Final Impressions

A salute to correctional officers

Written by James Combs

Shining the spotlight on the forgotten heroes of public service. 

You hear it all the time at public events. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, let’s give a round of applause to our military veterans, police officers, emergency medical technicians and firefighters in attendance.” 

Without fail, there’s one unsung hero who always gets the shaft. 

Correctional officers. 

It’s weird because they perform one of the most dangerous jobs known to man. But because we don’t physically see them driving firetrucks, police cars or ambulances down the road, we tend to forget about them. In other words, out of sight, out of mind. 

We don’t see them because they arrive to work and disappear into a world of dark corridors and dreary cells. They walk past guard towers, steel gates and 12-foot-high barbed-wire fences designed to keep violent criminals from escaping. 

The job comes with no fanfare or glamour. They perform 12-hour shifts while being locked up with the lowest of the lows. Murderers. Wife beaters. Armed robbers. Drug dealers. During their shift, they are the lone officer inside a pod that may have as many as 75-90 inmates. The inmates hate that officer not because of the person he is, but rather because of the uniform he wears. In the naïve minds of inmates, it’s the officer’s fault that he or she is incarcerated. 

Although they can be attacked or killed at any moment, they have no weapons to defend themselves. Their only lifeline is a radio attached to their uniform that allows them to call for help. With any luck, the help won’t arrive too late. 

Imagine if your daily job required you to search inmates’ cells to look for homemade weapons, drugs and other illegal contraband. Picture having to deal with mentally ill inmates who should be locked away in state psychiatric hospitals. Think about being subjected to inmate manipulation tactics and then having to ward off large-scale fights or a potential inmate suicide. Envision dealing with angry inmates with poor impulse control. 

For a correctional officer, all that is in a day’s work. To top it off, they are exposed to various diseases, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), HIV and hepatitis C. 

I once heard someone say that “babysitting adults” is an apt job description for the field of corrections. That’s selling the profession short and trivializes the dangerous duties they perform. 

Certainly, police officers should be praised when they take a criminal off the street, just as firefighters should receive recognition for rescuing people trapped inside a blazing building. But correctional officers also put themselves in harm’s way, and they do so each time they report for duty.  

But maybe they don’t want special attention or could care less about being in the spotlight. Perhaps knowing they can succeed in a job nobody else wants brings enough satisfaction. 

About the author

James Combs

Akers Media Group's James Combs has been a staff writer for several local publications since August 2000. He has had the privilege of interviewing some of Lake County’s many fascinating residents—from innovative business owners to heroic war veterans—and bringing their stories to life. A resident of Lake County since 1986, James recently embarked on a journey to lead a healthier lifestyle. He has lost 60 pounds and walks nearly five miles a day. In his spare time, he enjoys target shooting, skeet shooting and watching his beloved Kentucky Wildcats!

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