This page is about you – corrections professionals’ family members – and your stories. Its purpose is to encourage and instruct, and remind you that you are not alone! We offer our deepest thanks to the brave men and women who contributed their stories, and by doing so made it possible for us to offer you this page.

We invite you to send us your story at Your story can appear here if approved.

We reserve the right to make edits to your material and to not post stories. And if a writer indicates that s/he is a threat to themselves or to others, we’ll try to locate that person to get them help.

After CF2F—A Family’s Perspective

By Anonymous Family Members

The Wife’s Story: How does someone with 20+ years cope with stress and the everyday concern for their personal safety, as well as their co-workers’?

You become a different person, or you develop an alter ego, if you will.  This allows you to keep a stern profile and not allow people to see any other side of you.  For safety and security issues this is more than acceptable.  However, one needs to be able to turn that off when they leave work and go home to their family and friends.

Although I’ve never worked directly with offenders, because my husband deals with it on a daily basis, I feel as though I have lived the experiences, situations, etc. that he has.  He has always been a wonderful provider, soulmate, father and friend but recently I had noticed, those things were slowly diminishing and he was becoming someone that I did not feel as though I knew anymore.  The stress of the job was getting to him and that stern profile he had to maintain eight hours a day while at work became his profile every hour of every day.

Our daughter had even noticed the change in her father. Up to then they had always had an inseparable bond.  This change was breaking our daughter’s heart, and after a recent disagreement they had, she lashed out at me saying some very hurtful things about her father.  I knew in my heart she truly did not mean them but was so angry she had just come to her boiling point and exploded.  I asked her to give herself a few days to calm down and then discuss it with her father.  A few days went by and she did what I asked.  I did not witness the conversation, but I came in towards the end of it and I could see the pain and hurt in my husband’s eyes.  He had no idea things had gotten this bad. We, as a family, then also discussed other issues that needed addressed.

I felt that we had made progress, but I did not have any idea how much until my husband went to the CF2F class (Desert Waters’ course From Corrections Fatigue to Fulfillment). I remember him coming home from the class and immediately hugging our daughter and apologizing for his behavior and who he had become.  I saw an immediate change in him after this class and his passion for this program.

The man I married 25 years ago has become the same man I fell in love with all over again!

This isn’t something to be ignored.  Corrections is a very stressful job, and your family and friends are the ones who suffer from it.  Don’t shut them out. They are the ones who love and support you every day.

The Daughter’s Story: My father has always been my biggest role model.

Every morning, he set me up for success. Words of encouragement were spoken, he told me I would do amazing things, he said that he loved me, and out the door to work he went.

The mornings, they made me happy. It was always the afternoon I dreaded, when dad came home from work. Dad would come home defeated every day, answering constant phone calls, and just looked like he had given up. My cheery, loving father seemed to vanish when he was off work.

People started telling me things about my dad like how power-needy he was, how he had to be in constant control, how his emotions always affected his attitude. I began to realize that my dad was becoming his work.  I struggled with connecting with him, never feeling like I could disclose information to him, and instead feeling scared to tell my dad about my life in fear of him disapproving, or snapping at me.

My mom and I brought this to his attention, and that’s when things began to change.

My father was so hurt. He never realized what was happening.

Next thing I knew, Dad was gone for a week, in Springfield, attending the CF2F workshop.  I remember the day he came home, and he came into the door and hugged me, and started giving Mom and me a summary of his week.

Dad broke down, sobbing. He told us all about these things that he learned, the stories he was told, and how he didn’t feel like he was alone in his struggle of becoming his work. I broke down right along with him. From the moment he stepped into the door, I knew my dad was back. He was given the right tools to understand and cope with what he was going through, and he used them.

Now, once again, Dad channels his rough patches into productivity, and I have never been so proud of him. Dad and I have never had such a strong relationship, and I look to model myself after the person my father has become.

Notes from the Home Front

By An Anonymous Corrections Wife

Any outsider having regular contact with correctional staff picks up quickly on some peculiar habits of workers in this profession.  For instance, you agree to meet at a restaurant and arrive to find them sequestered at a back table in a seat that strategically provides an unobstructed view of the entire facility.  Or, unless you really enjoy the view from the floor, you promise yourself to never again surprise them by sneaking up from behind and yelling, “BOO!”

Corrections is not a profession which instills trust, and the challenge of getting staff to open up about what actually occurs “behind the walls” can be frustrating and seemingly impossible.  As the spouse of a corrections professional, I’ve discovered some ways that help to increase that trust, improve our communication and give me the ability to enjoy my life in this unique and constantly challenging role.

Provide a listening ear. I hear stories from the frontlines that both curl my hair and bore me silly.  No matter which, be willing to listen calmly and quietly while letting your spouse know they have your full attention. Minimize distractions.  If you’re home when your spouse returns from work, turn down the burner, hang up the phone, turn off the TV, whatever you need to do to show them you care about their day and are available to listen, even if they are not immediately forthcoming.

Be patient, not demanding. Patience is not just a virtue…in a correctional family it’s a means of survival!  Wait until your spouse is ready to open up.  “Talk to me, d*mmit!” is generally not a good conversation starter.  If you demonstrate that you are willing to wait for however long it takes, without prodding or pressure, then they’ll appreciate your steadfastness and communicate faster and with more openness next time.

Be compassionate, not judgmental. Resist the temptation to give your opinion, no matter how justified. You really cannot know all that your spouse faces at work. Respond with phrases such as, “That must have been difficult for you,” or “You must feel angry/disappointed/happy,” etc.  Just let them vent their feelings without overreacting to their intensity or the details described.

Give praise and encouragement.  Stand by your man…or woman.  There’s a reason that title was a hit song other than just being a catchy phrase.  Let them know how important their job is to society and how much you appreciate and admire the work they do under such difficult circumstances.

Allow your spouse downtime.  Try to not to schedule family activities immediately after work hours.  Give them the opportunity to relax and unwind.  Dinner can wait!  Let them go to the gym, work in the garden, read the paper, soak in the tub, kick back in the easy chair…whatever gives them a chance to disconnect from the prison environment and transition to life at home.

Make your home a refuge. Provide soft music, pleasant smells, the gift of a massage…any little gesture you can think of to soothe the senses and make your home feel like an oasis – a place of peace, calm, and safety.

Be a true partner.  Let your spouse know that his or her career is also part of your life and you want to share in both the good and bad times of their professional life in corrections.

Pamper yourself.  Being a correctional spouse is a tough job!  Don’t neglect your own needs. Make time to do the uplifting activities that give you joy and satisfaction.

Pray for your spouse and their coworkers.  Make it a habit to say a little prayer when they leave for work or when you think about them during the day.  Ask for safety and wisdom for your spouse and everyone around them.  Pray that the facility where they work be filled with peace and calmness.  Request that you be shown how to be a source of comfort and unconditional love to them as they strive to protect and defend our community while working in at times can be such a hostile environment.

