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The Real Poop

Correctional officers—we like you. Correction: We love you.

You are brave, tolerant, and tough. We tip our hats to you. Thanks from the bottom of our Shmoopy hearts for risking your life and health to perform such a necessary and thankless duty. Being a prison guard is a job whose guts depend entirely on the level of security in which you are guarding. Other guards covering your back. Bending over backwards to be tolerant so that the prisoners don't bend you over forwards. Are you covering a prison with a bunch of bankers who wired money to themselves instead of their clients? You will likely improve your own putting on the prison greens. Covering a max security called Murderers-R-Us? You'll be relieved just to not get shot at some point.

There are major downsides to this one. You are surrounded by people who'd lose no sleep after killing you, and they probably wouldn't do it with their song. But if you can handle the venom, there is great camaraderie to be found among your fellow guardians. You have all been hired by the prison to act as a team, and you work together to protect each other and generally keep from letting the venom influence your inner lives. It’s like being on a football team but without all the butt-patting.

There are other careers in the arena of protective services that aren't quite so dangerous. Think about it. Police officers, while valuable and performing an honorable profession, spend a lot of time writing parking tickets and camping out waiting for speeders. Bodyguards don't have to deal with crazed lunatics very often; usually it's nothing more than a little jostling and shoving. But prison guards are surrounded by lunatics. People who have broken our laws of civility and are now kept in check only by the bars on their doors and that stick in your belt.

Because they comprehend the consequences and their low chances of getting away with anything, inmates won't often attack guards, but it does happen. Guards also have to step in to break up fights among inmates, and that can sometimes lead to severe injuries as well. Prisons don't generally hand out weaponry to incoming residents, but that doesn't deter them—they tend to find ways of getting their hands on some harmful instruments anyway.

You need to be tough to be a correctional officer; physically, mentally, and emotionally. Maybe spiritually, too, as some of the things you are bound to witness may challenge your faith in humanity. You have to deal with prisoners firmly but humanely, you can't let the sadness and anger felt by the inmates seep into your own state of consciousness, and you have to keep your wits about you at all times. Turn your head for one second and that could be all it takes for some nutjob to strike you over the head with a hammer. There's a reason they call that type of inattention "letting down your guard."

So why would you take this job? Do you genuinely believe that prison is a "reform institution"—that is, do you really believe that these people will improve, "heal themselves" of their anger or whatever got them there in the first place? If so, then…well…wow. We are in awe of you. In awe of your hope. Maybe you should run for office instead. We may just be a little more cynical about life. That is what happens when you get mugged by the same guy seven times over a 15-year span. 

Lest you not think broadly about this career, consider Nelson Mandela's assertion about prisons: "It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones." And remember also the words of another famous Nelson who will surely find himself in jail one of these days: "HA HA." (Yeah, we love The Simpsons.)