I have been with the California Department of Corrections for more than 15 years and a Correctional Sergeant for more than three years. I firmly believe that you must have a good sense of humor to do this job. If you don’t, it will lead to an early grave from stress. If you can keep an open mind, inmates will entertain you with the crazy things they say and do.
So let’s start with the list of “You might be a Prison Guard if...” These can easily apply to jailers and our brothers and sisters working the streets. These are from two anonymous writers, but I’ve added my own comments.
• You've ever told one of your kids to "drop me a kite" (or “dayroom recall”).
• You've ever thrown away a full can of soda because it was out of your sight for 30 seconds. (I have!)
• You've ever wanted to physically assault your partner because they said, "It sure is quiet today."
• You've ever looked a pool of blood like a Rorschach test “it looks like two ducks kissing!”
• The buzzer in a basketball game on TV makes you jump. (Or a ref’s whistle)
• You refer to the mall Santa as "Chester Claus."
• You've ever fixed a plumbing problem with a side-handle baton. (It works!)
• You've ever looked at a stain on your pants and wondered if it was blood, feces, or taco sauce.
• You've ever been subpoenaed because of toilet paper. (Or by an inmate’s family because their son had a heart attack after trying to kill his cellmate).
• You've ever driven past a high school and thought, "Job security."
• You know that, "I slipped in the shower", "I fell off my bunk", and "I got hit playing basketball" all mean the same thing: "I got my ass beat.”
• You remember when "getting gassed" meant you had too much to drink.
• You've ever considered calling in sick when you saw there was a full moon.
• You can't feel comfortable in a restaurant unless your chair faces the door.
• You play "Gang Graffiti Bingo" with your kids when driving on long trips “Ooohh, West Side Locos, I just got my middle square!”
• You watch an inmate get Life-Flighted for a bloody hangnail, but the Governor claims that YOU are the reason there's a budget crisis.
• Before you can buy a woman a drink, you have to make sure she doesn't have an Adams Apple.
• Your favorite coffee pot hasn't been cleaned since Governor Reagan, and god help anyone who tries to wipe the crust off.
• You've ever seen a man with breasts and wearing "Daisy Duke" shorts beat the hell out of three guys at the same time. (His “name” was Gina).
• Your gunner is a “Fish”, your partner's a “Dump Truck”, and your relief is a “Lop.”
• You can flip to the exact Folger Adams key from a group of five to six without looking.
• Your stomach sinks when a full chow hall suddenly goes dead quiet.
• You can actually read and understand an inmate’s illiterate attempt at written requests. “I need a bace for my wrisit.”
• You believe that “Gas’em till they puke!” is an appropriate Use of Force.
• You disbelieve 90 percent of what you hear and 75 percent of what you see.
• You never count on going home until have actually made it out of the prison.
• You believe that ALL PRISON MANAGEMENT should have fought an inmate at least once before evaluating if you have used appropriate force.
• You have ever wanted to hold a seminar entitled: "Suicide...getting it right the first time."
• You have ever seen an inmate hanging by their neck and thought, “Damn! Now I have to do paperwork.”
• You know preferred overtime is from 2nd to 3rd, 3rd to 1st is ugly, but 1st to 2nd is torture.
• You know that “S.O.S.” really means “Stuck On Stupid!”
• You still get a weird feeling in your gut when you walk into a prison. (It’s never bothered me, yes I know I’m sick).
• You recognize that anyone who is willing to stick anything up his ass to hide it is one DANGEROUS S.O.B.
• You translate “Hey! Hey CO! Check this out!” to mean “Listen very closely while I attempt lie to you.”
• You can discuss where you are going to eat with your partner while standing over a dead body.
• You are the only person introduced at social gatherings by profession.
• You know the value of a good pair of boots.
• You know that color-coding something was designed to make it “Guard Proof.”
• People shout, "Don’t drop the soap!" when they find out you work in a prison and think they're being hugely funny and original.
• A week's worth of laundry consists of five T-shirts, five pairs of socks, and five pairs of underwear. (And one jumpsuit).
• You've ever referred to Tuesday as "my weekend", or "this is my Friday."
• You've ever written off guns and ammunition as a business deduction.
• You get gassed and pray it was just water or coffee, but don’t know until the aroma hits.
• You have forgotten to eat your lunch because you were too busy.
• You feel good when you hear "these handcuffs are too tight."
Remember to stay safe but have fun and laugh. It sure makes your shift go faster!
Did we miss a sign? Tell us yours in the comments below.
Samuel “Sam” Cowey
Sam Cowey has been a Correctional Sergeant with CDCR for more than 15 years and spent more than three years as Sgt. Currently he works as a relief Sergeant at Centinela State Prison in California. He served six years in the US Air Force as a Aircraft Armament Systems Specialist. Questions or comments can be sent to HeySarge2008@gmail.com.