Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Friday, August 25, 2006

Last Shift

I worked my last shift as a Correctional Officer at a men’s federal maximum security prison yesterday. Sitting in my vehicle out in the parking lot before driving away, my thoughts went back to the first time I pulled in to the parking lot of the Institution. It was early 2001 and I had been contracted as a substitute teacher for the inmates. I remember sitting there asking myself “what the hell are you doing” as I stared toward the double fences garnished in razor wire and flanked by towers. A few months afterward, I found myself swapping my pen and textbooks for the uniform of an Officer.

I am very troubled by the Canadian Criminal Justice System based on my years of service in the trenches, and even more disturbed by media portrayals of prison. On my first point, there is no justice – full stop. Ours is a system which empowers offenders and fails completely in both the mandates of protecting society and reintegrating Offenders into the community as law abiding citizens.

Regarding my latter point, and in defence of my former colleagues, the media has insulted some very wonderful and professional individuals by sensationalising a few bad apples. Just look at films like “The Longest Yard” where the audience cheers on the convicts over the Officers. Then there is how we glorify the “urban” voices of hip hop and the whole narcissistic culture of gangbanging, sex and greed. Correctional Officers walk through hell and an environment of human despair that is so strong that one would be hard pressed to hyperbolise it. In my near five years of being an Officer I had been through riots, assaulted, walked through water ankle deep with blood, urine and feces, had my life threatened on several occasions, twice had warning shots fired within feet of me, done a high risk takedown with a helicopter, seen countless severe beatings, and inmate murdered, a colleague taken hostage, inmates mutilating themselves with razorblades – all of this in addition to the daily tasks and stresses of running a secure environment inhabited by people with nothing left to lose. My point is, when you doff your cap to the peacekeepers in the Armed Forces, Firefighters and Police Officers (and rightfully so!), make certain you include Correctional Officers in your tribute.

And so I sat there in the parking lot yesterday, reflecting. In a large way, I feel like I’ve left part of me behind those fences, just as certain that I know that there are images and experiences that I will carry with me for the rest of my life and that have changed me beyond the shadow of a doubt. All my memories aren’t bad as there have been friendships and bonds forged through dire circumstances that will last a lifetime. Though part of me feels like I’m deserting my colleagues, I know that I was ready and happy to drive away.


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