Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Male, Female or Correctional Officer?
Before I go any farther, allow me to tell on myself. I have been as guilty of gender discrimination as the next Officer. When I was a young Officer working a maximum-security facility, I was assigned my first female partner. She was a young Officer also, and new to the department. She was 5’3” and maybe 130 pounds soaking wet. I groaned to myself when I saw her, knowing our unit was volatile, and physical confrontations were a daily occurrence. The mistake I made was that I saw her as a female Officer, not a Correctional Officer. Less than two hours into the shift I received a call from my Sergeant instructing me to search a particularly hostile inmate for contraband. I had a pretty good idea that it was going to lead to a physical confrontation, and picked up the phone to arrange for extra staff. As I was doing this, the inmate in question came to our office. I readied myself for battle, and told the inmate to face the wall. The inmate immediately became loud and boisterous. Sure of his intentions now, I took the sunglasses off my head and handed them to my partner, telling her to hold onto them. The next couple of minutes are a blur now, but I do remember my partner being the one to cuff the inmate up. She did not say much to me at the time, but I had a new respect for her ability and willingness to be there when needed. Years later she brought the incident up to me when we were discussing training new staff. She told me she had never been so mad at anyone in her career as she was with me that day. I had treated her as a lesser Officer, solely based on her gender and appearance. She went on to tell me that I was not the only one to do this to her, but I was the first. My eyes were opened.
There are three ways to treat an Officer, and only one of them is correct. You can treat an Officer as a Male Officer, a Female Officer or as a Correctional Officer. If you treat a partner or a subordinate differently based solely on their gender you are wrong. There are plenty of Officers who happen to be female that I would rather have on my side during a battle than their male counterparts. If you treat all staff like Correctional Officers, using their strengths and understanding their weaknesses, you are doing things the right way. This does allow for what some may say is discrimination.
If a particular Officer is not very good at tactics or lacks the physical ability to perform certain tasks, and you decide not to use them as part of a special team, you must make sure that you are basing this on the knowledge of that particular person as an Officer, not based on their gender. There will be times when a particular Officer may show less than useful skills in an area that makes it stereotypical, but this is unavoidable. Just don’t be afraid to explain to the Officer that you have noticed that this particular area is not their strength, so they were not selected for the assignment, team, etc. There is no tactical sense, nor is it a good safety practice, to pick your teams with the sole intent of being “politically correct.” I can’t think of very many Officers who want to win an assignment or place on a team based on their gender. This is not fair to the Officer or others on the team. Every Officer has strengths and weaknesses, and by understanding what those are, the Officer can work to improve or compensate for their weaknesses.
There is one exception to all of this, and this is what earns me a lot of grief when I speak on it. The exception to my “Correctional Officer” rule is the worst case scenario of a hostage situation. When the time comes that hostages are taken inside of a male prison, and it turns into a long-term standoff, my number one priority besides ending the conflict, will be to get the female hostages out as soon as possible. Some of you may be spitting fire now, but understand a couple of facts first. In the last 8 years, there have been numerous hostage standoffs. I will not name anyone specifically to protect the Officers who were victimized. During these standoffs, almost every time there was a female staff member being held hostage, she was brutalized, raped, and usually killed to conceal the crime. It is a matter of fact that male inmates, especially sentenced for long periods of time, will often victimize female hostages. During these situations they have complete control of the hostages, and feel they have nothing to lose. This is a deadly mix of adrenaline and control that will often result in the brutal treatment of female hostages. Sorry guys, but if hostages are released, my priority is to take away the temptation as soon as possible. I have come to peace, as have many others, that I would rather stay and take my chances, if it will result in the release of a female hostage. There are worse things than dying.
Having shown my somewhat chauvinistic side now, allow me to drive my core point home here. There are neither male Officers, nor female Officers. There are Correctional Officers, period. Each Correctional Officer has their own abilities, which we should amplify and recognize. Each Correctional Officer also has areas that need improvement, and we should help them with those. We can never assume that a person’s abilities or areas that require improvement are based solely on their gender. There is a need for this equality, but also a need for tactical sense as I have described above.
