LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Walk a mile in the shoes of correctional officers

Every day, I see articles in the newspaper or on all the TV networks complaining about treatment of their family members at the Department of Correction. I’m sure I and many other good citizens are sick of seeing this.

Before I go on any further, let me state who I am and where I came from and my knowledge of the prisons. I lost my father at an early age, like many in prison, to death. I started at the age of 12, going to school and working nights and weekends in an ice factory lifting 345-pound blocks of ice to help me and my mother to make ends meet. Upon graduation, I joined the U.S. Marine Corps, where I served for two years, most of that time in Vietnam on the front line with the grunts in Con Thien and Khe Sanh and in the Demilitarized Zone, seeing death and humanity at its worst.

When I returned home, proud as could be, with my uniform on, I was greeted with name-calling and spit. Soon after, I joined the DOC, where I worked at the old [John L.] Webb [Correctional Facility] in New Castle [County], and then, later, moving to Smyrna to open what is now called [James T.] Vaughn Correctional [Center]. I worked in every setting at DCC [Delaware Correctional Center, former name of the Vaughn Center] from the control room, to the different buildings, to the K-9 Unit to the new Maximum Security building as a staff lieutenant, and then, followed by the Court and Transportation Unit before retiring with 32 years’ experience. So, I’ve seen about everything there is to see in a prison setting. I’ve worked with just about all races and religions and [am] proud to call them all friends.

The average Joe Blow has no idea of the pressure and courage it takes to work in a correctional facility. It is not a place for the mild-mannered. Mommy’s and Daddy’s little darlings who roam the streets and commit crimes such as theft, burglary, drugs, rape and murder usually are the worst of society, and in a prison setting, most don’t change. Now, don’t get me wrong; there are occasionally some innocent people in the system due to our court procedures because no system is perfect, but in general, few and far between.

Unfortunately, our state government looks at corrections like a stepchild compared to the police agencies.

And don’t get me wrong: I’m a big police supporter because they have one hell of a job to do, also, with today’s liberal thinking. I have many friends who are state police officers, and today’s laws make it very tough for them to serve and protect. But just compare the high regard by most law-abiding people between state, county and the Correction Department. Correction is hardly a bleep on a screen.

Another problem with Correction is leadership. When I first started with Correction years ago, you didn’t get to be a lieutenant, captain or warden unless you worked your way up the chain. The officers respected their leaders because they knew they had worked the same buildings they work and had earned their positions. Now, people get promoted with the good-old-boy system or are brought in from out of state with no experience working DCC, with a big paycheck and no thought of loyalty to their workers or cares about inmate housing.

I say this to our government officials – you can’t run 23 officers through a training class one week and lose 28-30 officers the next because of overtime, stress, poor leadership and below-average pay. The officers who have worked the buildings for years are tired and stressed to the limit, and look for a way to bid out to save their moral fiber. You can’t keep freezing people every day and expect officers to cope.

They have families who love them and don’t want to see them come home stressed out. When the experienced officers bid out of their posts, those positions then get filled with new officers with little experience, and that leads to problems with the inmates.

Recently, a state police officer was killed while in the line of duty, and there have been daily newspaper and TV reports of this incident, and rightly so. But where has there been daily newspaper and TV coverage about Lt. Floyd being brutally murdered and any charges being brought against the inmates in that building, who had reported practiced this takeover for a while? This was reportedly sent to higher-ups for action, and now, an officer is dead. And what of the other two officers who had the hell beat out of them? No big clamor from the government over that or the news media.

Look, to those of you who have kids in jail, I say this – I’m sorry for your worries. When I grew up, I had to be in the house by dark or my butt paid for it. My wife and I raised three kids, and they’re all adults now, with jobs and families of their own. None of my kids smoke, drink or do drugs and never have – that’s called discipline, folks. Maybe you should have tried that with your kids when they were growing up, and you wouldn’t have to protest at the prison or the governor’s mansion or any other place.

In my 32 years of service, I can honestly say I never saw an inmate abused or mistreated badly unless he did something horribly wrong, and then, he would be restrained and cuffed and moved to the appropriate area.

In my closing, I’ll say this: there are good officers, and there are officers that are not cut out for the job, and that is why the turnover is so bad. Just as out on the street, folks.

Think about this: Imagine yourself working around 180 people, closed off from everybody else, behind locked doors with people cursing at you, constantly arguing, fighting or throwing all kinds of fecal matter in your face, and think how you would react. I’m proud to say that I worked with men and women of mixed race and religion, as well as inmates of the same, and tried always to be professional.

To those who have never worked in a prison, walk a mile in those officers’ shoes. To those of you who keep screaming “Black Lives Matter,” I fought in a combat unit in Vietnam, and I say to you – ALL LIVES MATTER!

Art Turner
Retired Department of Correction staff lieutenant
Camden-Wyoming

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