I understand that, depending on your particular family situation or your own work schedule, some of these suggestions might seem close to impossible or even ridiculous.   I’m not saying you should be waiting at the door clad in sexy lingerie or silk boxers, your spouse’s favorite meal in the oven, anxiously waiting to fulfill their every need and acknowledge every syllable they may utter.  (Though, frankly, I myself wouldn’t object to the food and the boxers.)  But any attempt, no matter how small or frequent, to just be there with compassionate understanding can make a world of difference for your spouse, their career, your family and home life and the success of your marriage.

Emergency Preparedness for the Heart

By Anonymous Corrections Professional

Remember the day you got the call from the prison? You were hired! You felt such extreme relief and excitement!  Your young wife shrieked with delight when you got off the phone.  “Let’s take the kids to Chuckey Cheeses and celebrate.”

Over dinner, you made your plans. Life was going to improve with two incomes again.  Heck, you could do Disneyland, the beach, maybe even a cruise.

Your six-year-old daughter, with wide eyes, asked questions about prisons, prisoners, and handcuffs.

When your heads hit your pillows that night, you softly conversed about the costs of college for the kids, planning for retirement, and just before falling asleep, you even considered a little brother for your son.

You knew what you wanted that day:  You wanted a career to support your family.

Five years later. You’ve done so well.  You smile when you think about how much the prison appreciates you.  You never called in sick.  You would work any shift at any time. You were willing to promote.  And…you made friends at work.  In fact, Administration loves you.  Hard-working people like you.  And a smart, beautiful, dedicated woman loves you.  She understands what you do.  You never tire of what you can talk about.  She “gets” you in a way that your wife could never understand.

But now you know you want something very different today:  You want a woman who supports your career, because your wife no longer understands you, and you have replaced your family with your career.

This happens way too often.  We become enthusiastic about a career, and lose enthusiasm for the ones we love the most.  Work becomes our home and as that happens, we dread going home because it has become hard work.

One way to preserve your family is to plan for an emergency.  You have the ability to prepare for what could threaten your home-life long before it is threatened.  Plan Ahead.

So here are some thoughts for Emergency Preparedness for Your Heart.

  1. No matter what shift I work, I will express my love to my loved ones at home at least once every 24 hours.
  2. At work, I will not have any conversations with coworkers that I would not want my spouse to overhear.
  3. I will be loyal to my spouse in my thoughts and conversations.  I will not fantasize about a coworker.
  4. If I find myself attracted to a co-worker, I will recognize this as an emergency.
  5. I will absolutely seek professional counseling as soon as possible.
  6. I will carefully guard my conversations and thoughts.  I will never seek out that individual to have conversations, other than what is absolutely necessary for my work.
  7. I will never say to this person “If I wasn’t married, I would be interested in you.”  This is nearly always the first conversation that leads to an affair.
  8. I will talk warmly about my spouse and home-life if possible.
  9. I will make every effort to not travel alone with a co-worker whom I find to be attractive. If I am required to do so, I will ask for someone else to go along.  If that is not possible, I will set up an accountability system, such as frequent phone calls home and/or to a trusted friend or spiritual advisor who knows the situation and who agreed to help me navigate through this experience safely.
  10. If I need to be out of town for work, I will only go out in groups and I will be in my room early and I will call my spouse.  I will never be alone with a co-worker whom I find to be attractive.

If I feel lonely at work, I will think of my loved ones at home.  I will not try and find loved ones at work.

The Little Note

By Brent Parker

It’s so easy for the corrections professionals to become all-consumed by the work of corrections.  Corrections is a 24/7 endeavor, so we often think we need to be engaged 24/7.  Most corrections professionals want to do their very best and this requires great dedication and hard work.  Certainly, we need to be loyal, and while we are at work and on-the-clock we need to be focused and fully engaged.

Many corrections professionals have the desire to contribute more, promote through the ranks, and earn a position of leadership.  Most would like to earn more money, and this may drive us to devote even more time and energy to the work.  We tell ourselves that we’re dedicated, loyal and hardworking, and this is probably true, but the consequences can be costly.  It is also very common for the corrections professional to cut ties with non-corrections friends and spend less and less quality time with family.  This formula may result in us becoming a corrections workaholic.

Because of the associated stress of corrections work in general, the corrections workaholic may be end up isolated, unhealthy and unhappy.

We tell ourselves we’re working long hours to provide more for our family, but the family suffers along the way, with this often leading to divorce and, tragically, no family at all.  Family and true friends don’t really care what we do at work; they just want us to be there for them.  Not just today; but also long after corrections.

A few things to consider:

  • You may feel important while you’re rising through the ranks, and as a public servant you are. However, your agency was there before you and will be there long after you.
  • When the work is done—and eventually it will end—what you will have is your faith, your family and friends, your health and a hobby or two …
  • The long hours of work may cost you what you can never get back: family time, special events and lasting memories, true enjoyment, and real-life fulfillment.

How do I know this is true?  I was a corrections workaholic … for a while.

I was about eighteen years into my corrections career.  I was working myself silly, 70-80 hours a week, sometimes more.  I was contributing, moving through the ranks, becoming a better leader and supporting my family.  I went to work early, stayed late, and took work home because I thought it was important.  I thought I was important.

Then one evening I was at home, pouring over policies, working on important Department stuff.  My seven-year old daughter, the youngest of four kids, came quietly into the room.  She slipped a little piece of paper onto the desk, smiled and left the room.  This little note changed my life.

From this moment on, I was still a hardworking, loyal and dedicated employee.  I continued to promote and left the Department in a good place, but my priorities were different.  My faith, my loving wife and my family came first again.  I was happier, less stressed and less bothered by the temporary importance of the work and the Department.  I’m sure I was even a better employee and leader at work.  I don’t think the people I worked with noticed I was working fewer hours, which tells me they probably hadn’t really noticed the previous long hours either.

I read what my daughter had written, and knew then I needed to do better.  I held on to this little note and the lesson it offered.

My daughter’s little note read simply … Daddy when can we play?  I love you. 

After reading the note, I cried a little (you know, inside, because that’s what dads do).  This was such an important message from a small child.  I thought I was a good provider, but I was not being a very good dad.  I closed the desk and I left that work for another day.

I scooped her up and we jumped on the trampoline that evening until I was exhausted.  I spent time jumping and playing every chance I got, with all my kids.  I didn’t miss any events, school functions or games, unless it was absolutely necessary.  I coached teams, helped on school projects and spent more time than I can count watching and cheering them to success.

My wife had worked hard with four kids and carried the load when I was away at work.  She was always so supportive and deserved more from me, so I tried to be a better husband.  I tried to help out more than before, and even though I still didn’t do the laundry right, I was trying, and our marriage got stronger.

I retired from corrections in 2016, and I have fond memories.  Many work partners remain my very best of friends, and the work was rewarding.  We kept people safe, and we probably helped some people along the way. But nothing could replace the quality time I spent during those same years creating memories with my family.

I’m so thankful I slowed down to enjoy such blessings, and I’m eternally grateful for my loving wife, four wonderful kids, and my daughter’s little note.

Brent Parker, Husband and Dad

Live to See Another Day

By Anonymous Correctional Officer

It’s been almost three years now, but it is a day, a time that I will never forget.

