Female COs: What did I get myself into?

I can say that in the 11 and half years on the job, I have never let my coworkers down.

When I arrive at work, I show up as a Correctional Officer, not as a petite 5’1” female. I come to work to do my job, and to do it well. I have worked extremely hard to be accepted by my male counterparts and strive every day to uphold the job I swore to do.

The common perception in society is that women are generally weaker and less assertive than men. Those who believe this allow these stereotypes to travel into the workplace.

Have I been seen as a female and not as an equal? At times. Have people told me women do not belong in this line of work? Sure. But I know that my actions and the job I do have never wavered. I have somehow proven I am fit for the job, both mentally and physically. Females can do the job just as well as males. Women’s strategies or their presentations of self may be different, but the job can be done successfully all the same. I never felt the need to compete with a man; I just do what I have to do.

I never denied my limitations and quickly learned to use my strengths and weaknesses to my advantage. It turned out my weaknesses weren’t really weaknesses after all.

I am not saying all women belong in law enforcement. I am not saying I have not been discriminated against. I am not saying I did not have to work twice as hard to prove myself. I am not saying I am as physically strong as the male correctional officers I work with. But I can say that in the 11 and half years on the job, I have never let my coworkers down.

Since the day I started this job, it was my purpose to be the best correctional officer I could be and to always have my partners’ backs. Recognizing my limitations did not mean I felt inferior or was at a loss of confidence. It just meant I learned my job and found what worked best for me, whether it was learning better verbal skills to engage inmates, what worked to diffuse volatile situations, or learning how I could maintain order on a housing unit. I never fought the role of being a female.

During my first jail shift, assigned to my first Jail Training Officer, he received a crime report for an assault on another deputy. A hostile inmate spit at a deputy which landed in the deputy’s eye.

I remember looking at the male deputy who appeared strong and competent and thought, what did I just get myself into?

Anyone who works this job knows assaults are imminent and confrontation with hostile inmates will happen. It’s all in how a correctional officer handles themselves when faced with these situations. I cannot say I have always had the outcomes to these situations as I had hoped, but overall, my injuries have been extremely minimal and I have learned from every mistake along the way. I may not have encountered every situation yet.

But I am saying I have held my own. I have worked a housing unit alone. I have worked the Administrative Segregation Unit. I have dealt with the violently mentally ill, gang members, murderers and cop killers. I have never been preyed on by inmates or would ever cross any integrity lines towards corruption. I am one of very few females who have become a member of the Emergency Response Team.

I know I am a valued and productive member of my team.

I learned early on what became important to me and how I would make a difference working in law enforcement.

I grew up running through the halls of my father’s police department. I remember how I always looked up to my father and his police partners who were protecting the city and dealing with the bad guys. I have always had a desire to do good and make sure the bad guys could no longer hurt innocent people in society.

Through all these years, I have continued to strive, better myself, and learn as much as I can. I feel I have excelled at my written and verbal communication skills since this job relies on this. I am a skilled typist and write detailed reports. I have an inquisitive mind and allow it to run wild during my investigations. I have learned to communicate and work with hostile inmates, which has taught me patience. I have had to make quick decisions in emergency situations teaching me sound decision making. I have worked on public speaking while assigned to a housing unit with up to 96 inmates conducting daily duties or pod meetings. I take pride in my integrity, work ethic, professionalism, and production of high quality work.

I am not afraid to ask for help and have had the opportunity to learn every job position within two correctional facilities. I enjoy camaraderie and being a part of making a healthy work environment. Not a day goes by that I do not learn something new.

I am grateful for the training officers who taught me well. I am grateful for the coworkers and supervisors who guided me and helped me along the way. It is they who helped mold me into who I am today. I am grateful to my coworkers who believe in me as much as they do with the tall buff males I work alongside with. I know I have had no breaks and have been expected to compete and complete everything the same as my male counterparts.

I am grateful to my coworkers for accepting me as I am. Who they see is who I am: a person with common sense, a person with a good work ethic, and someone who has a willingness to be one of the guys.

So on my days off, I may be my alter ego wearing my hair down or throwing on a pair of heels from time to time. But I am most comfortable in my uniform and combat boots doing what comes natural to me. Who I am on the job is who I am all the time.

My work is about being tough when I need to be and being a dedicated, loyal, team player all the time.

I’m living proof that working hard, being in this line of work for the right reasons, and loving the job molds an excellent correctional officer regardless of gender.

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