Editor’s note: Post van der Burg will present her unique perspective on corrections officers as the wife of one and daughter of another. This is her first of two insights as to what happens at the Maine Correctional Center and what is projected to happen should the proposed construction take place.
I have never worked within the walls of a prison, correctional facility, a jail or a pre-release center; I am the daughter of a serving officer of 25 plus years, a cousin of a serving officer and the wife of an officer. I also have a number of friends within corrections, prisons and jails throughout the state of Maine who serve at many levels. I not only hear the stories, but have seen what officers are put through on a daily basis. There have been times where there is a crisis and officers have to stay beyond their shift only to return home for four to five hours, and then have to report back to their post for another twelve to sixteen hour shift. Or, when all of a sudden, it’s the middle of the night or day and an officer is running home to shower and change because they were assaulted by an inmate and their uniform soiled, so they were given a one-hour leave to clean up and return.
Seven years ago when my husband was studying for the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, I made a mental note that nowhere in the training, handbook or even in the job description does it mention anything about how to handle or deal with people with mental illnesses. Now this is my personal opinion, but people with a mental illness; even if they have committed a crime, should not be placed within the walls of a correctional facility, prison or jail. The job description for a correctional officer in the State of Maine does not state that they will have to work in an environment with people who have mental illnesses. Yet, now these officers not only have to provide a service to the public by protecting us from bad guys, but also making sure someone gets their meds on time so they don’t have a mental break down.
As an officer in the State of Maine they provide the space, time and equipment to help inmates change the paths they are on, and have set up and run many programs to re-integrate them back into society. At MCC they have a paws and stripes program, a work release program, the industries store. Back in the day, MCC had a fully working farm that provided food for the facility that was run by inmates. The officers are dedicated men and women who work hard in a very real and scary environment. They put their lives on the line every day for very little pay.
The families of officers are the ones who pay the highest price in this career. The loved one works long hours, and on their days off they are either back in uniform working overtime because they are short staffed, or they are working a second job to make up for the lack in their salaries. We get creative in knowing what we need, and what we want, and know that there are things we can’t have. The biggest thing we can’t have is having our officer home. Some of us get by with seeing our officer home for an hour or two a few days a week because they work crazy, long and extra hours. We sit home and worry if they will be assaulted, or even make it home at the end of their shift. We see our officers age faster than they should, knowing that correctional officers have the second highest death rate of any occupation and will be seriously assaulted at least twice during a twenty year career. (“A publication of the American Correctional Officer”, 1998).
Every night when I put my children to bed I may not be able to sleep myself, but I can have peace of mind knowing that my family and friends who are correctional officers are doing honest work, doing the best they can given their training and resources, but most importantly that they are keeping us safe by providing the public service of keeping committers of crimes off the streets. My children and I are proud of our officers. As the town that houses the Maine Correctional Center, you should all be proud of the officers and the work they do, too.