I was seated in my wife’s van at the top of the parking garage at the airport. When our son moved away and started coming home on occasion, we found a great spot to watch planes land and take off. I had just watched our son and his fiancé’s plane lift off for their home in another state.

I then reached into my backpack and a notebook inside, just like the one I originally wrote this article on, to write a letter to our son. As I started to write this letter, tears started trickling down my cheeks. This would be my last letter to him. I needed to tell him how proud I was of him and the life he had made since he graduated from college. I needed to tell him how much I loved him, and that what I had done was not his fault in any way.

This letter would be followed by one to our other child, then a final one to my wife. When these were complete and sealed in a few days, my plan was then to take my life. There were so many things to say, but…

I was in a very dark place and had been for some time. I was tired, I was beat up emotionally, and I just wanted the pain to end. I had a terrific, very supportive wife, I had co-workers and a friend or two that I could talk to. I had resources through my employer that I could access. I also had my faith that had helped me in the past during dark times. For some reason, this time was different. This darkness had really enveloped me, and taking my life just seemed the logical choice.

I fought with myself. To even consider taking my life…. Those voices in my head were telling me, “You’re weak. You’re going to hell when you do this. You’re a coward. You have no guts.”

I just wanted the pain to stop. That’s all. I was in a tunnel and I saw only one way out. Taking my life would surely devastate my wife and children. I had friends at work that I could have reached out to that would have probably been very hurt. They would have said that they never saw it coming, which was by design. Right? When you’re in that place, you’re not thinking straight or logically. You are only focused on the pain. Besides, my family would be better off. Right?

The things we see, the things we’re exposed to in our profession, this stuff just adds up, and then maybe something happens in our personal life, and it all just seems to overwhelm us.

One day I was going about my duties at work and the thought occurred to me that I wished that I could just not feel. It would make it easier to handle what we deal with.

This profession is not for the faint of heart. It never was and never will be. We try our hardest to say, to think that what we’re exposed to doesn’t bother us, but we all know it does. The people that I have had the honor to work with are some of the toughest folks you could ever meet. Reaching out for help does not mean you are weak or falling apart. It actually is just the opposite.

I did not finish those letters to my family after all, thank God. Life got better. I did not seek out professional help and in retrospect, I really should have. Please, if you are in that place that I was, reach out to a peer, or your minister, or seek professional help. Talk to someone.

Live to see another day.

A Solid Partner

By Phil Haskett

The summer day was bright, crisp and cloudless. Although the Parade Ground looked so small, I stood there with pride as my wife of 10 years watched on with our two small children as I was presented with the Dux of Course award on the final day of training at the South Australian Academy for Corrections. No thought entered my mind about how strenuous it was going to be for my family over the next 20 years wondering if I was going to come home safe and well; if I was going to ignore them because I had a crappy day; if I was going to retreat into a bottle of beer for the night feeling sorry for myself at having a prisoner win one over me; or if I was going to snap at every remark my wife or kids made because the daily exposure of working “behind the wire” made me more and more act like an inmate.

No. This was one of the best days of my life. I was the best. I was top of the class of 1990!!

Now, 20 years later, I sit here in early retirement because of PTSD due to an incident that happened 12 years ago, ashamed of myself for being a harsh partner and father. For being self-centered. For being secretive about my worries and not confiding in them for support. For keeping them at arm’s length and keeping them out of my inner world.

I feel no sense of pride for coming home in a bad mood, sometimes injured, often tired, occasionally feeling unappreciated for doing a solid day’s work, angry because a roster was changed by a Supervisor who favoured a “mate” to a softer post, scared and distant towards them after being treated as a perpetrator and not as a justice administrator. Sometimes I felt like I had done something wrong, when in fact all I did was go to work, putting in my 12 hours at 100% (and some).

On days like these I’d go home expecting a champagne reception each time. Did I ever ask about their worries? No. I was too set in a self-centered mentality. Me first, second and always.

But now I have just completed 20 years working in a negative industry that gave me no skills whatsoever to cope with the emotional strain I was to put my family through. I have other skills, other knowledge, but none to make me a better person outside the wire, or to my family. I now have to be “re-programmed.” Thankfully, I have found the means.

Not once did I ask my family what they thought of my chosen career. Not once did I listen when my wife said, “Don’t talk to us like one of your prisoners” or “Do you know how badly you speak to us lately?” or “Why won’t you listen to us?”

Through this, I am still married to a great wife, who gave me two fantastic boys and who has stood by me through thick and thin. This is what I call a solid partner. Yes, we have had our disagreements (let’s not pull punches. . . they were loud verbal fights) and hours of a strained atmosphere in the house. But 29 years of marriage has beaten 20 years of Corrections.

I am an Australian-born British Army veteran who served in the finest regiment in the British Army, the Coldstream Guards; who was once a leader of fighting men in action; a respected non-commissioned officer; a Queen’s Guard who shone on duty at the palaces for the tourists to photograph; someone who always looked after his men and always sided with the underdog; the one who always came out of battle smiling, ready to go do it again the next day and the next and the next, whenever asked. Never complaining; never questioning. But today I feel beaten. Not by an adversary in physical battle or in a battle of wits, but beaten by a system that needs new direction and one which needs to listen to more people like “The Old Screw” instead of “bean counters.” In the end, staff are a more valuable asset than the financial “bottom line.”

And yet, although feeling beaten in some aspects, I feel a sense of achievement for what I have gained in the past, both in the military and in corrections. Attaining the positions of leadership. Making hard decisions that have saved subordinates from injury. Making myself available for anyone who wanted a shoulder to cry on. Starting initiatives that have forged the birth of an organization that helps correctional staff in times of crisis. The awards and letters of recognition for bravery, courage and dedication are nice to reflect on, but really are hollow compared to a colleague who just says, “Thank you for just being you, mate.”

But as much as I cherish those thoughts, I feel that I am responsible for letting my family down. It was my choice to enter the world of corrections, not theirs. It was my choice to let myself be dragged down to a lower level of caring when I should have separated work from home. I just was never shown that there was an alternative choice to make apart from the one I took in those 20 years.

This first week in retirement has not given me a sense of joy at what lies ahead. Instead, it is giving me joy to know that I am responding to help from others. Help to learn how to leave the negatives behind. Help to think more positively. Help to leave my poor attitude behind. Help to leave the withdrawal from my family behind. Help to regain the unquestionable love and devotion I once had for my family.

Now I have to learn how to treat my wife and family like I should have done long ago. Now is not too late to ask for forgiveness and for me to give back to them what I had so many times demanded from them. The one thing above all … unconditional love and respect. Now in retirement I have some “firsts” to achieve.

• My first goal: “To revert to the past person who my wife married and who my kids first called Dad.”
• My first lesson to learn: “The glass is now always half full, not half empty.”
• My first observation to make: “It doesn’t matter how tough you think you are; it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help!”
• My first promise to make: “To realize that there are always people far worse off than I thought I ever was.”
• My first hope to wish for: “That I be forgiven for my past failures and be remembered for trying my best.”