I know that I work with some of the best Correctional Officers in the world. I trust them with my life everyday, and I couldn’t care less if they are male or female. All I know is that they are my partners, and we would all lay down our lives for each other.
Saturday, December 30, 2006
WOMEN JAIL C.O.s--REMINISCING
I started in Corrections when Matrons worked in the jail. They were the motherly type that brought in sewing stuff for the girls, and who treated the female inmates for the most part like their own daughters. Then you didn’t worry about sexual harassment suits. The jail was a guy thing, and that’s all there was to it. You respected the Matrons, because they were women.
Newer and younger cops on the streets driven by new laws and lawsuits made arresting women commonplace. With the onslaught of female inmates came more and more female officers. Men have a concept that women need to be protected. A female is not quite as strong as a male and therefore it’s an instinct thing, right along with knowing where the TV remote and the beer should be. That filters up to the administration when it comes time for school, promotion, etc.
Now, forgive me for there are going to be a few topics I am going to broach and may seem off key, but they are the cold hard reality as I see it.
A common concept is women are not constant. PMS plays a role here. Some women have a bitchy day and everyone suffers. Administration sees this and is hesitant about placing females in position that are sensitive. Whether they are SERT, stripes, brass, etc. We still have some administrators that feel women are not meant for corrections. As time progresses and females are placed on court transports or mixed gender details, they have to work as hard as anyone else and harder, since they must deal with their own job and beating down their male counterparts that want to move them out of harm’s way. (There’s that guy thing again). Then you have the knuckleheads you have to deal with that feel women are useless, almost. Mostly those are the older guys and newer recruits. Both ends of the spectrum. Again another macho thing.
On occasion you have the female that does play the game of the poor helpless female (especially if she is good-looking and knows it) and plays that angle. Almost everyone with male hormones falls for that one. Hello, leave the hormones at the door! But we are talking about humans here. What may be put out as a simple unassuming gesture, a touch or a joke turns into a come-on (depending on whose eyes you are looking through). What some people may see one way is construed by someone else differently.
And then you have the poor girls that want to come in, do their job and go home. They are at a loss for the most part. Guys don’t find a thrill there, so working with them is boring, and that’s how dyke rumors start.
Then you have the pressure from the home front and personal life. Attitudes change, boyfriends, husbands or significant others start to feel uncomfortable because of the change in the temperament of the women C.O.s. Next thing we have is friction and a fight, a department romance, or after-work romance or other diversions or a grouchy time at work that gets them deeper in the mud. Next, rumors abound and a “slut” is born. Add that to the backpack of life and, depending on what she looks like, either she gets hit on, or ignored, or she turns to her home life for solace. And that’s whether it’s her fault or not.
Women in corrections have a doubly hard life, balancing professionalism and femininity. Well, femininity is out the door on the inside. Only you can’t get that through some of their heads. There’s a saying “Live as you train, train as you live”. In high stress situations you react as you’re trained. Now you’ve had 21+ years of femininity and that’s hard to lose in a short time behind the wall. You see where this is leading. You can’t just shut it off. You also can’t make that much of a cognitive effort, since that will take time and attention away from you doing your job. Catch 22. Women are between a rock and a hard place.
Now regarding training. Most of your administration is older and entrenched, and, as I stated earlier, still have the mindset that a woman can’t do a man’s job embedded deep in their psyche. This bleeds over to the newer younger administrators that have been groomed by these guys. So tucked in the back of their heads is the concept that a woman is good for clerical, but not SERT. Typing, not shooting, and again, God forbid, it’s PMS day. DUCK! So training opportunities are limited. Word processing 101 anyone?? Advanced coffee making training??
Advancement is another stumbling block. How many women in corrections do you see in positions of absolute authority? Not very many, even on a percentage basis. Again the mindsets are there. She’s a woman. So what! Can she get the job done?? They don’t listen. A reason can be found almost anytime, anywhere, in corrections not to promote someone. That’s politics.
Add to this mix the “good ol’ boys” group. The guys that bowl together, drink together, party together. How many females do you see in this crowd?? Not very many. I’ve also seen a lot of guys that work the female officers hard and ruthlessly and yet, when their wives are around in another environment, who is the dirt on the floor?? You guessed it--the C.O. So to take out your frustration due to your wife backbiting you, what do you do? You pick on another woman! That sucks, plain and simple. But it happens.
