Okay so it’s been a while. Quick recap: I had a good job and lost it due to poor life choices. Then, after some grief drinking, I began working my way to a new career.
After working at the call center for about six months, I knew that I needed to make a change. Around this time, a friend informed me that a local law enforcement agency was hiring individuals to serve as School Resource Officers. Now, the chain of events that led to these positions being created isn’t a good one, this was 2013 after all (see: Sandyhook), but I had found something that I could be passionate about. I began the interview process only to be told that I wasn’t interviewing for these positions, but for a job in the jail. I was also informed, however, that everyone started there and eventually moved on after a period of time once they had experience. Despite this setback, the prospect of a job with plentiful opportunity for advancement was too enticing to pass up and I pressed on.
Part of the screening process involved a series of written tests totaling over 1000 questions. There were psychological exams, aptitude tests, etc. I even took the Wonderlic, and apparently would have made a decent NFL quarterback based on my score. The psychological exam screened for red flags of various mental issues that are not ideal in law enforcement. I had a couple of said red flags. Apparently answering in the affirmative to “I have seen peculiar things” means you’re psychotic and not just that you’ve seen some weird stuff in your life. After getting that worked out, it was time to begin training.
Life at the Jail
My first day on the floor was nerve racking. I didn’t know how to correctly put my uniform together and showed up looking like a mess. After getting squared away, I was provided a brief overview of officer responsibilities and expectations and received my training manual. Then I was given a tour of the facility and shown where each category of inmate was housed. Seeing the security lockdown inmates in their cells for the first time definitely invoked flashbacks of Silence of the Lambs. However, I would soon learn that Hannibal Lecters these were not.
Jail is not what everyone makes it out to be. It is not the brutal stabbing and forced shower cuddling that movies and television make it out to be. There are fights sure, but usually over trivial things like snack cakes, and shower cuddling tends to be consensual. However, it was a completely new experience for me. I have lived a privileged life and had never seen the perspective from the other side of the tracks up until this point. I received a crash course.
For the first several months that I worked in the jail, I was not certified to carry any of the typical tools that cops carry on their utility belts (pepper spray, taser, etc.). While many people would assume this put me at a disadvantage when dealing with problem inmates, I’d say the opposite is true. I had to hone another tool: talking. The ability to talk to someone and work to defuse a situation is easily an officer’s #1 most effective tool. Taking away other options led to me taking more time to talk with inmates that were acting up or having problems. To an extent it helped to build a rapport with many of the inmates that other officers had problems with. In a job where there can be a lot of resentment and animosity between the employees and customers, a little bit of effort to meet in the middle goes a long way.
Jail is Different Than People Think
I’ve conversed with murderers, rapists, drug dealers, and every other kind of major offender you can think of. I’ve also spoken to a substantial number of people who simply made a stupid mistake and were paying for it. People who drove drunk, smoked some pot, weren’t able to pay child support, lost control. Then there are the “frequent flyers”. Those people who continue to make the same dumb choices over and over and feel no sense of shame or regret, jail is just part of their life and always will be. At some point I stopped looking up what each inmate had done to be there. It didn’t matter. At the end of the day these are human beings, separated from their families, at their lowest points.
Now, what people mistake about those who work in the jail is that they are not hardass douchebags on a power trip whose sole purpose is making the inmate’s lives a living hell so they never make the mistake of coming back to jail. Granted, some are, but the majority are people who actually care about those under their care and take it pretty hard when something goes wrong. They are more counselors and caregivers than enforcers. I spent way more time helping people with their problems than giving them more.
Earlier this year, I accepted a position outside of the jail but within the same agency. With it came all of the things you look for in a promotion: better pay, better hours, less stress, etc. I’m constantly learning new things and being challenged with new situations. I still don’t know what I’m going to do for the long term, but I’m in a place where I have options. Despite no longer being there, I have an immense respect for those who remain in the jail and do a job that no regular person would ever consider doing. It takes a special breed to do a job that can be so mentally grueling with little to no appreciation from the general public. I tip my cap to anyone who would consider making it their career.
I was in the jail for two years and, in that time, I grew up. I became a trainer, a member of the emergency response team, a supervisor, and a shift supervisor. I was not only responsible for my own actions and well-being, but for those of the people who worked with me, as well as each of the nearly 400 inmates that were housed there at any given time. I’ve fought some people, saved others, and, unfortunately, watched a couple pass away due to life choices they made that I could not fix. My time in the jail instilled in me an appreciation for what I have, a determination to never lose it, and a drive to help others do the same. I have seen the dumb mistakes that others have made that have ruined their lives. I now see that that could just as easily have been me had I continued down that path. There are a lot of things in life you don’t have control over, decisions you make are not one of them. Life throws a lot of shit at you. You can either let it bury you or use it to crawl your way to the top of the pile.