And remember: You are stronger by accepting help than by denying you need help.

My Thoughts about CF2F

By Lt. Tony Gonzales III

I am coming up on 23 years in the department. I have been gassed with urine and feces on multiple occasions. I have been physically assaulted on 4 occasions. I saved an inmate’s life who was hanging, which resulted in tearing ligaments in my thumb, requiring surgery to repair. I responded to the aid of a Counselor while they were being assaulted, which resulted in the inmate mule kicking me in my knee, tearing my MCL and ACL, requiring surgery to repair, resulting in pins in my knee.

During Desert Waters CF2F Instructor Training for the course I From Corrections Fatigue to Fulfillment (CF2F) would return to my hotel room and self-reflect on things I would say and things I would do, which became the norm in my life. For example, I was oftentimes told by my spouse that I was talking to her like an inmate (authoritative, demanding, ordering). I would dismiss her comment and never believed that I talked to her in that manner. I have become distant with friends outside of work, so much so they don’t include me in our “get togethers” I once participated in. I would come home from work and not want to talk to anyone. I didn’t like answering my phone and would look at who was calling. It could be my Mom, Dad, or my children, and I would let it go to voicemail. I absolutely hated going to big events with big crowds. I was always so judgmental of others while in the public. I would immerse myself so much into my work, I would stay over 1 to 2 hours for free. Once home, I would constantly worry about what I needed to get done the next day, which would cause me to be distant with my family. I believed the reason why I got a divorce was my wife’s fault.

And now that I have had the class and can recognize my behaviors and have ways of dealing with them I am working on change. My current wife and I sat down and went through the Participant’s Manual, and she pointed out my behaviors, but now I felt like she had an understanding as to why I act a certain way.

Now when I come home she greats me with a hug and a kiss, welcomes me home, doesn’t ask any questions, and lets me decompress for an hour.

It’s funny, when I begin to “Spiral” as my wife and I like to call it, she reminds me of the fatigue to fulfillment.

For me personally it has helped tremendously and I believe if I would have had this training 10 years ago, I probably would have remained married, as I now recognize that I was part of the problem.

And for the first time in 10 years I took my kids to the Fair, although it was difficult I kept telling myself 96% of these people are good people. I did so well, I took them back the next day.

The week after I returned from the training, I sat in the class as the Peer Support Team leader. During the class I interjected and told a story that when I and my previous wife would get into arguments she would always yell at me and say, “Stop talking to me like I am an inmate!”

Shortly after we went on a short break and when everyone returned, a class participant raised his hand and said after I told that story it broke him down and during the break he called his spouse and apologized for a fight they had a month ago when she told him those exact words. He thanked me for the story, and really appreciated the class.

During that day I left the classroom on 3 occasions and provided Peer Support to both custody and non-custody staff. I literally sat in a participant’s vehicle with them and talked for 30 minutes while he broke down in tears, because the curriculum identified how he was feeling. The participant indicated he could not return to the class because it was real heavy. I told him we were getting ready to discuss the fulfillment portion of the class, which would greatly benefit him. The participant returned to the class and completed it while actively participating in the group exercises. At the conclusion of the class he thanked me for getting him back into the classroom.

At the end of this class, participants clap, give standing ovations and always come up front, thank the instructors and always say, “We have been needing a class like this for a long time.”
I, along with many participants and instructors believe this course should be longer than 7 hours, due to the amount of conversation that happens. This class gets the participants talking, and, couple that with the activities, we are pressed for time.

I think a course like this would be great for the academy. It would prepare the new cadets to recognize the onset of Correctional Fatigue. In my eyes this training is invaluable and needed. I have been an Instructor for 15 years and have never seen class participants have so much gratitude for a class.

Flavor of the Month

By Anonymous Corrections Professional

How did my career in corrections destroy my home life? It happened in a flash. Really, it took almost no time at all. And to this day, I regret the price I paid for my naivety.

After my first three days working in MAX (a maximum security prison), I called my sister. “It is pretty exciting!” I told her. “I feel like I am visiting a totally different culture. Training was okay, but getting to work in the prison is exciting.”

“Are you getting to know people?” she asked.

“Not really,” my voice fell. “I am eating alone in the lunch room and that feels weird after years of having lunch with the girls in my old office. I do get lonely.”

She said, “Don’t worry, Jenny. You’ll get to know people. You are outgoing and fun. People are always drawn to you. I remember what Skip said on your wedding day. ‘I married Jenny because she is sweet, generous, and she brightens up any room. I know I want to spend the rest of my life with this beautiful woman who shines from the inside out.’ In no time, people at that prison will get to know you and you will be having lunch with a crowd.”

I remember smiling with pride as my sister talked about Skip and his attraction to me. At age 39, we had been married 15 years. We were having fun raising two rambunctious boys, ages ten and twelve. We loved our chocolate lab, Loyal. We enjoyed the same things: skiing, camping, and being active in our church. In fact, we were small group leaders for the marriage class and people often told us that our small group had a big impact on their marriages.

When my sister assured me that I would be making friends, I imagined that I would soon meet some women whom I could relate with. I looked forward to having someone say, “How was your weekend?”

The problem with being new in that prison, staff weren’t very friendly at first. The inmates were the ones trying to be friendly. But, I knew the rules and inmates didn’t get away with making personal comments.

But, there was one inmate who kept looking me up and down when he passed by my workstation. I knew what to say if an inmate said something inappropriate. I was confused about what to do if their eye contact was inappropriate. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I asked a fellow officer. I chose Benny. Benny had worked there at MAX for 22 years. He seemed to be well liked by many of the other officers. He was always upbeat and was one of the only people who had been somewhat friendly to me in my new job at MAX.

When I mentioned the situation to Benny, his happy demeanor changed. He suddenly looked stern. “Let’s go talk to that inmate,” he said. We walked down the hallway and he called the inmate out of his cell. We took him to a counseling office and Benny shut the door. “Hey Dipshit!” he yelled in the inmate’s face, “Officer Bosemma is going to be a good female officer. She doesn’t need any of your shenanigans. When you look at her….” he stared at the inmate and let silence fall in the room. “You–look —at— her —face. Now, get back in your cell. You are celled-in for 24 hours while you think about how to respect an officer.”

After the inmate left the room, he searched my eyes to see how I had responded to the situation. “You okay, Jenny?” he asked with a familiarity that surprised me.

“Wow.” I responded. “Thank you. You did that well!” He chuckled and patted my arm as we left the counseling office. I felt warm and I felt protected. It was kind of cool at the time.
When I got home that night, I sat on the couch and petted Loyal as I told Skip all about the event. Skip’s first question was, “How were you sure that inmate was being inappropriate?”

“Oh, I just knew,” I responded. I had always told Skip a lot about my work in the office downtown. He enjoyed hearing about the funny stories about the women who worked there and their varying personalities. But, Skip had no understanding of prison culture. So, I quit talking about work.

