If you drive 35 minutes north or south of Forks, you will find a prison; to the south is Olympic Corrections Center and to the north is Clallam Bay Corrections Center. The two facilities together house nearly 1,300 inmates with crimes ranging from drugs to aggravated murder.
I am sure you know at least one person who works as a correctional officer at these facilities, so I am asking you to do a couple of things this holiday season.
First, think about the personalities that officer has to interact with every single day. Prisons have become the default mental health institutions for the nation where officers, many times completely alone, must walk in the midst of inmates who are always looking for an opportunity to hurt them or manipulate them.
While nearly all of us go about our business day after day on “cruise control,” officers can never let their guard down. Eight to 16 hours of constantly being on guard, one eye over their shoulder, hoping that a riot doesn’t break out or a fellow officer doesn’t get stabbed or assaulted. They must remain professional to inmates who have “F*&$ Officers” tattooed in plain sight (except that word is not blanked out!), run to the rescue of inmates who are being beaten to death by other inmates, or bust into a cell when an inmate attempts suicide, or throws a “milkshake” (a mixture of urine, feces and blood) on them in the hopes they contract AIDS or hepatitis. Inmates accuse officers of raping them, of beating them, and they bring lawsuits against officers just because they can.
Yet still officers remain professional, talk to inmates and try to make a difference.
While other professions love it when things are quiet, that’s when an officer has to be the most alert, for it is often the quiet which signifies something bad is about to happen as inmates who don’t want to be involved retreat to their cells.
Officers are the first ones to respond to inmate on inmate rape, aggravated assaults, attempted suicides, fights with homemade weapons and fights involving dozens of offenders. Did you know that I have watched a handful correctional officers rush into the inmate recreation yard where 30 inmates were fighting? These officers carry no weapons but their courage and a duty to respond. Would you do that?
While the rest of us gets to enjoy the holidays, correctional officers will be required to work extra hours and be especially alert as inmates often act out even more during the holidays; in part because it is so hard being in prison during the holidays. So they take it out on the officers and they take it out on each other.
So, I am asking you: If you know someone who is a correctional officer, please thank them for the work they do. If you are married to a correctional officer, please give them an extra hug and maybe slip an extra present under the tree this year. And may all of us understand the stress they are under and give them a little extra grace.