My Background as a Correctional Officer
I was a former female correctional officer for the state of California several years ago and worked in a level 3 and 4 male prisons throughout my six-year career. A level 3 prison is designated for the less violent offenders and level 4 prisons are designated for the most violent offenders who have life without the possibility of parole. I took the Sergeant’s exam for the state of California where I scored in the 7th rank out of 10,000 officers who took this same Sergeant’s exam throughout the state. I injured my back working the tower at the main gate of the institution or I would be looking at retiring right now. I want to share with you my experience as a correctional officer.
Both of these prisons were in the activation process when I showed up. In other words, when I went to work at these prisons, inmates were being shipped into these prisons from all over California. We had to prepare these prisons to receive inmates; therefore, we had to clean the cells and rid the yards of excess metal left behind during the building process. It was important to find this scrap metal because it could be used later as weapons by the inmates. It is customary for other prisons to send their worst inmates to the new institutions; therefore, it was imperative that you learn how to effectively communicate with all inmates.
My experiences working at these institutions were extensive because I worked every position at these institutions, as well as transporting inmates to and from court and other institutions. At the last institution I worked at, I was the main visiting officer that was the right-hand person for the sergeant of the visiting area. Because I was very instrumental in making sure the visiting intake process ran smoothly, I received three letters of appreciation from the warden.
Because of the prison location, visitors traveled as far as six hours to come visit their loved ones. There were some visitors who were unable to visit because of their dress attire was not appropriate. For example, they were not allowed to wear jeans, shorts that were too short, short dresses, or certain shades of blue that resembled inmate colors; therefore, they were turned away and not allowed to visit. Their money and personal belonging had to be in clear containers and were only allowed a certain dollar amount ($20). Inmates were not allowed to handle the money because the prison did not want money inside the institution. Money is considered contraband for inmates inside the prison. Some of the visitors were not approved to visit for one reason or another and had to be turned away. This was very disappointing for some of them and some were very distraught and in tears. If an inmate got into some type of trouble prior to visiting on the weekend, his visiting would be terminated, and there was no way for the visitor to know prior to showing up. This, too, was very disappointing for the visitor after having traveled so many hours to come to see their loved ones. The most difficult time for visitors and inmates was when it was time to say goodbye. Since I processed them into visiting, I was the one who saw them when they came out of visiting. Sometimes we had to keep some of their personal belongings up front because they couldn’t take it inside. When I asked them how their visit went, they said they had a nice visit; but some of them were in tears. I could tell visiting was both rewarding and sad for both the visitor and inmate when it was time to say goodbye. I think the years and my background as a correctional officer helped me make the visitors more comfortable because visiting can be difficult for them.