Going to work started to become exciting. There were fights in the yard and war stories in the lunchroom. The days flew by in minutes and I wondered why I hadn’t started my career in corrections years before. Benny was often there to chat and ask me about my weekend. I told him about our family outings and about getting to go jogging with loyal Loyal. He told me about the movies that he and his wife went to see. He brought coffee to my post almost every day. Sometimes, he would wait and walk me to my car.

An attractive older female officer stopped by my post one day and said “Officer Bossema. It appears you are the flavor of the month with Benny.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Oh, I was his flavor of the month about ten years back. He and I had to go to training out of town and he got me to meet him in the hot tub. Nothing happened! But, he had intentions. He wouldn’t talk to me after we got home. He is civil to me now. He is worried that I am telling people about what he tried.”

“He must not have been married then. He is different now.” I responded.

She laughed quite loud and an inmate across the way looked over at her. “I need to keep my voice down. Sorry about that.” She whispered, “He was married then too. His wife has no idea how he is. He always goes after the most attractive woman in the prison. That’s you for this month.”

My mind was reeling with a multitude of thoughts: This is scary. This is exciting. Benny’s a “player”. I never had a “player” pursue me. They had ignored me in high school. I’m a mom now. She just said that I’m the most attractive woman in the prison. Why does that matter to me? I’m a wife now. Why is a married man acting like that? Maybe I should stop being his friend? What would Skip think about all of this? I won’t have any friends here if I don’t have Benny. Why do I feel happy about this?

She was waiting for my response. “Well, I’m happily married. I’m not interested in Benny. We are just friends!” I said emphatically. I continued to say that same statement to myself over the next few months. I even had to say it to a supervisor who pulled me aside and asked if I was being sexually harassed.

Meanwhile, work continued to get more and more exciting. I weighed what the officer had said about Benny but in my mind, I had found one of the best friends a person could ask for. He was respectful and fun. He was popular at the prison and I liked having such a friend. I even enjoyed being the flavor of the month. I couldn’t wait to debrief with Benny on the way to the parking lot every evening. And then there was the day that he had to leave his car in the shop to get new tires. He asked for my phone number so he could call me in the morning to get a ride from the shop. I picked him up and we came strolling in to work together. I didn’t worry what people thought because nothing was going on. I was just helping a friend.

After Benny had my phone number, he found reasons to call me now and then. And then one evening, he called me from Safeway and asked me to drive over. He said it was an emergency. I will never forget what he said when I walked up to his sporty little car.

“You are beautiful and I think I love you.” I was stunned. I told myself to run away and save my marriage.

“You are married,” I said lamely. “I am married.” I turned away and got in my car. I went home to Skip. I hugged my wonderful husband and hugged my kids. But, that is the last warm hug that ever happened between Skip and me.

Because, the next day, I had to go to work and Benny was there. He was popular and handsome and he wanted me! I ignored him at first, but he was relentless. Yes, he was relentless and he knew what he wanted.

I had a two-year affair with Benny. I became addicted to his attention. I was addicted to vanity. I was demoralized. I was consumed by guilt. The sweetness of my marriage took wings and flew away never to be seen again. It ruined my reputation at that prison and among my friends in the community. I worked there for many years but many people knew me as the Benny’s fourth flavor of the month. Several years later, Skip and I signed divorce papers in a law office. We both sat in a darkened room and cried.

Benny is still married to the same woman and continues to look for new flavors.

Although financially ok, I lost my home, my garden, family outings, family prayers, many friends, Christmas mornings with my family, and thousands of other cherished valuables. I did get to keep Loyal, my chocolate lab.

After my boys graduated from high school, Loyal and I lived alone in a house 90 minutes from my ex-husband Skip. One weekend, my boys were visiting Skip at his home. I was walking the aging and graying Loyal when his hip gave out. I called the veterinarian and she said “Jenny, Loyal is an old dog now and this is going to keep happening. I think you need to bring him in and it is time to put him down.”

I tearfully called Skip (who had embarked on a new relationship with a good woman) and he drove all the way out to my house to get Loyal and lift him into the back of the pick-up. I drove behind the pick up as we made our way down that sad road to the Vet where Loyal would be put to sleep and then buried in Skip’s backyard. The boys rode in the pick-up next to their dad. It felt secure just to be driving along behind him and our boys.

Loyal was looking over the edge of the pick up at me. He was smiling the way that dogs smile when they see all their loved ones together where they belong.

And I was asking myself: “WHY DIDN’T I PUT MY FAMILY FIRST?”

Start Building Your Village NOW

By Cheryl Callahan

Capt. James A. Callahan, Jr. 27-year veteran of Middlesex Sheriff’s Office, MA, died by suicide, age 53, June 2011. I am his widow.

Life with Jim Callahan (Cal) was complicated by the fact that he kept his feelings and emotions bottled up. Although buried deep within him, they ruled his every day behavior. He could not communicate his hopes, fears, or anxieties. Some of his troubles came from the job. Some came from home. Everything was exacerbated by continuous exposure to the “bad side of life” ever present at work.

His job was extremely important to him, but it came with enormous amounts of pressure—24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It took Jimmy years to open up to me about how hard it was to spend every working night making sure his coworkers were safe, keeping the peace inside the prison walls, and checking on inmates to make sure they hadn’t killed themselves. When surrounded by so much negative energy, it is difficult to believe that good things can happen in life. Jim was hard pressed to “look on the bright side” of anything outside his family.

You Correctional Officers accept a huge amount of personal responsibility. It comes with the job – a very important job. Your personal characteristics include honesty, sound judgment, integrity, and a strong sense of responsibility and commitment. You take care of others. You protect them. You do not want to burden others with knowledge of the evil, sadness and despair you encounter on a daily basis as part of your job. Many of you find it difficult to go home and share your daily activities with your family. Taking a psych patient to the hospital or finding an inmate dead in his cell may be part of your world, but you do not want to make it ours. You know more evil than we “outsiders” encounter in a lifetime and your instinct is to keep it from us. You do not want to pass along the nightmares. You do not want this evil to permeate your home.

I am here to tell you that by bottling this up and protecting your family from all that goes on in your day, you are actually doing yourself and your family a great disservice. No one, no matter how strong and secure, should be asked to contain your daily stress. You need to recognize that it’s ok to talk about it, process it and let it go. Get rid of it! Suppression can kill you. Look what it did to Jim.

Jim grew up with a Dad whom he respected. He loved his father and was proud of him. So proud of him in fact that he followed in his Dad’s footsteps by becoming a Correctional Officer. Unfortunately, “Jas” Callahan’s life ended in 1973 after being assaulted and pushed down a flight of stairs by an inmate. Jas paid for his dedication to the job with his life, and, in a totally different way, so did Jim. It’s a sad parallel.

Hillary Clinton once said “… we have learned that to raise a happy, healthy and hopeful child, it takes a family, it takes teachers, it takes clergy, it takes business people, it takes community leaders, it takes those who protect our health and safety, it takes all of us. Yes, it takes a village.”

YOU are part of that village! We all need a village to keep our sanity today. The weight of the world does not rest on your shoulders alone. This is part of what went wrong for Jim. His village was too small. Family can’t be your sole resource for help when a crisis arrives.

