Why the corrections officer is the unsung hero of public safety

Along with the titles police officer, firefighter, EMT and armed forces service member, the title corrections officer should be placed in the spotlight


By Sergeant Dan Barnt, Special Contributor to CorrectionsOne

Most people do not grow up wanting to be a corrections officer. It is generally a profession that one falls into rather than one strives to achieve. Why is that? Why is the title corrections officer not held in the same regard as police officer, firefighter, or EMT? 

Growing up, did you see television shows showing a bad guy and a corrections officer squared off in the middle of a dust blown street at high noon, the corrections officers' hands twitching in anticipation, waiting to draw his weapon first, to take out the bad guy. How about a corrections officer driving a squad car, red and blue lights flashing, chasing down the bad guys? Was this depicted as well? The answers to these questions are, “No!”

I ask the question again: Why is the title Corrections Officer, not on people's minds? Do criminals disappear into thin air when they are arrested for a crime? Do murderers just vanish when sentenced to life in prison? 

By now you are probably rolling your eyes and thinking, “Hello, we have the prison system, dummy. Do you live under a rock?”

Good, at least I have your attention, and to answer your question, yes, we as a society, do live under a rock. 

So, I have established the fact that once sentenced, criminals do not just disappear, but are removed from a free society and placed into a society that no longer has the same freedoms they once enjoyed. Once the criminal is off the street, the job is done, and we can continue with life as we know it, Right? We have locked the door, thrown away the key and left the criminals to police themselves, Correct? 

Not a chance! 

Society needs someone to stand between them and the criminals. Society may choose to forget this fact, but we all know that it would be naive to think that criminals are magically wiped clean of all the evil thoughts and desires which led them to their criminal acts. 

One report from the news anchor saying, “A prisoner has escaped” and society gasps in fear. They demand a solution. So the stage is set and the lights dim. A figure, a silhouette, standing in the shadows slowly walks onto the stage. The crowd goes silent in anticipation. Who is it? What is it? 

An honest to goodness superman comes from outer space with special powers and abilities, to contain these criminals behind bars. It has to be someone special — who else could guard 50 plus dangerous criminals by themselves each and every day? Suddenly, the spotlight shines bright, and there on the stage is your next-door neighbor. 

Wait, your next door neighbor is a superhero? No, he has no special powers and certainly has no special equipment to make him invincible. Barney Fife had it better than he — at least Barney Fife had one bullet in his pocket for emergencies! 

The only defense this corrections officer has is the badge he stands behind which gives him the authority to stand and defend the crowd who sits silent before him. The crowd remains silent as reality slowly sinks in. Before them standing in the spotlight is an unsung hero — a hero that normally stands in the shadows of society’s minds. He is not familiar to the spotlight. He is not sure what to say or what to do as he stands in front of all of these people. 

He requires no special attention, certainly not a spotlight. He simply performs a job that no one else wants to do. He is doing what he promised he would do. He took an oath both simple and profound. He would protect society from those being held behind bars. He is content to do this job because he knows that every time he hears the gates close behind him, even if no praise is offered him, he is keeping his family, his community, his country, safe for one more day.

Suddenly, someone stands and starts cheering! The auditorium irrupts, everyone is now standing, clapping and cheering. What else can they do, what other action would be appropriate. 

Dramatic? Over the top? Perhaps, but I believe the point has been made. We owe the corrections officer a standing ovation. I'll go one further, along with the titles police officer, firefighter, or EMT armed forces service member, the title corrections officer should be placed in the spotlight, shoulder to shoulder with these honorable professions. 

We owe a lot to the corrections officer. Once the scales have fallen from our eyes and we see who stands before us, we need to hold these men and women in high regard for the thankless job they so bravely do. Daily, we should bow our heads and offer a simple prayer of gratitude and pray for safety for those who stand in the gap between order and chaos.

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