|I can’t imagine; it must be easy being a corrections officer. I mean, the job itself looks pretty easy most of the time–lots of sitting around, making regular rounds, writing tickets from time to time–really glorified babysitting. But other aspects of their job can be difficult–stopping violence, avoiding constant attempts at manipulation, verbal harassment–though for many officers in Michigan the actual danger from violence is pretty low, but it is still a constant possibility. That anticipation must be stressful.
Of course, being a corrections officer is not exactly a dream job. No officer that I know of dreamt of being a prison guard when they grew up. Police officer? Yes. Corrections officer? No. For some corrections officers, getting this job was after another dream failed, dreams of being a cop or some other goal that didn’t work out. For others, it was an easy second career, especially for former military personnel. The pay and benefits are decent–certainly not what they used to be–but it’s a fairly secure job. That is, until you start talking about prison and sentencing reform, and restorative justice practices.At one time, Michigan housed over 52,000 prisoners in state prisons, but now the number is below 40,000. That’s a good trend, but not if your job is on the line. Perhaps that is why some officers, not all, oppose rehabilitative programming, like college education and vocational training. It might also have to do with some officers still having to pay off their own college loans while watching some prisoners receive a free college education. Sure, the Calvin Prison Initiative is funded by private donations and Pell grants are federal dollars, but still it feels like prisoners receiving a free college education on the backs of taxpayers. I get it.It must also feel like a waste of effort and money, educating prisoners, when corrections officers see a revolving door of returning prisoners. I imagine that must leave many officers feeling highly skeptical of any claims that education reforms people. They’ve seen it all–prisoners claiming they’ve been rehabilitated, only to come back again a few months later. They’ve also seen people leave prison on non-violent cases, only to return having committed a murder or other violent crime. It’s got to wear on one’s belief in humanity’s redemptive value. It’s got to stymie one’s hope for restored people becoming contributing citizens. Shoot, I’d not want to live next door to some of the people I see leaving prison, and I’m a very optimistic person.Let me make one thing clear: I believe that people who commit crimes are solely responsible for the choices they make. I don’t think society drove them to it, or anyone else bears the guilt for a person’s decision to be a criminal. Nevertheless, I do believe that society does bear the responsibility to help cure the conditions that lead many people to choose crime. It makes no sense to return people who have committed crimes back to their communities worse off than when the criminal justice system removed them from those communities. Yes, it hurts to spend tax dollars on people who have already harmed their communities, but it hurts more to continue to spend that money for the rest of those people’s lives as they return to prison again and again.
Frankly, I think being a corrections officer is a thankless job, and I don’t know why anyone would choose that job, but I do know some corrections officers who have good hearts and believe in the redemptive value of those of us who probably don’t deserve any grace. It might be unpopular (in prison) for me to admit that, but I imagine it’s also unpopular for people (including officers) to admit that some prisoners are good people who have made terrible choices. Yet, I know that is the case. If I believe prisoners can be reformed (I do), then I can also believe that cynical officers can change the way they see us prisoners. I can’t change their minds alone, but I’ll do my part to live with integrity so that they’ll see at least one example of a changed life.
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Author: Bryan Noonan
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