An Inside Look: Correctional Facilities

correctionsofficersST. JOHNSBURY -- Correctional Officers at the Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury say working in a prison is not as scary as one might think, but it definitely has its challenges.

 

 

 

Tina Heywood is now a case management worker at the facility, but got her start in corrections.

"I had my pre-conceived ideas about what correction was, but it was a whole lot different after getting here," she said.

Heywood says that in movies and on television, prison is portrayed to be much more intense than it actually is, or at least more intense than it is in St. Johnsbury.

"You kind of see the rough and tumble, but when I got here, I realized that wasn't really real world," she went on.

Before starting in this field, Heywood thought it would be difficult to be a woman in corrections. She felt like she needed to muscular, strong, manly, and rule with an iron fist. That was not the case.

"I found it quite the opposite. I found inmates had more respect for the female officers, than the male," she said.

While prison is not necessarily what it may seem like from the outside, the correctional officers in St. Johnsbury will tell you it's not a piece of cake, either.

Bryant Smith has been a correctional officer for nine years now, and he says his time at the Northeast Correctional Complex has definitely taken a toll on him. Every day, The CO's are responsible for more than 100 men. Each one of these men has a different personality, and a different set of needs.

"It wears on you, having to be in charge all of the time, having to keep control of all the situations that happen," Smith said.

Part of being a CO, means also wearing several different hats. Steven Hersom has been a CO at the St. Johnsbury facility for five years now, and says he plays many different roles throughout a given day.

"You're a therapist to some of these guys, just someone to talk to. It's kind of like a day care, so sometimes you're like their parental role."

These officers agree that each day, they don't face a tremendous amount of danger. The inmates they deal with are usually well behaved, but they say there is always the opportunity they could get hurt.

"It can be quite dangerous. Most everybody here doesn't like you...None of them are your friends. They may be friendly to you, but none of them are your friends, Smith said."

Hersom agrees saying, "We can get stabbed at any time. Beat up, dragged into a cell. I mean you're one officer and when you meet with two or three people, what's stopping them from dragging you into a cell and beating the snot out of you."

While the possibility for danger exists, these officers do not think its worst part of the job. CO's at their facility work at least 12 to 16 hours days, and overtime is always a given. They rarely get holidays off, and they work most weekends.

"When everybody else is at home and relaxing from their work week, you're still here," Smith said.

Not only is it physically demanding working long shifts, they say it is difficult not being able to spend very much time with their families.

When they do get to go home, it's hard to leave the job behind. Smith and Hersom both said it's difficult to turn off being an officer, and switch into roles like father and husband. They often find they do not have much patience once they get home.

"I guess I wish I'd known the person I would have turned into because it might have deferred me from doing it. I don't have a lot of sympathy anymore," Hersom said.

Aside from the demands of working more than half the day, these officers face emotional stress too.
Hersom said that he often gets picked on and called names by inmates, due to his weight. He said it's hard to not let it get to you, but he does his best leave it behind at the end of the day.

Smith also spoke about how many people do not understand what they do. He said a lot people call them 'turn keys' saying all they do it open doors, but he argues they do so much more than that.

Heywood, Smith, and Hersom say the job does have its upside, though. They have each created specials bonds with the people they work with.

Hersom said, "We're a close family here, there's not one of us that wouldn't help each other out."

The biggest reward, though, is seeing inmates get out. Often times they will contact the officers, tell them they are doing well, and say thank you for the help.

Corrections Officers from NewsLINC on Vimeo.