And know this….. You can’t start to build a village when you are in crisis. You have to have it in place LONG BEFORE a crisis arrives if you are going to survive!
Looking back I see the “Jimmy quirks” were not simply quirks, they were symptoms. Symptoms of anxiety he chose to ignore and symptoms I just learned to live with.

His Symptoms List:
1. Locking doors behind him.
2. Always looking at the “negatives;” never even considering the positives.
3. Social anxiety—“Why meet someone new? My old acquaintances are all I need for the rest of my life!”
4. Always “sick.” Do you “bang in” because you can’t take the stress at work?
5. Sleeping around the clock. Who sleeps 12–14 hours/day? Someone who does constant battle with anxiety is exhausted at the end of the day.

Obviously now when I look at this list now…I clearly see a person prone to depression. Depression can be genetic or it can be brought on by a particular situation. Both played a part in Jim’s story.

He didn’t wake up one day and suddenly “catch” anxiety and depression. I am confident he was genetically predisposed to it. I never realized how great the struggle was until it was close to the end.

Just “yesterday” he confided in me that whenever he applied for a job, he threw up from nerves. He couldn’t drive to the Sheriff’s out of town office without mapping out the route, driving it at least twice before he had to “go for real.” Drive in and out of Boston… forget about it… Talk with a professional about his worries – no way!

The most unfortunate thing of all is that if he faced his fears he was able to overcome them. He just lacked the insight to see the successes he had when he put mind over matter.
He learned to drive to and from Maine. He was able to overcome his fear of public speaking when it mattered. He could meet with the feared physicians if he just went prepared.

Back to the depression. He was in severe depression for the last six months of his life. I was asking too much of him. He told everyone he “needed time off to care for his wife,” but in reality he was trying to hide his depression from his coworkers and deal with it all alone. He didn’t have a TEAM in place to assist with his troubles.

If he only understood what Solomon once wrote: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.” Solomon suggests we seek and follow wise coaching. Don’t go it alone. The risks are too great!

How is it I am here standing in front of you today? Easy: I have a huge support network that keeps me going. My team consists of friends, therapists, family, and others I consider life coaches. Even my bosses/coworkers are part of my team. In addition, I’ve had huge amounts of support from the Middlesex Sheriff’s Department.

Jim’s anxiety got in the way of his building a support network. His fears were so great he couldn’t face them. He actually made a heroic effort: he reached out to his family, he reached out to EAP, he attempted to give in to my requests that we get help…but in the end his anxiety clouded his judgment. He couldn’t cope with the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy/anxiety, and he couldn’t see there was a path forward.

Don’t make the same mistake! Take the easy steps now before a crisis arrives. Become familiar with services that are available at work. Know that there is confidentiality in place if you need services. Respect your fellow co-workers’ privacy when you see/hear something you don’t have any insight into. Cut them some slack. You never know what is going on behind the scenes, so why gossip about it?

If you are under stress at work or at home, then seek professional help! This is NOT a sign of weakness. You will NOT be judged. You will NOT be told how to handle a situation. You will NOT be forced to take meds.

How can this benefit you? You will get a sounding board, a mentor, someone who can outline options available to you that you may not have considered. Listen to the coach; s/he only offers suggestions. There is nothing negative about it. Physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists and LCSW’s are available to offer suggestions and hold your hand through a transition. You have an Employee Assistance Program available. You don’t have to go it alone. You need only to be open to ways your life can improve. Think positive. You call all the shots!

Anxiety and Depression are very treatable. Seeking assistance with depression does not translate to “I am a failure.” It is actually an empowering step to improve your own health and well-being. I hope you value yourself enough to utilize the resources available to you.

To those of you who don’t experience this reality, you need to be aware of sudden changes in behavior in coworkers. Be on the lookout for dramatic mood changes, avoidance behaviors, weight loss, increased alcohol consumption, or general malaise. Offer some support or point the person towards your EAP.

James A. Callahan, Jr. was a kind and loving man who wanted to protect his family from anything that wasn’t kind and loving—to his own detriment. He was unable to reach out to the medical community, his coworkers, friends and family during his hour of need. To his thinking, this was a show of weakness. It filled him with shame and left him feeling alone in this world. In crisis he couldn’t overcome these feelings. Don’t let yourself get to this point.

I am confident some good can come from this tragedy. That’s why I am here to contribute to the 2012 Conference on Correction Officer Wellness.

– Depression kills.
– Awareness is the key to overcoming it.
– Action is the solution to the problem.

Start Building Your Support Team, Your Village, TODAY!

Wish I understood PTSD long before 2012.

Forever Changed?

By Jeff Rude

A little boy grows up in Anytown, USA, playing cops and robbers. He dreams of becoming a Police Officer someday. He wants to be the hero, to help others, to save others. As time goes by, he attends college, gets his degree and starts his career in Corrections. He thinks to himself, “This is right up my alley. I always wanted to work in Law Enforcement and this is great.” First day on the job, he attends the local Safety Briefing and gets his initial induction into the fantastical world of Corrections. He begins his job working all shifts as an on-call officer. He is told to always answer his phone when it rings as that may be the facility offering him work. He takes the calls as they come in and works every time they tell him to. He thinks, “Is this what I really signed up for? Am I ever going to make it to a permanent position?” He presses on and continues to work when they call. He begins to wonder if he can continue with this; he is working 50 – 60 hours per week on all shifts and it is beginning to wear on him. Am I Forever Changed?

He goes in to work one day and get called to the Shift Commanders office.  He is thinking to himself, “What did I do?  Am I in trouble?”  He reaches the office, and there sits the Shift Commander looking at him with a straight face, giving no indication of what’s in store.  He sits down at the invitation of the Shift Commander and waits to hear what his fate is.  The Shift Commander looks at him seriously and says, “Would you like a job with us?”  He thinks to himself, “Well that is the dumbest question I’ve heard in a while!  Of course I want a job!  Why else would I be putting myself through this torture for the past 9 months?”  He says only, “Yes, I would love a job here.”  He is told he will be working on 1st shift (graveyard) as a Unit officer.  He is excited, nervous, fearful, and hopeful all at the same time.  He worries if he will make a good officer.  Am I Forever Changed?!

First day on the unit as a full-time officer, he conducts formal count.  He and his partner agree on their numbers and submit the count slip to the Shift Commander.  As they wait for the announcement that count is clear, they instead hear, “Formal Re-Count” over the radio system.  Immediately his heart rate rises and he thinks, “Did I cause the re-count?”  He and his partner begin to count again.  Only this time, their numbers are different and he realizes he was the cause of the re-count.  His thought go from “Am I going to get in trouble for this?” to “Am I going to get fired for this?”  They submit the count slip again with the corrected numbers, and, sure enough, count clears.  He then gets the visit he was dreading from the Shift Sergeant.  They all sit down in the office and discuss their mistake.  He freely admits to his causing the re-count and apologizes for causing everyone the extra work.  He is told he will need to submit an Incident Report explaining how the miscount happened.  He is still worried if he will be fired or receive punishment for his mistake.  Am I Forever Changed?!

