Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff
RalphTell us about your work---what do you do? I work in a state prison in the drug and alcohol unit . My primary duties are to help supervise offenders, provide security, and counsel the offenders assigned to my unit. What skills are needed? Before you are assigned to a unit, you will undergo a four to six week training session to receive basic skills needed to supervise offenders and ensure the security of the institution. Counseling is done under the supervision of a unit manager. The unit manager assigns offenders to your caseload, and you are required to track these offenders while they are in the unit. Tracking includes such things as disciplinary problems, educational programs, work reports and any other outside interests, such as a religious or cultural activity. What was your major? Criminal justice & Psychology . How did you get started in your career? I got a job as a Corrections Officer . At the same time, I enrolled in college. The state paid for part of my tuition, as did the GI Bill. I stayed in college, maintained my grade point average and graduated. While in college, I took several drug and alcohol courses as well as counseling classes. My correctional officer assignment allowed me to have Tuesdays and Thursdays as my days off, so I took classes then. I also took morning classes on other days and worked the second shift at the prison, from 2-10 p.m. After graduation, I waited for a Drug and Alcohol Therapist position to become available, applied, and was hired. What experience do you need in this job? None. I have seen people hired right out of college. Describe your "typical" workday. Arrive at the prison a few minutes prior to your shift. Check the mailroom for any mail from prison staff concerning your assigned unit or offenders. Proceed to your assigned unit. On arrival, check with the staff concerning the day's events. Count your keys, check the count (the number of inmates that are supposed to be present), and check the computer for any records or reports that are due. Make a physical check of the unit and make a mental note of who is doing what. For instance, some offenders will be watching T.V., others will be reading or playing cards, and still others will just be standing around talking. The offenders not making themselves busy are encouraged to return to their cell. If there are any of your assigned offenders not occupied with work assignments or other scheduled activities, they can be called up to the office or any convenient location for a talk. The length of the session is generally determined by the purpose, which could be to fill out forms for parole, educational programs, or court hearings. It could also be just to see how the offender is getting along, to get more history of his drug or alcohol abuse, and to find out together the reasons---real or imagined---for it. Our goal is to teach each offender to cope with day-to-day issues, to think prior to acting, and to help guide his decision-making process. During the week, offenders who are employed in the factories start returning to their units around 4:30 p.m. The cell doors are opened, and offenders observed. At 5 p.m., count is taken. Then offenders are allowed out of their cells for the evening meal. As they finish their meals and return to their cells, some offenders shower and some just rest. At 7 p.m., school groups and other scheduled activities are called out. My job is to make sure everyone scheduled to be somewhere gets there. After the activities are underway, I would call out some of my assigned offenders for their sessions. At 9 p.m., all activities for the evening are closed down, and offenders return to their cellhouse. Some shower, while some return to their cells and lock themselves in. At 9:30 p.m., we take the count and check all doors. Staff return to the office on the unit and do paperwork as we wait for the count to clear in the prison. A correctional officer arrives just prior to 10 p.m. and takes his post in the unit control center (which is located outside the unit.) The counselors proceed to main control where we turn in our unit keys and leave for the day. What is the hardest aspect of your job? Not letting your personal life be revealed. Not taking comments by inmates personally. Staying politically correct---for instance, you cannot refer to an 18-year-old female as a "girl." You must refer to her as a "woman" or a "lady." What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? A good paycheck. Hearing that one of your offenders is making it outside the prison and giving you credit for making that possible. (However, staying in touch in forbidden by prison rules, so that comes from second-hand information.) What are your suggestions for someone considering this field? Life in or out of prison is a series of stepping stones. Think of this job as one of those stones. Be preparing yourself for the next step---advancement to unit manager, deputy warden, warden , etc. How do you achieve that? Through education and political contacts.