Congratulations! You’ve completed the rigorous interview process and the never-ending background checks. Your first day working inside a facility with your field training officer has arrived.
If you’re like most correctional officers, you never stepped foot in a correctional facility before you decided to make it your career. Starting a career in corrections is challenging for everyone, but being a new female correctional officer comes with its own challenges.
I hope that a few pieces of advice can enrich your experience as a female in corrections.
1. First impressions are everything
Never forget that first impressions are everything. As a female, you may be watched closer than male officers as your colleagues want to know you can handle yourself. Unfortunately, society still has that preconceived notion that women are naturally passive and weak, two traits troublesome in a correction setting.
One of the biggest fights you’ll have is with yourself. Fearing that you are being judged based on your gender will cause unrelenting self-doubt. Being unsure of your abilities will quickly become your Achilles’ heel.
Luckily through the field training program, you’ll have many chances to overcome any presumptions others might have about you or doubts you have about yourself.
To help establish yourself, I recommend putting effort into introducing yourself to your fellow officers. Don’t be concerned if you receive a cold reaction, as you prove yourself, relationships will improve.
Dedicate significant time to studying your agency’s policies and procedures, as this will progressively make you more confident. When others recognize your confidence and how you maneuver situations credibly it will increase their confidence in you.
Never forget you’re being regarded as more than a co-worker. You are being considered a partner. You need to be reliable. Your partners want to know they can count on you to make the safest decision at all times. It must be established that when something dangerous occurs you will unswervingly back up your partner.
2. You do not need to compensate
As your training gets underway, you’ll see your male counterparts addressing obstacles throughout the day by being able to employ their physical stature to assist with instructing inmates. However, confrontation from inmates is often emotionally led so it’s smart to utilize your inherent skills as a female. We are born good communicators.
“Men’s relative discomfort dealing with emotion leads them to look for solutions. Women more readily understand that sometimes people just need to be heard,” writes body language expert Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.
Communication will be your key to survival. Especially during training, you will be thrown into situations where you have a duty to attempt de-escalation. Inmates who are overwhelmed with any emotion, whether that be sadness, anger, or desperation, will more often than not act out. Don’t feel forced to be overly hostile to make up for physical differences. Use your ability to read the situation and appropriately respond in a way that calms the moment.
Communication skills are an easy way to compensate for lacking a large physical presence. Not only communication but also being able to understand others will make you significantly more successful.
Women by their nature have an unyielding propensity for reading between the lines. Seeing the true nature of a situation should be a skill you lean on and draw on often.
This leads me to one of the greatest essential assets for being successful in corrections: command presence. Simply put, command presence is what provides people with the desire to follow your instructions even if they don’t agree with them. As a female, it’s essential to establish your command presence early on. I recommend finding a female officer who is well respected by her peers and Inmates then use her as a mentor. If she is a well-respected officer I would wager on her having a strong command presence. Command presence is a mixture of body language and the way you communicate. You might not stand six feet tall and be able to yell across a facility, but by standing with confidence and communicating with the strength you’ll be able to keep control of your surroundings.
3. Don’t be afraid of the fight
When you sign up to work in a correctional facility you’re signing up to be physically and emotionally challenged by others. If you are not willing to adapt and challenge yourself, I recommend choosing another career.
It’s going to be an undertaking to control your fight or flight response. The desire to run is instinctual when a six-foot-two-hundred-pound intoxicated male is shouting threats at you.
It’s common and acceptable for females to be fearful of physical confrontation during training. It’s more often than not a new experience and you are being examined closely, comparing yourself to your male equivalents. I personally had this fear at the beginning of my career. By leaning on my mentor, I was able to overcome my worries.
Especially during your field training, you’ll have moments when an inmate challenges the way you do your job. Ensure your knowledge of policy is strong in order to combat the opposition. The more inmates see your decisions are upheld by policy the less they will challenge you.
At some point in your training, you will undergo defensive tactics training. Take these lessons seriously. Focus on technique and working with others in use-of-force scenarios. Most of the incidents that occur will be with multiple officers. Communicating with them and using proper techniques will lead to a controlled situation. You’ll feel more confident knowing you can react to situations you’d once run from. By constantly asking yourself what would you would do if a situation went wrong, you will be prepared for many scenarios.
In the end, each of our experiences in corrections is different and no one approach works for everyone. Take one day at a time. Recognize that mistakes will be made and allow yourself to learn and move on. Don’t let the bad days turn you away from a rewarding career.