No doubt you are all aware that on Monday afternoon a woman shot herself at Spring Creek about an hour before shift change. Several Correctional Officers and the Spring Creek nurse administered aid; however the head wound was extensive and the woman died after being taken to the hospital. The Officers who responded to this incident were in real danger. We all know it is not uncommon for a suicidal individual to take a responding Law Enforcement Officer with them. Both the Officers who witnessed the suicide and those that responded soon after did a great job in giving assistance in a tough situation.
Unfortunately, suicides are something Correctional Officers deal with all too often in the institutions. Suicides, failed suicide attempts, administering CPR, and cleaning up after an incident are all difficult events.
As I usually do, I wrote a response for the reporters who contacted us about the Seward suicide. I wrote how this incident is just one example of the hard and dangerous work Correctional Officers do. Then, as I always do, I threw away the response and told the press “no comment.”
Here’s why, though many of you may already know. Some twenty years ago when I began to work with Correctional Officers I admit I was naïve about the press in regard to Corrections. I wrote an article back then, in response to press inquiries concerning an incident, about the tough job Correctional Officers do and the daily threats to their safety by inmates. I remember the Director at the time calling me after the story ran to ask me what the hell I was doing. I told him I was just talking up Correctional Officers and the tough job they do throughout their careers and asked what the problem was. He responded by saying, “Well, I guess you will learn tomorrow,” and I did. The next day the paper was full of letters from inmates and inmates’ families responding to my story. Of course, the paper did not identify who these hateful and vicious comments were coming from.
It’s pretty poor that the toughest Law Enforcement job gets no recognition. Correctional Officers spend more time around dangerous felons than Troopers and Police combined and have more hands on confrontations in a year than most Troopers and Police have in a career. So it’s ironic that you can write all the positive things you want about Troopers and Police, but due to the Corrections’ clientele, you can’t talk about Correctional Officers.
Correctional Officers are always in danger. You always have to look behind you and you are always outnumbered. A while back we received a horrific picture of one of our Officers who was sucker punched in the face because an inmate was angry about his phone usage. The Officer was knocked unconscious by the blow. The only reason she is still alive is because another inmate tackled the combative inmate when he attempted to finish her off. You didn’t hear about her in the paper; she was not given an award by the Department. Her only recognition was by her fellow Officers when she recovered and was able to walk back into the institution.
Being a Correctional Officer is also mentally taxing. Among other things, suicides are a fact of Corrections’ work. Suicides, and deaths in general, are always tough. Most members of the public think someone who hangs themselves just goes to sleep. As many of you know, that is not the case. Other tragic incidents involve inmates jumping on their heads from the tier: tough to see, tougher to forget. The Keyes’ suicide was stressful due to both the amount of blood and the persecution of Officers. And not to mention the ridiculous policies that then followed: policies that have now been relaxed, but were put in place at the time to make sure any future “problems” were your fault, not Management’s.
And unsuccessful suicides can be just as gruesome. One astute Officer recently saw blood running from a shower. She rushed in to find the inmate had cut both wrists and his throat. She called for help and then held her hands on the inmate’s throat to stop the blood from squirting out. She saved the inmate’s life. All these actions require Officers to do things that the public could not imagine doing themselves, or realize that it happens on a regular basis.
Of course there are many other dangerous and stressful things you deal with on a daily basis. There are the excrement bombs, the verbal threats against you and your families, and the stripping out of urine, feces, and vomit soaked remands, as well as many other distasteful tasks the general public does not think about, or know about, which are part of your daily duties. But of course, if we told the story, then it would only empower inmates within the system to act out. If there was an article or news story about how Correctional Officers have to push their families away when they see a threatening ex-inmate in a mall, or have to sit with their back to the wall, or have be careful where they eat due to restaurants hiring ex-inmates, that would only serve to empower those on the outside to act out.
At a Correction’s conference, a speaker once said that Corrections is one of only two jobs that changes your core personality traits. The other job is being a military personnel in combat. If true, that is pretty telling about what each of you has to deal with … and you deal with all of it in silence and without the fanfare, without the recognition and without the support other Law Enforcement Officers receive.
This letter/e-mail may just state the obvious, but at times like these, when reporters are calling, and you all have gone the extra mile, and we cannot speak out about the job you do, it is frustrating. And doing a tough job while dealing with unnecessary issues like the 8’s, lower minimums, and other nonsensical “policies,” it is all the more frustrating.
The public may not know or understand what you do, but remember that there are a 1000 fellow Officers that do understand … so look out for each other and take care of each other.
Thanks for all you do … and for all you risk every day by coming to work. BW