A day in the life of a corrections officer

I usually just post little stories or thoughts here but I thought I would include what a day normally looks like for a correctional officer for those that may wonder.  All days vary somewhat of course but I can give a general feel for what a day may look like.

I work the day shift so I am up and at work before the sun is even up.  When I arrive at the prison, I walk through security and head to shift briefing where we are given any information we need for our shift.  Things like what fights have taken place, medical emergencies, or threats of violence we need to be on the look out for. 

Some of us work the same unit every day and others of us are used as floaters and change each day.  I happen to prefer floating as I like the change in scenery so I am a floater.  I can work anything from the housing units to medical to transport out in the community.  I love the change in scenery each day.

After shift brief, we head to our assigned units, get our tools (OC, keys, and radios) and relieve officers from the previous shift and begin tier checks.  Tier checks are meant as a way to make sure the offenders are safe as well as keeping an eye on them to make sure they aren’t doing anything they aren’t supposed to be doing like tattooing.  It is also a time the inmates can ask us for things they need like different forms or information they may be looking for.  Most areas of the prison have hourly tier checks where other areas, like segregation, have half hour checks.

Correctional prison tier
This is not from my facility but is an example of what our tiers look like.

Between tier checks, we have hourly movements.  This is where inmates that are medium or minimum custody are allowed to move around the facility for things like classes, recreation, or work.  We hold the door during this time as well as having postings throughout our units and the building.  This way if a fight kicks off or somebody is where they don’t belong, there is an officer presence to take care of it.

The inmates are fed on an early schedule so breakfast is usually about half done when day shift arrives.  We start rec movement for the areas that have morning rec after breakfast is complete.  The inmates have to be searched before and after rec in order to prevent any exchange of contraband (anything they aren’t allowed to have like drugs) but really does little to stop those determined to get things moved around.  They always have places to hide things that few officers are willing to check.  It is  usually just a quick pat down and more often than not, things get missed.

A couple of hours into our shift, we feed lunch to the inmates and then start count.  Count is exactly what it sounds like, we are counting the inmates.  We mark down how many people are in which cells and fill in “out counts” for those that are in other areas like work, rec, or worshipping.  All the paperwork is taken down to the shift commanders who then verify all the information to make sure nobody is missing or in an area they are not supposed to be. 

Sometime during this time, we also have to do cell searches.  Each cell is required to be searched a minimum of once a month.  We pick a cell and head in to perform what is supposed to be a thorough search of everything in the cell.   Some officers do a horrible job and finish in less than 5 minutes but in reality, a real thorough search should take no less than an hour and up to two depending on the amount of stuff an inmate has.  They have a limit on what they are allowed to have but many tend to push each limit as far as they can while others don’t even attempt to stay within those limits.  When that is the case, we confiscate anything more than what policy allows.

During a cell search, we are looking for contraband.  The most common we find is tattoo paraphernalia (anything related to tattooing) and porn.  The porn is a touchy area (no pun intended).  They are allowed to have scantily dressed women but it cannot so certain areas so it is really up to the officers discretion if it falls within policy or not.

Prison tattoo motor
Example of a prison built tattoo motor.

The big things that officers want to find are things like drugs or weapons.  Those are usually hidden very well and rarely in a cell.  The inmates want no possibility of it being traced to them.  They can be hidden in the rec yard, the day room, or throughout the unit in common areas so those must be searched as well, usually by the night crew.  These guys not only get creative with where they hide things, but what they use for weapons.  I have seen a shank made out of toilet paper!  They also have been known to use lunch trays, tooth brushes, and even jolly ranchers.  If these guys used their creativity for positive things on the outside, I am positive they would be rich.

9 different prison shanks
Example of some shanks.

Anything we take from an offender must be logged on a confiscation sheet and sent to property.  If the inmate wants to fight what we have taken, they deal with property on that matter.  We are expected to keep the cell in as good or better shape as it was when we entered.  Some officers just throw things around and that only upsets the inmates and furthers their feelings that it is us against them.  Things get tense when that happens and we are more likely to have fights or assaults on staff when that happens and it really isn’t that tough to search a cell and leave things decent, most of the time anyway.

As well as feeding, standing for movement, and cell searches, we also handle handing out mail, library books, and basic supplies like toothbrushes, soap, and toilet paper.  We escort inmates down to medical, to their case managers, and to visitation.  Visitation is still face to face so a huge amount of contraband comes through visitation so we have to perform unclothed body searches on the offenders after each visit.  They know this so they tend to swallow or *ahem* stuff items where the sun don’t shine in order to not get caught.  We also have to watch for other sneaky things they may be doing like pleasuring each other.  Not allowed in visiting, especially with kids around yet some will use their own kids as a shield to not get caught.  Trust me, most of these people should NOT be parents!

By the end of shift, everything must be documented.  If an inmate gets in trouble, there are reports for that.  If an inmate feels threatened, there are reports for that.  If we see anything out of the ordinary, there are reports for that and all paperwork must be completed and sent to the right person before you leave for the day.  Sometimes when the days are crazy, we end up staying long after our shift just to finish up paperwork and no, we don’t get paid overtime.  We get comp time that is almost impossible to get the approval to take and if paid out, it is seen as a bonus and taxed so heavily that you are actually paid less than your hourly wage so it is so not worth it.

Officers are usually very excited to leave and will dash out the door the minute relief arrives.  Dealing with whiny inmates, horrible smells, and tons of paperwork can wear on you.  About once a month, we also are expected to work overtime which comes out to be about 4 hours so you will either stay late for 4 hours or come in 4 hours early and once again, it is only counted as comp time and nobody gets too excited about that.

The days can be long and stressful, but it is still a great job.  Seeing these guys change (some of them) and go home is awesome.  I tend to joke around with the inmates and that makes long days seem just a little bit shorter.  You work with great officers and become friends with wonderful people.  Its tough and dangerous but I love this job.  It isn't meant for everyone, but it is for me.  I just wish the pay was better.