and simple. Oftne they are also scarce.

Good luck....

July 23, 2005, 07:52 AM

I worked for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for 13 years as a CO, Sergeant, and Internal Affairs Investigator.

I will agree with everything on this thread said by the folks who have worked inside, and will add this:

If you have a relationship with an offender (bringing in contraband, writing/delivering letters, having sexual relations, etc), you will get caught.

Let me repeat that for clarity:

If you have a relationship with an offender (bringing in contraband, writing/delivering letters, having sexual relations, etc), you will get caught.

The penalties range from losing your job to going to prison, as an offender not as an employee, and all of it will be on your permanent record.

Just my .02,

July 23, 2005, 08:46 AM
Dave;First, about fear. If you're scared all the time inside the razorwire, you need a different job. If you're never scared inside,you need a different job right now!! Well said! I intend to steal that whole post from you to use with the next batch of cadets. If you don't object.

El Kabong
July 23, 2005, 10:27 AM
I'm a teacher at a medium security level facility here in Indiana. Everything said so far has been right on the money.

Do not trust inmates. Do not ever forget why they are there. They weren't walking down the street, minding their own business, when they were suddenly snatched up off the street and made to come to prison, as some would have you believe.

Establish your repuatation early on. Word gets around very quickly what kind of person you are-be fair, firm, consistant and don't put up with any BS. One of my experiences was that an offender put a sexually explicit note on my chair (being a female, I expected that would happen sooner or later). I made sure that I nailed with him with a write-up, crossed my T's and dotted my I's. He got a trip to segregation and I got a reputation as someone not to bother.

Don't be an a-hole. While you might get compliance from an offender for now, one of these days you'll find yourself on your back with an angry offender standing over you. Give an offender respect and treat him as you would any other human (excepting the whole not believing a word that comes out of their mouth), and generally you'll get the same thing back.

I enjoy my job, and as long as you maintain the proper mindset, you will too.

Good luck!

Dave McCracken
July 23, 2005, 07:12 PM
Mike, permission is freely granted to use ANY of my writings for training purposes, provided credit is given. My name in full is.....

Blake D. McCracken, CoIV, (Ret)
MD Dept of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

You may also want to peruse the floaters over on Shotguns, one titled A Lesson In Litigation may prove useful to CO trainers.

July 23, 2005, 08:55 PM
It sounds like your job WILL in fact be that of a social worker limited to working with inmates. Most of the time you will be in the admin section of the prison if not in a separate location away from the prison. Most likely you will deal in person with inmates on a one to one manner. Assuming you are not dealing with "white collar" offenders, your biggest chore will be finding a job for your inmates. How does a convicted felon secure worthwhile employment in a tight job market? How does a convicted felon compete bearing a huge "black mark" on his application. If he has a marketable skill in demand...success but sadly most run of the mill inmates are lucky to posses a high school diploma or a GED. Many do not have a realistic attitude towards the real world and months after release fall back into their old habits, drugs and alcohol to ease their pain. Many will never compete in our capitalistic society where their record WILL be used against them along with their poor skill level. You can only try. It's not your responsibility if the paroled ones commit additional crimes once released. The Governor and the taxpayer bear that burden, it takes much more money than we have ever had to house all the felons that should be kept away from society. Risks must be taken to create room for the new inmates, it's the only way the system can function. You will be a cog in the system, important but limited in your abilities to effect change. Good luck. Of course on occasion an inmate attacks without warning :uhoh:

July 24, 2005, 01:36 PM
Thanks for all the good advice so far.

As for trusting an inmate, won't be a problem. I spent nearly three years as a substitute teacher, usually a long-term sub. Given that few public school kids are criminals (though in one class I subbed for several months 10 of the 12 kids in the classroom had a criminal record), and by far most people in jail are criminals, I figure they'll try to "play" me at least as much, if not more.

Bending rules? Won't happen- didn't in school where the consequences to me, the system, or society of poor judgement in this respect would be far less, won't happen in a prison. Someone mentioned sexual relations with inmates- I'm an Orthodox Jew, it won't be a problem. Anyway, I don't think I'd feel comfortable working in a women's prison anyway- if that is what I get offered I'll probably turn it down.

Giving or accepting gifts of any kind- only if my supervisor says it is ok and it otherwise makes sense (i.e. there is some kind of holiday gift exchange going on). Heck, I don't like gifts in a business/work setting generally, so basically I'll only take or give them if I really don't have a choice (more if my sup requires it than if my sup approves it).

As for the position itself, it is basically a social work postition, the title would be "Correctional Case Worker, trainee". I'd prefer something more on the therapy/psych services side (since I'll be going to grad school in a psychology or counseling MA program and eventually a psych doctorate program), but social work is somewhat related to my plans and training (psych undergrad degree, education experience, including much special ed). I figure, in addition to being sometimes a pretty interesting job, making contacts in the prison system will be useful for me. While I want to work mostly with kids, I do want to do research into ADHD in both kids and adults and people with ADHD are much more likely than average to end up in prison. Some prison/ADHD research may be in my future.