As time goes by he pours himself into the job and vows to never make another mistake, only to be disappointed on several occasions.  Mistakes happen; that’s a fact of life.  His partners tell him to “suck it up” and “quit whining.”  He doesn’t see it as whining, but tries to see it from their point of view.  He begins to slowly shut down that part of who he is.  He begins to build the walls around him that will protect him.  He begins to change at his core and become a little more cynical and withdrawn.  Am I Forever Changed?!

One night at work, he is doing a tier check when he sees an offender standing by his bunk looking toward his TV.  He doesn’t think much of it and keeps walking.  Another hour goes by and he starts his next check.  As he looks into the cell, he sees the same offender standing there looking at his TV.  He thinks this is odd, so he knocks on the door to ask the offender why he is just standing there.  He gets no response.

He begins to get angry at the offender’s apparent disrespect, so he kicks the door and turns on the cell light.  And that is when he sees the torn bed sheet tied around the offender’s neck and fastened to the bed frame.  Panic begins to well up inside him, and he thinks about what he needs to do.  He remembers what he was taught at the Academy, and makes the radio call.  Response comes to the unit and they make entry into the cell.  They get the offender down and begin resuscitation efforts, all to no avail.  The offender is dead.  This is the first dead body he has ever seen; this is the first time he has ever had to do CPR; this is the first time for many things.  Am I Forever Changed?!

Later that night after spending hours writing his reports, he begins to feel the weight of what just happened.  The adrenaline is now gone, and he is left with the lethargy that follows.  As he reports to the Shift Office to turn in his report, he hears the staff talking.  They are cracking jokes about the offender.  They are laughing at what happened and making light of someone dying.  He wonders what is wrong with these people.  Then he wonders what’s wrong with him because he feels differently than they do.  Am I Forever Changed?!

As time goes by, he gets “better” and puts this incident behind him.  More and more incidents happen and he of course responds to each accordingly.  He deals with the stress of the job and the many responses to fights, assaults, deaths, as best he can.  He joins the crowd by participating in the jokes, the innuendos, and the “gallows” humor.  He begins to shut himself off from the outside world because “they don’t understand him.”  When he goes out, on the extremely rare occasion, he sits in the corner and watches everyone who comes in, and decides if they are a threat or not.  He looks around the restaurant and judges everyone there by how they look, how they dress, the tattoos they have, and whatever else reminds him of prison life.  Am I Forever Changed?!

One evening, he takes his wife out on a date.  They go to the restaurant and she begins to converse with him.  However, he is not paying attention to her because there are threats everywhere; the waiter, the people at the next table, the cook, the person who just walked in, etc., etc.

As he continues to scan the room, his eyes finally meet those of his wife.  He is taken aback as she is glowering at him.  He reacts by asking, “What?” in a very harsh manner.  Then “THE” discussion happens.  She begins by asking why he doesn’t show affection toward her any longer.  She asks why he is always distant from her, why he is always angry with her, and why he doesn’t like to spend time with anyone.

He, of course, reacts by saying she is crazy, and completely denies the accusations. But are they accusations, or are they observations made by someone who loves him?

The conversation goes on and on.  As they get home, he goes to the bedroom and begins to ready himself for bed because, after all, he has to work tomorrow.  He thinks about the conversation and wonders if there is something wrong with him.  He ponders whether or not his wife has a valid point and if he has pulled away from her and shut himself off.  Am I Forever Changed?!

At work, he begins to mold himself into the officer they expect him to be—strong, self-sufficient, hard, unyielding, an enforcer, and the list goes on.  At home, he pulls further and further away, though he doesn’t realize it.  When confronted about it, he says he hasn’t changed; he is the same man she married.  Is he?  Deep down inside he knows he has changed, but he can’t seem to admit it to himself.  He can’t accept the fact he has become someone he doesn’t like and doesn’t respect. In fact, he has become someone he despises.  Now the thoughts come like a dam breaking, “She would be better off without me; the world would be better off without me; I need to end this turmoil and pain; I need to escape.”  Now he begins to see how he has changed and thinks to himself, “Am I Forever Changed?!”

He wakes in the morning to find himself sick to his stomach and, quite explicitly, throwing up.  He has a headache from hell, aches all over, and can’t get warm.  He calls work and tells them he will not be in today as he believes he has the flu.  He goes back to bed and hopes to get better, but he only gets worse.  He gets scared and asks his wife to take him to the Doctor.  Over time, the Doctors run test after test to no avail.  They try many different medicines, but nothing works.  Then, after many months, his Doctor looks at him and says, “I have staffed your issues with my colleagues and we believe what is going on with you is related to stress.  We recommend you seek professional help via a Mental Health provider.”  He reacts badly and tells the doctor to run more tests, this is not in his head, this is not related to stress; this is a physical illness.  Am I Forever Changed?!

He finally relents and goes to see a local Mental Health provider.  He begins very standoffish, but finally relents and gives the provider “some” information.  After a few more visits, the floodgates open and he “vomits” all his stressors on the provider.  The provider looks at him with compassion and care all the while.  When he is done, he feels somewhat better.  More visits, more “vomiting,” but now something is different.  You see, the provider has been giving him “homework” to do, and he has been doing it.  He sees more about how the job has changed him, and he doesn’t like what he sees.  He vows to change and makes the effort to do the things the provider encourages him to do.  He doesn’t see the change and asks the provider, “Am I Forever Changed?”  The provider looks at him intently and tells him, with emphatic conviction, “No, you are not Forever Changed, you can make changes for the better.”  He finds hope and encouragement, and puts forth the effort to make positive changes in his life.  He thinks to himself, “I am NOT Forever Changed!”

This is an allegorical story about the life and changes that happens in ALL who work in the field of Corrections.  We are all changed by this job and by what we see on a daily basis.  Maybe we don’t recognize it or we try to bury it deep, but we need to accept it, point at it, name it, and get help.  We, as human beings, all need to give and receive comfort, compassion, and care.  Please make the effort to take some time and recognize what is happening inside you, seek some help, and make changes for the better. 

Am I Forever Changed (for the worse)?! 

Only if you choose to do nothing.

Family Time

Ron Mason – Correctional Officer

After their shift is finished and they return home to their family, Corrections Officers must first shed the stink of where they have been, hide the hurt that they endured during their work day, and provide a smile.

Pretend that they weren’t just in a cesspool, and be nice and clean for family time. Family time, helping the kids with homework, I sometimes get distracted if I could have responded to that violent incident at work a better way, a little safer, oh yeah, we are working on multiplication tables, sorry honey, Daddy got distracted for a minute.

Dinner time. We all sit down for dinner. I am grateful for my family and all being together. This is why I wake up and go to work. The kids are talking about their day at school and their time with friends. I begin to zone out to supervising chow at work. Oh yeah, I try to focus on what my family is talking. I am not a great participant in the conversation, I wish I was.

Bed time. The time I fear, the time I know I will have to relive my fitful fears over and over in my constant fitful sleep. I tuck my children in and wish them a good night and kiss their forehead. Goodnight my love. Daddy loves you. Sleep well and have sweet dreams.

