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‘I Feel Unsafe Every Day.’

An Oklahoma corrections officer on the stress and danger of understaffing, and why each inmate should be given a joint twice a day.

The Guardian this week published a story about depression and post-traumatic stress disorder within the ranks of corrections officers. According to the article, corrections officers suffer from PTSD at “more than double the rate of military veterans in the U.S.” The Guardian’s numbers are questionable1, but PTSD within prisons and jails has been a largely underreported problem. Below, as a part of our ongoing questionnaire series, we asked a guard to reflect on the benefits and frustrations of the job.

questionable1The Guardian story was based on an anonymous study of corrections officers, while the military estimates come from screenings of individual troops who may be reluctant to show signs of weakness. Researchers have found that when soldiers are surveyed anonymously, the rates of reported PTSD increase two to four times.
On average, how many hours do you work every day, including overtime?

12.25

What made you decide to become a CO?

The pay was a lot better than my last job as a customer service rep for T-Mobile.

Has anyone in your family ever been in prison?

Yes. My uncle.

Describe your job in 3 words:

Stressful, politics, violence

Describe your inmates in 3 words:

Chomo [slang for “child molester”], old, punks

Do you think you’ve changed at all since becoming a CO? If so, how?

I've become a better listener. I can assert my authority more. I have good days and bad days when it comes to mood swings. I can be more manipulative than before.

How has the job itself changed since you started working as a CO?

When I started, having 20 on shift meant that somebody had to stay over. Now we are being forced to run a 1,450-bed facility with 13-16 officers.

What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?

That we are adult babysitters. That we are not law enforcement. That we are lazy, no-good dirty cops who are in it for a paycheck.

What’s the first thing you do when you go home?

Take off my boots and uniform and kiss my girlfriend.

Which prison rules do inmates violate most often?

Usually minor ones like shirts tucked in, no hats in the chow hall.

If you could change any prison rule, what would it be?

I would issue each and every inmate a joint in the morning and in the evening. That would eliminate the black market on the yard, boost canteen sales, and everyone would be too stoned to fight. They would just be in their cells eating Cheetos and watching Spanish soap operas.

What are your views on solitary confinement?

I believe it should be used under observation only. Reserve it for mental health evaluations and particularly violent offenders with a history of murdering cellmates.

Do you support the death penalty?

Yes

Describe a moment when you felt unsafe at your job:

Every day walking out of briefing with only 14 or 16 officers when we should have 21.

Describe a moment when you felt frustrated by your job:

Every day walking out of briefing with only 14 or 16 officers when we should have 21, knowing that no upper management cares that you feel unsafe.

Describe a moment when you felt happy at your job:

When I saved an offender's life and he thanks me every time I see him.