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UNDERSTANDING CORRECTIONAL WORK: A Note to a newcomer in the prison service

My dear fellow officer,

Employment in the prison service is not an attractive proposition.  That was before when one can still manage to have a good selection as far as  jobs are concerned.  But the unfortunate economic situation of the country made it possible even for non-aggressive personalities to enter such hazardous and dangerous work place like prisons.

As a new comer, you are primed to earn so much.  The base pay is almost comparatively at par with the private sector.  The allowances make one dream of some savings.  The pace of work is not much restricted and not so much stressful.  One can even relax if you have the gait for it.  A simple token to your supervisor will do the trick and it makes a lot of difference.  After all, prison work, like the entire government service is never in danger of losing as in being bankrupt, unlike a private firm.  So there is no need actually to be extra vigilant when it comes to using government resources and in dispensing some thoughtful provision for your peers.  A minimum care is needed and that is all.   That is however where the positive side would end.

As soon as you formally enter the portal of prison administration, the nice looking screen saver fades from the scene.  As you struggle to get a feel of the institution through training, you begin to question the merits and qualities of that which is conveyed to you.  As you are posted after completion of training, you would realize that time was merely wasted for a number of weeks stretching and running around.  But as you receive your first income, the frustration immediately disappears.  That is for starters.

Now, let me try to appreciate where you are in the prison community.  You are suddenly given the warm welcome.  Suddenly, as a newbie trying to sink your teeth into the entire enchilada of prison work, you hear the salutation “Sir” (or Ma’m, in case of a female officer).  Earlier on, your entrance literally forced you to call everyone, official to clerk, even a clean looking inmate as “Sir” and now you must be relishing finally that you are called with the salutation Sir, even by the oldest prisoner in your camp.  You are already called a “Sir” without even earning a few summers for such accolade.   Instantly, the air of authority has wrapped your being.  Your very word, your very act, even your very innocent presence has been conferred with weight and authority.  You begin to feel that inside the prison camp, you are power incarnate.  And why not?  The safety, well being and security of prisoners depend largely on how you express your mandate.  It is not surprising if one day your dreams may contain episodes of torture, affliction and cruelty.  Prison work encourages these qualities and it is up to the maturity of the officer to evade those traits from the temptations of learning horror and imbibing pain.

I tell you what.  You must be confused in your first few weeks in the prison service.  It will even extend to a greater period if you may.  There will be a lot of challenges, mostly complaints and grumbling from your area.  The population under you merely wanted your attention.  And you should observe the proximity or your distance.  You should never be close or far.  Allowing yourself to be close enough is an invitation for contempt.  Distancing on the other hand would remove you from imposing your firm projections.

Be prepared to be tested.  Remember that you are in charge of human beings, whose intelligence has been honed by restriction and creativity.  They have a built in advantage.  They were imprisoned because they decided on the spot.  They resolved rightly or wrongly unlike ordinary people who procrastinate a lot before acting.  That makes the prison community a marginal one.  It is composed of people who can never be fooled.   If at all prisoners are vulnerable, it is not out of trait but more out of need.  Prisoners may also project gullibility but these are mainly used as tact expressed to gain more than articulated to lose something.   And for a considerable period of time, you are literally living in this kind of a marginal situation.  If you are peppered with tests and exams during your days in school, you will constantly be haunted in the same situation during the entire period of your tour of duty.

But don’t be disheartened and disturbed.  All prison workers are never duped unless of course they allow it.  They become street smart after a brief period of time.   There is deception in prison every second and these are clear lessons which you will be receiving regularly.

Study prison rules and those that govern your career.  It will help you in officiating.  Like any other game, whether basketball or chess, or any form of diversion, rules are important.  Ignorance of the rules is fatal in prison work, as it is elsewhere.  It could lead you to a corner where you will find no other route to break out.  Worst, you will never be able to rise up to the level of respect.

Having considered the above, you can now enjoy the fruits of your labor.  It is only under this situation where you can safely state that you have earned what you have received.  And you would likewise realize that it is not only the material side of your entitlements that kept you going but the wisdom and implication of a sagacious exposure, thus inspiring you to lead a significant life in your chosen career.

Be alert always.

Your senior officer, VJT

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