Why corrections is not just a stepping stone
The corrections profession is a viable career that is not just a stepping stone to being a police officer
A few years back I was invited to attend a dinner for law enforcement and needless to say, I was excited. This was the first time I felt recognized as a law enforcement professional.
At the time, I had been working in corrections for about eight years and I was constantly ridiculed for not choosing a better profession (police officer). Even my own family was against the choice I made.
I remember inviting a few of my fellow COs to join me and sit at my table. It was a great event. There were police officers who received recognition for their service to the public and I even got recognized for my work with gangs in the community. Overall, it was an evening I would not forget.
Having said that, I have to admit that there was still something that disturbed me as the night progressed. One of my fellow COs, when asked by third parties what he did for a living responded, “I am a CO, but one day I will be a police officer.”
Now I bet you are wondering why that bothered me. The answer is simple: being in corrections never needs to be justified. Let me explain.
Correctional officers should stand proud
When he answered the question, he volunteered information that was not asked (“...but, one day I will be a police officer.”). He felt the need to add to his answer because he thought his original response needed to be justified.
What about us (the other COs)? How did we feel? Well, we felt insulted. Unlike him, there was no need for us to justify our response to any third party because, in our mind, we believe in the work we perform. Therefore, when we were asked, “What do you do?” we stood proudly and said, “We are correctional officers!”
When he justified his position, he indirectly lessened the importance of us, his fellow brothers and sisters. The answer he provided made clear where he wanted to be, lessening his current position. Those who were equal to his current position felt a sense of inferiority. Here we are, celebrating what we collectively represent, and one of our own separates from the group because he believes that his current position as a CO is rather limited and inferior.
Corrections is not just a ‘stepping stone’
Many people believe that working in the corrections field is a good stepping stone before becoming a police officer. Even though I can’t deny that statement, I also can’t accept it. Let me explain.
I can’t deny the fact that what you learn in corrections can be easily applied to other careers, especially police. The role of a correctional officer is so diverse that what you learn just on the frontline (communication, safety, security and control), can easily be applied to many walks of life. My issue with the above statement relates to the use of the term “stepping stone.”
“Stepping stone” usually denotes an entry-level position in which moving upwards is seen as something positive. Calling corrections a “stepping stone” is comparing corrections to an entry-level position in which any move outwards is considered a move upwards. For those who have made corrections a career, that could be considered rather insulting.
The corrections field is not a “stepping stone” to anything. Sure, an individual can move laterally to a police department, if they so desire, and take what was learned and apply it, but that does not mean that the place of learning is inferior. In all reality, the place of learning is the foundation that makes all other things possible.
When people look at the term “stepping stone,” they don’t envision a place of solid ground (in which they are rooted) – rather they envision it as a tool to gain higher ground (therefore, leaving it behind as they move upwards).
Be proud of who you are in the “now.”
Working in corrections never needs justification. It’s a great profession filled with law enforcement professionals who dedicate their lives in their service to the public. It’s noble enough to stand on its own and is not inferior when compared to the other law enforcement professionals.
If I had my way, I would take all of us to the top of a mountain and scream as loud as I can, “We are proud to be correctional officers! And, no, we don’t want to be police officers!”
Be proud of who you are and what you represent. This profession is not for everyone, so stand tall and be proud to be the selected few.