The effects that incarceration has on an inmate are as numerous and varied as the people involved. The individual’s experience lay tied to how they come to terms with the prison environment. Although not incarcerated themselves, correctional workers’ experiences develop along a similar path. For careers that will last 20-30 years inside of a prison, staff members are exposed to similar effects as the inmates they watch over. But for each, how they react to this stimulus is determined on individual terms.
Although they may share some of the same memories and participate in some of the same events, each is filtered through their individual past. Rarely will you find two correctional staff members with the exact same overall feelings toward this environment that they work in. For the uninitiated to read one account of someone who has spent their career in corrections to formulate a complete understanding would be like discerning the entire forest after only viewing a single tree.
Similar to how each inmate learns their own way to survive in prison; correctional staff also needs to learn “how to survive”. This reason makes the corrections field one of the most unique careers in law enforcement. For those that have never been inside of a prison, the mystery of the unknown is cause for much interest and intrigue. Television series like “Oz”, “Prison Break” and “Lock-Down” draw their audiences because of this appeal. Their viewers want to see what happens behind the closed doors of a prison.
In the United States alone, there are over 2,000,000 people currently being held in either a state or federal prison. As tax payers, we spend billions of dollars each year to maintain the security and care of these inmates. Further, we empower the federal government and some state governments to execute their own citizens that are being held in such prisons. The government’s authority to withhold an individual’s freedom and to enforce capital punishment is the most powerful right any human enterprise can maintain. All of this and most Americans never know what happens on a daily basis behind the steel fences and razor wire.
The surroundings and environment that working around prisoners creates a work place unlike any other. The staff members must have the ability to adapt. From my own experiences over the years, those that fear everyday coming to work never make it. In the beginning of my career I recall coming home each night and telling my wife about the unbelievable things that I saw at work that day. Slowly the stories became less and less frequent even as the outrageous events continued on a regular basis. Over time the shock factor had faded. During my first week on the job, having watched someone getting assaulted sent me home with stories to tell. Years later, the violence needed to be extreme for me to even think to mention it. I hear similar stories from coworkers. The drugs, sex and violence although at an earlier time was considered out of the ordinary and a conversation piece was now normal and common place.
Without the ability to adapt to this type of setting, one would never last as a correctional worker. How an individual correctional worker adjusts very much shapes their experience and perception of the career as a whole. For this reason, testimonies about prison and the prison environment from one individual may vary widely from another.