I think it helped make me the successful public school teacher I am today.
How do you think going the other direction will work? (though I was not a full teacher- never got certified, I was "only" a long-term sub for a few years)

El Rojo
July 24, 2005, 04:51 PM
Giving or accepting gifts of any kind- only if my supervisor says it is ok and it otherwise makes sense (i.e. there is some kind of holiday gift exchange going on).Let us clarify. The staff are your co-workers and fellow law abiding citizens. Treat them like anyone else. You can accept gifts from them, hang out with them, do whatever you want with them. What I am referring to is never accept gifts or give gifts or anything from or to an inmate. Don't let them borrow your pen. Don't give them the rest of your burrito. Don't take a custom leather belt they made for you. NOTHING! Your supervisor will never say it is ok and if they do, still don't do it.

My general philosophy for working at the prison is if I found a new job, I could walk out of there at anytime with a shoebox or less of personal belongings. No pictures of your sweetie, kids, personal papers, nothing should go inside that place. They even warned us about your wallet, but I did fine with my wallet in there. In fact the only thing I had to carry out with me was my cd/radio, my binder of memos and policies, and that was it.

As far as transitioning from teaching to prison, I don't think it will matter much. Your real education starts when you get hired. Good luck and enjoy. Anywhere you go from prison will be a different story.

July 24, 2005, 05:24 PM

El Rojo is on the money. I did a brief stint in corrections in Monkey Co. MD and DC in the early 90's.

Inmates lie like they breathe, continually and without thinking about it. They will lie and instataneously act as if they believe it with the same certainty that the sun will rise. This will wear you down if you let it. They have 24/7 in most cases to think about how to mess with you.

To quote one of the Lieutenants I worked with "I will never trust an inmate for as long as I am black... and my momma and daddy made sure that's a long, long time..."

July 24, 2005, 06:42 PM
it sounds like working in a place like that is like going inside the gates of hades,i wouldnt do it for a million bucks. :evil:

July 24, 2005, 07:16 PM
Not really, if you follow this advice, it's actually a pretty good job. If more people knew how little we sometimes do, we'd have to beat them off with a stick! You just need to be able to do boring, mundane tasks while maintaining a high degree of readiness for anything. Plus, the food, coffee, and shoeshines are free..... :D

July 24, 2005, 10:21 PM
Hey Armoredan how much of a raise did you guys get after the Lewis hostage incident?

July 24, 2005, 10:25 PM
It took a year and a half to get $1,410 a year raise across the board after that incident. Sometimes it doesn't make sense, but the media/public forget things after about a week, while the legislature was more interested in funding year round kindergarten. DPS got a huge raise....we didn't. Oh well, I still make more than the WalMart greeter guy!

July 24, 2005, 10:36 PM
That is too bad Armoredman. AZ DOC is a mess.

Good luck to you.

Vitamin G
July 25, 2005, 08:18 PM
I work with teenage female drug addicts in a staff secure residential placement. Some will say thats easier, some will say thats even worse. Beats me, I have no frame of reference.

Anyways, I've been here 4.5 years as a counselor/therapist, whatever you want to call it. Very little of my work is regarded as "social work" in the traditional sense, unless we take things like aftercare planning into account.

The juvenile justice system can be a great help to people, and is supposedly based on the idea of helping a minor prevents them from reoffending. Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn't.

Some books I'd recommend, because I'm sure alot of your "client base" will be addicts :
The NA book
The AA book
Addictive Thinking by Twerski
Reality Therapy and Choice Theory, both by William Glasser.

Good luck... and everyone was right... DONT TRUST THEM!

People who use people do so by force or manipulation. Don't allow yourself to be manipulated!

July 25, 2005, 09:01 PM
Addictive Thinking by Twerski

Funny you'd mention him. Other than being one of the top doctors in the addictions rehab field how much do you know about Rabbi Abraham Twerski, MD? His family is very important to the branch of Orthodox Judaism I'm affiliated with (his brother is the Rebbe, or head, of the branch of Chassidic Judaism I'm very closely tied to).

Vitamin G
July 25, 2005, 10:05 PM
I had the opportunity to hear him speak once, at Bethel Park high school, and it was extremely illuminating, even for an "expert" (Usually after two or three years in residential treatment the courts around here will consider you an expert, since burnout is so high) like me. His book was amazingly written, and one of the easiest, most enjoyable reads I have ever experienced. (And not just educational or treatment related books, I'm talking about Rainbow Six and other "fun" books) In fact, I bought about 10 copies of his book when i saw it in the bargain barrel at Barnes & Nobles. I have seen addicts not on my caseload make total change after I loan them a copy. I know he was pretty much one of the (If not THE) founder of Gateway Rehabilitation Centers.

My biggest impression came from my mom, when I went to see him speak, about two years ago. I told her I wouldn't be home for dinner because I was going to a seminar at Gateway. She said to tell him hello, and thanks.

I will never forget that, or ever take his presence for granted, even though he wouldn't know me from any other guy on the street.

I think sometimes the biggest reward in the field(s) we've chosen to work in, is knowing (and wondering) deep down that you've made a difference in countless of lives of the people that you havn't met. Ripple Effect, indeed.

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