I can’t remember the last time I didn’t wake up in a heavy sweat and trying to forget my nightmare. Sometimes they scare me. Truly, they always scare me.

I wake up for work. Time to do it again. What will I see today?

Grumpy Tablets

Phil Haskett – Correctional Officer (Retired) From Down Under

I have invented a pressure-release mechanism for easing tensions between me and my wife and diffusing differences of opinion before they escalate into arguments. It’s called the GRUMPY TABLET. Just like little children might have an imaginary friend, I have Grumpy tablets.

Here is the first scenario for how I use them.

I’ve just finished a bad day at work. I’m beat after a 12 hour shift, still pondering on how else a problematic incident could have been handled. I just want to throw my uniform off, have a shower and relax outside for a while with a beer. Arrrrrrrrrr. . . . I just want some peaceful time on my own, with no radio calls or prisoners asking, “Can I have this?” or “Can you do such and such for me?” I want my space and I’m looking forward to it. Quiet, uninterrupted ME time.

When I get home my wife greets me with, “Hi Honey, how was your day?” Out of the blue I snap at her. “How do you think it was? It was s—. I had a normal rat’s day with Crims surrounding me, while you were here with normal people.” Wham! Just like that the bickering starts.

After a few words back and forth, things begin to cool down a little. I spend 30 minutes on my own sipping a beer or playing with the dog, and I feel a little embarrassed. So do I go in and apologize immediately? Nope. It is not in my nature or way of life since working in Corrections. But I have a secret weapon.

I go to wherever my wife is and start to look for something very intensely. Maybe in a cupboard or on a shelf or under some cushions quite close to her. Eventually she says, “What are you looking for? Can I help?” I pretend to look very hard a second or two longer and say, “No thanks. I’m just looking for your grumpy tablets. How many did you take today?” She replies quite sharply, still hurting from the argument, “None, you must have taken them all, with the attitude you brought home.” Immediately the tension in the air eases. “Nope. I’m sure you’ve had them all,” I shoot back. She snaps, “I don’t think so!!” By now she’s beginning to smile a little. We soon end up laughing and a bit of fun banter goes back and forth about who has eaten the Grumpy tablets. Eventually I have the courage to say I’m sorry. And I usually get an apology from her as well, even if I don’t deserve it.

Second scenario:

I come into the room and my wife is obviously in a savage mood, ignoring me after we’ve had an argument. This might be half an hour later or even longer. I go through the same thing I had done in the first scenario. I might say, “Have you seen that bottle?” I might get a short sharp reply like, “What bottle?” I ask again. “You know, the small brown bottle that was here earlier.” She looks totally confused and is still glaring angrily at me. So I say, “You know, that small brown bottle full of the grumpy tablets you finished off earlier.” Good plan now is to duck and try to laugh a little!! Act a little playful and defensive. But I guarantee you there will be a hardened smirk on her face that turns into a smile of sorts. THAT is the time to say something like, “I wish we could hide those Grumpy tablets. I’m sorry.”

The hostility in the air has been cleared. You will feel like you have not conceded to being totally wrong (and you MIGHT have been…) and you can “make up” with some nice words and maybe a hug.

We also use the Grumpy tablet scenario when we think we may be heading for an argument. “Don’t go looking for those Grumpy tablets!” Reply: “I don’t need to look. They are probably in your pocket!” If you don’t laugh at this, then you really do need to take a dose of laughter pills!! And because we end up having a light argument about who, in fact, has been eating the Grumpy tablets, we are diverted away from the situation that we had started to argue about earlier. Now this does not always work, but I think it works more times than not.

Only recently, while in Florence, Colorado and into our second week living out of suitcases in a Motel room, we were sitting on the bed watching TV. We had had a small “verbal” earlier and were basically ignoring each other to gain some space. I leaned over my wife and picked up a bottle of vitamin tablets and said, “Look how many you have taken. You’ll OD if you take any more!” Quick as a flash she replied, “How can you OD on vitamin tablets?” I said, “Oh. I thought they were your Grumpy tablets.” She retorted, “It wasn’t me who has been taking them.” Situation diffused. Then the fun banter began again.

All praise to my patented GRUMPY TABLETS, free to all who read this article!

Shoe-eating and Other Oddities

By J.A. Brown

“He ate his shoes,” was what my husband mumbled over and over one evening during his first couple of months on the job in the prison system.  What sort of job had he found himself in, I wondered, and what sort of people would eat their shoes?

Thus began his life as a corrections officer (and mine as his wife), dealing with not only shoe-eaters, but inmates that would do just about anything.

Corrections is a field that is unrecognized, underappreciated and rarely thought about, other than those working in it or who have family that spend their days working in this environment.  But without the folks working behind the walls, the rest of us would be in a world of hurt.  And with the ever-increasing inmate population at all levels, the challenges and risks of this job increase right along with it.

As the wife of a corrections officer, I know I don’t hear even half of what goes on during his workday.  But I have sure picked up a whole new lingo, which is required if you want to keep up with a day in the life.  Bang-in, hack, shank, SHU, Boss, shake-down, hooch, tat, kite, bubble, sally-port, grill, lockdown, cop-out, chit, body alarm…. is there such a thing as a prison lingo translator?  Wonder how much it would pay?

Then you have the fact that the corrections employees don’t know their fellow workers first names!  Going to a work sponsored event or bumping into coworkers out in the world is always interesting when getting introduced.  Everyone is either just their last name…. Thomas, Rodriguez, Hughes, Miller; – or they are their title… Warden, Captain, LT; – or someone says “I’m sorry, I don’t know your first name”.  First names are rarely used on the job, and thus they remain a mystery to most.

Dental coverage should be handled in the same way as a uniform allowance for those in the corrections field.  With the stresses of the job, grinding of one’s teeth while sleeping can sometimes be heard throughout the house, keeping all awake, other than the officer, who has finally managed to shut their mind off long enough to fall asleep.  And all that grinding takes a toll on the teeth, thus the need for good dental insurance.

Restaurants need to spend a little more time thinking about how to decorate their walls since many an officer tends to sit with their back to the wall, leaving the others at the table facing the wall.  Without some lively decorations, the view can get old real fast, even as the officer keeps their eyes on the move, watching for shady characters, weapons, and anything else out of the ordinary that might be cause for alarm.

Remember the saying that hair makes a man?  One of the reasons I fell for my man was his hair.  But I had to say goodbye to his mane, because in the world of Corrections, hair can kill a man.  Having hair on your head in any length over an inch gives an inmate something to grab hold of.  Regular haircuts at home become part of the routine.  The good news is that this also becomes a way to help the environment, by leaving the pile of hair outside for the birds to use in their nests.

Inside the walls can be a dark place, and spending your workday can be a dark time. You never know what the day will bring.  But where else can a person get the idea for a limerick such as this:

There once was an inmate who knew,

He’d get protein by eating his shoe,

Canvas, laces and soles,

He didn’t need any bowls,

Though he bit off more than he could chew.

Thank you to all those working in the Corrections field.  You are a special group of people.Your willingness to spend your day in this environment, risking your lives, is much appreciated!