What it means to serve in corrections

In one day, a corrections officer has to be a cop, counselor, teacher and EMT

By Joshua Rutherford

Have you ever crashed through a cell door behind a shield? Been blinded by OC but pushed forward anyway? Have you ever pulled someone back as they tried to jump from the top tier or convinced them to lower the razor blade from their throat? Have you told a murderer no?

Have you convinced someone who gave up on school to give it one more try? Encouraged an addict to stay clean? Have you told a man his mother died far away from him? Have you seen someone shaking, puking from detox? Watched someone take their very first job, even if it’s just sweeping floors? Have you forgotten how many people you’ve known who have overdosed?

The job of corrections both teaches you and changes you.
The job of corrections both teaches you and changes you. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Have you gone to work tired? Have you been ordered in the parking lot, called home to say that yes, you’ve got to stay over again? Have you talked to a brother as they go through a divorce, offered to hold the key to someone’s gun safe as they go through a rough time? Have you stood shoulder to shoulder at a funeral?

Have you talked someone through a mental breakdown? Heard stories of childhood abuse that chill the very soul? Have you had someone threaten to kill you and rape your wife? Have you done CPR and seen a man die? Can you glance at a wound and tell how many stitches it’s likely to need? Assessed that it’s bleeding but not spurting or gushing? Has someone in the community approached you to tell you they’re staying clean or watched someone get their high school diploma at 32?

Have you taken an order for someone, so they can make their daughter’s recital or covered Christmas so someone with kids can be there to open presents? Have you seen a friend fall off the wagon or told someone to find another job because this one is going to break them?

Do you pause at a door and wait for it to click, even in your house? Do you pick up a battery an automatically turn it over to see if it’s altered? Do you sit with your back to the wall? Does your spouse know that if someone approaches you in public and you don’t introduce them, there’s a reason? Are you extra protective of your kids because you know the evil that exists in the world? Have you used On-track with your kid or caught yourself using Listening (as opposed to actually listening) with your spouse?

It’s National Correctional Officers and Employees Week. We are cops, counselors, teachers, EMTs. We are brothers and sisters. The job teaches you and it changes you. For as much as I’ve said in the paragraphs above, I’ve left out so much more. The bonds we share are built by our common experience and by the absolute need to rely on each other.

The Roman phalanx worked because each man held his shield so it protected not just him but the person next to him. One alone was vulnerable, but when the shield locked together and each protected the group as opposed to himself, it made an impenetrable wall, a veritable tank. The lapse of anyone risked the safety of them all, but in their unity, they were undefeatable. 

Stay safe and keep each other safe! Be well my family behind the walls.

About the author

Joshua Rutherford is a 19-year veteran of the Vermont Department of Corrections, starting as a correctional officer and working his way up to superintendent/warden. He has worked in four different correctional facilities, including close work with a high acuity mental health unit and the largest high-security unit in Vermont. He served on the Local Emergency Response Team for seven years, two as team commander, and is a trainer for ICS and Security Threat Groups. Contact him at Joshua.rutherford@vermont.gov.

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