I admit in my beginnings I had those same mindsets. As time went on though my attitude changed. I began to notice that there were female C.O.’s doing the job I was doing. And they were doing it great! They were doing it the way I wanted it done. Eventually I had a newfound admiration and curiosity about female C.O.’s. I was with the administration a lot at the time, and learned a lot. Women did not get a fair shake, no way, no how. When I took command of my shift, the deal for everyone was: “Do the job. You have eight hours to do it. I don’t care how, just don’t break the law, follow your rules and regulations, policies and procedures, and everyone go home in one piece, so you can fight with the outside world, not each other, not here. We have enough on our plates trying to keep the inmates in check. If you direct all your efforts to the job, we all go home in one piece. And that is my intention. Not to leave anyone or any C.O. body parts behind. At least you can then enjoy your life out there. We will get along whether you like it or not.”
I would put female officers in positions that guys used to cringe at. But I always maintained I would never have someone do something I wouldn’t do. Eventually my shift became the shift to get on. We had a great shift, a tight shift. We had problems on occasion, but it was our shift, and we dealt with them.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Sunday, November 27, 2005
A HEART'S CRY
In my ___ years of work in corrections I have seen several suicides, murders and assaults. Some staff may tell you "Ah! They deserved what was coming." (Mostly referring to inmates.) But to me it didn't matter if it was an inmate or staff that died. It still affected me, and I know it affects ALL staff. “Normal” people’s work does not involve death. Corrections staff deal with this much more than a "normal" job.
While working in corrections I lived two lives—my outside life and my other life behind the prison walls. It’s hard enough dealing with the outside world. The life we live inside the walls of a prison can be such a heavy burden. My life was affected much more than most corrections staff. I was raised very strictly. I went to private schools, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I became a corrections officer.
Friday, October 14, 2005
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Saturday, October 08, 2005
Women In Corrections Support Group
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
We the Correctional Officers
We Correctional Officers have had many names over the years, such as, screw, guard, turnkey, bull, capt'n, boss and bos (spelled backward), and many more that should not be put in print nor said out loud.
We have had the poorest Public Relations of any group our size. Yes, we have had our bullies and power-hungry people, but that is the same in all jobs. What counts is the men and women (YES, I SAID WOMEN) that make up the majority of Corrections.
I started almost a decade before women were allowed to work in Corrections. I have seen the rough road they have had to travel. Granted, some have fallen by the wayside, but so have male Officers. Almost all of the remaining ones became good Correctional Officers, Officers that anyone would be proud to work with and to call upon for anything.
Let me give you an example. I worked with a young mother that was scared to death that she would someday be raped on the job by inmates. But every day she was there and worked any assigned post and did her best. She had a family to support and Corrections was the highest paying job a woman could get. This Officer was a privilege to work with. The other Officers and I knew she would back us to the limit.
In our line of work there is a saying that corrections work involves 30 years of boredom and 30 seconds of terror. Me? I have seen a lot of 30 seconds over the years. When you stand head-to-head with an inmate that only a few months before had seriously cut a fellow officer and tell him "No," the tension lasts much more than 30 seconds.
Remember, you are a highly trained Correctional Officer. I only wish I had received half the training when I started as you do now. Corrections work is not an easy life and never will be. It is real rough on marriages and families. People who do not work in Corrections do not understand this, often not even the family members of Officers.
Desert Waters is here to help Correctional Staff and families in any matters they can. No names will be given nor asked (except in the case of danger to self or others, if names are voluntarily disclosed), and there is no caller ID for the answering service. I believe they will help or I would not be writing for them. Everyone needs someone to blow off steam to and not have to worry about consequences.
-The Old Screw
The term "screw" for correctional officers derives from a type of locking mechanism used to secure cell doors. According to George H. Gregory, the author of Alcatraz Screw, "It's an old term that refers to the locking system in some prisons. You insert a big, long key into the lock of a cell door and screw it in until the door is secured."