Full time Work in a Prison
It has been a long process making the transition to retirement from working full time.There have been several milestones leading up to my retirement.
However, I am getting a bit ahead of myself. Let me start where things ended and began to change for me. I was working in a California state prison as an academic teacher for the last ten plus years.
Naturally, I’ve been planning to retire from the moment I began this job. Truthfully, I am surprised I worked as many years as I did.
Most people give a little gasp at that, and say something along the lines of “ewww… that must have been a tough job”.
It really was hard, but you don’t realize how it effects you in totality until you step back from it and begin to take stock in what you’ve accomplished, how you did it and what you feel about it now.
At the time, it feels like you have no choice but to continue on.
What Safety Means
I guess the general picture is of a “prison type” person who is hard, insensitive, and doesn’t care. I don’t think that describes me; although, never allowing yourself to show what you really feel takes a toll on you.
Being locked up everyday for eight hours, can mentally change you. You can’t really sympathize with the prisoners (although, that was my first instinct), but you can acknowledge better choices in the future.
Overall, I worked in several prisons, each with their distinctive environments. In the process of becoming “institutionally aware” you realize even though you are going to act like everything is okay; it could change in a minute.
Changes and Learning to Adapt
At one point “the department” laid off most of the teachers. I think it was around the time the economy hit the skids. So I worked at HQ (headquarters) for a couple of years in OVSRS (office of victim and survivor rights and services).
Then when they decided it was a mistake to lay off the teachers, I resumed classroom work at old Folsom State Prison. I remained there for either over five years or close to it. Old Folsom, I’d say to people, “Yes, that one”. No, Johnny Cash was never an inmate there, but he did a concert for the inmates at one point.
While I was at Folsom, there were visits by several famous people. John Legend was one of them. He was going to help financially with the renewal and saving of a wall mural in the old chapel. It was an inmate generated mural from the 30’s or 40’s, basically it was old and falling into the ravages of time. He had volunteered to help restore it; so of course he came to see it. I didn’t see the concert, but I think he did perform for the inmates.
I believe John is quite active in organizations that have to do with entrepreneurship for formerly incarcerated individuals. I’ll most likely reference some of these endeavors in future writing. This is an area I’d like to expand on more in this blog and show support through references and advertisements of these organizations.
Mysterious Prison Life
Most people don’t know that much about working in a prison. I think the prison system wants to keep it that way. I never worked on the weekends or evenings. So I don’t know anything about life in a prison outside of regular working business hours. The correction officers where a totally different type of employee.
We were all considered “safety”, but there was a distinction between correctional officers and other employees. There is a mystery surrounding what goes on behind the walls. Most ordinary people don’t really understand the impact of what it means to work in a correctional environment.
The changes I feel even now after almost two years of not working in that environment are still with me. I am not angry or upset. On the contrary, I think I have become a more aware person of how life can change (because of decisions made out of emotion, substance abuse, desperation or poor choices) in a heartbeat.
It isn’t that criminals are different than you and I, it is that (if they aren’t a sociopath or pathological) they are very similar to you and I, with the exception they made some bad choices when they came to a crossroads in life. They let their emotions rule, their anger or their greed, perhaps they lack empathy for how their behavior affected others.
Whatever it is, whatever the bad thing is, no one (with the exception of pathological/sociological people) can be bad all the time. If it is possible to connect with the humanity, or sense of remorse, then I believe there is still a human worth saving. My job was not to punish; but to empower those who often had had the worst of life growing up. They were raised often times with no parents, role models, no sense of how to socially interact in the world. No compass.
So I guess we could call this blog my attempt to make sense of these changes, and some of the difficulties I encountered along the way. I can’t talk about “the prison environment” and I’d actually rather not, but I can tell you how it affected me. I can tell you how I want to see things change.
This isn’t just my story. It is everyone’s story. We have to make sense of realities like medicare, pensions, social security and just building a base that will be solid in spite of less income.