Why you should think again before you post that comment

Sure, the First Amendment gives you the right to say whatever you want, but does that mean you should? Remember, everyone is watching


I think there’s a rule somewhere that says when you’re writing about certain subjects, particularly things that you intend to help define, you’re first obligated to quote the actual definition from a dictionary. I think it was decided at some long ago writers conference where people walked around with “Hi. My Name Is…” name tags. With that in mind, Merriam-Webster defines professionalism as:

The conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person.

I think most of us could rattle off at least a dozen or more qualities that a corrections professional should have. Integrity, courage, dedication and commitment are just a few. It’s the conduct and aims that interest me more than anything.

What kind of conduct demonstrates professionalism? Where is that conduct expected of those of us in corrections? What are our aims, those things that we intend to achieve as members of the corrections industry? Are we judged by others when we aren’t on the job? Is that right?

In 2012, I wrote an article for C1 about how officers view their role in the punishment of offenders. It essentially posed the question “Are offenders in prison for punishment, or as punishment?” You can go back and read that article to get my thoughts on it. For the most part, the article was received well by C1 members. There were a few though who called me to task on my comments about corrections professionals and their comments in public forums such as Facebook, or on the C1 website.

Those that took issue with my deeming some comments unprofessional said that our brothers and sisters on the job have earned the right to vent, and doing so on professional sites such as C1, or in response to posts made by C1 and other corrections related pages on Facebook, should not be viewed negatively.

I will never disagree with the idea that those of us that work inside the walls and fences of jails and prisons, and those that work with offenders in the community who are still on paper, have more than earned the right to vent about things. The work we do is stressful. It’s frustrating, and tiring, and certainly underappreciated by the general public.

We need an outlet. We need a way of getting that frustration out, and redressing our grievances with offenders, administration, and the industry in general. Not having that outlet is often the reason so many of our brothers and sisters turn to alcohol and drugs. Bottling that up is what causes problems in marriages and family life. The thing is, there are plenty of healthy ways of venting that don’t make those of us working in the profession seem like monsters.

Whether we like it or not, we are judged by how we conduct ourselves on and off the job. We all know the adage that the newspapers never report the myriad of good things that corrections officers do on a daily basis, they only report it when one of us does something wrong. I’m going to remind you of something my parents taught me at an early age: Life is not fair.

We cannot expect that anybody outside the profession is going to understand what it is we do every day behind these walls and fences. There is no job in the private sector that comes close to what we do. Few jobs are as stressful, and fewer still as dangerous. We can’t ask those who don’t work in the industry to walk a mile in our shoes because there’s no way to do it. Accordingly, they judge us, as well as our profession, on the interactions they have with us.

In my off duty hours, I peruse Facebook a little. One of the pages that I get on my news feed regularly are the posts from C1. I always make it a point to read the comments left by others. Frankly, some of the things I read are disturbing. There’s been a recent rash of assaults on corrections staff. C1 makes sure that the word gets out there for the rest of us to see. Many of our brothers and sisters offer words of support and encouragement; just as many allow their frustrations to boil over onto the internet.

Suggestions as to how to deal with the offender committing the assault range from locking them in segregation for years on end, some have suggested the rest of the offenders life, to physical assaults on the offender, and even a firing squad. I even read one comment where the individual posting hinted that visiting the offender’s family and causing them injury was an appropriate punishment.

I understand the ire that an assault on staff draws from others in the industry. I know it all too well as a matter of fact. I’ve never been assaulted myself, but I have friends, very close ones, who have been. I’ve responded to an alarm where one of my very best friends was being assaulted by an offender. I understand the desire to extract some measure of retribution. I understand the desire to do to the offender what they did to your co-worker.

What is it that prevents us from doing so though? For most of us it’s a sense of professionalism. We know it’s not the right thing to do. It’s that same sense of professionalism that has to finds its way onto the pages of C1 and Facebook.

First, public forums are just that. They’re public. The argument that corrections folks making such statements on corrections sites is OK doesn’t hold water.

I’ve seen offender family members on these sites. I’ve seen ex-offenders on these sites. I’ve seen folks not related to the corrections industry in any way on these sites. Don’t think for one second that the only people seeing your posts are like-minded folks who also work in the industry. It’s not true. The public at large has access to your comments. What did we say about how they judge those of us in this profession without the ability to walk in our shoes? They’re interactions with us. Whether they comment or not, they saw what you had to say.

You don’t care what someone who doesn’t do your job has to say? You should. Whether you work for a state, county, city or in a private prison, you serve the people of your community and state. These people want to have faith in us and the job we do, and when they read things like “the POS needs to die,” that faith in us erodes a little.

There’s another group that has access to these comments, and we want their faith in us as well. They’re the ones that have the big offices and make the decisions about what happens in our facilities. Folks like wardens, deputy wardens, security directors and so on. Sure, they’re corrections folks just like you and me, except that they don’t have day-to-day contact with the offender population that we have. These are the folks that determine whether we get promoted or not.

These are the folks that decide our fates when mistakes are made. Do you think they’re not reading this stuff? Do you think they don’t remember it when you interview for Sergeant or Lieutenant? Of course they do. They want people who are professional. I know, I know; I can hear you all the way from here. I realize there are other attributes that certain administrators look for. I don’t need to be reminded of that. My point is that the people you work for, both the citizens of your state and your bosses are reading the things you post on the internet. Whether you like it or not, whether it seems fair to you or not, they draw conclusions about you and those you work with based on something as simple as “Two to the chest, one to the head.”

I’m not going to sit here and tell you what to do. We’re all grown men and women capable of making our own choices. Before you say it, I’m also keenly aware of the fact that the First Amendment entitles you to say just about anything that you want to say.

One of the best lessons I’ve learned in corrections though is that just because we can do something, doesn’t mean that we should. You can make choices. What you can’t do is expect that there are no consequences to the choices you make. If you want to get on Facebook or C1 and call offenders every derogatory name in the book, that’s your right. If you want to suggest that we should be killing offenders, regardless of the crime they committed, at a steady rate, that’s your right.

Of course, that seems self-defeating. After all, once they’re all dead, what use has the state, county or city for us? Regardless, if that’s your opinion, you’re entitled to express it.

The truth is though that you, and your profession, are judged by your conduct on the job, and off the job. People determine your level of professionalism based on your actions on and off the job.

What are you telling them about yourself as a member of the corrections community, and the job you do? What are you telling them about other members of the corrections community?

What is it you hope to achieve, what is your aim, with the message you send to those outside the industry?

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