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  • Thatmidwestguy

The Big Cup

My first day in the world of corrections was one hell of a ride, literally! I had just been hired for a part-time corrections officer job, which, if you are familiar with the world of corrections, is anything but part-time. We were to report for work 15 minutes early and enter through the west sally port entrance. For my non-correctional friends and for those standing in the back only here for the free donuts, a sally port is a secure entrance enclosed by two giant 500-lb steel doors. You enter through one door, which closes and locks before the next door opens. All the doors in the secure part of the building are operated by a Central Control Room. Within the Central Control Room, a person sits and answers phones, opens doors, and has a 360-degree look at the entire inside of the facility. As I am standing between the two doors waiting for entrance into the building, all I can hear is a young lady screaming at the top of her lungs, "I want my big cup!" As I am standing there, listening to the chants over and over again, waiting for the door to open, I wonder just what I have gotten myself into. This thought was quickly swept away once I heard the buzzing sound of the second door opening. I was met at the door by the Secure Detention Supervisor, who is also the same person who hired me for my position. This is not a typical greeting, but he met me at the door because they needed my help as this young lady was causing a disturbance to the other youth in the unit. He handed me a radio and sarcastically said, "Are you ready to work?" My palms started to sweat, and I could feel my heartbeat in my chest. Was I ready? I didn't know, but I was about to find out!

The sally port doors open into the secure detention unit, which is the unit that I started my career in. The facility is divided into three separate units. We have a secure detention Unit that houses up to 17 highly criminal offenders, such as murderers, drug dealers, rapists, burglars, and gangsters. Then we have our non-secure detention, which houses 24 low-risk offenders such as runaways, truants, minor assaults, those who do not follow the rules at home that are set forth by the courts, and so on. And last but not least, we have the heart of our building, which is the residential unit. The residential Unit houses up to 25 youth for long-term treatment. These youth remain in our residential Program until they successfully complete all of their obligations through the Courts and the program. Believe me when I say that we have youth who commit crimes that are just as violent as adults.

As we entered the secure unit, the only sound that could be heard was banging on a cell door and the bloodcurdling, screaming chants of "I want my big cup!" We walked down a hallway and approached cell #3. In the cell was a rather large young girl, I'd say around 14 or 15 years old (this was over 20 years ago, so my memory of age might not be as accurate). She was lying on her back, kicking her cell door as hard as she could and screaming, "I want my big cup." She had a big plastic cup in her cell earlier in the day, and the staff took it away because she was trying to break it and use pieces of it to cut herself. They had given her a very small plastic cup that would be very hard for her to harm herself with. She did not like the fact that they took her "big" cup away, and she wanted it back. The decision was made that we would need to extract her from the cell and put her into mechanical restraints because of the fear that she would injure herself as hard as she was hitting the steel doors. I was instructed that once the cell door opened, I was to help with her legs. Back then, we had a board that was much like a stretcher and had leather straps on it. We would secure the youth on the board to prevent them from causing further harm to themselves or others. I had so many thoughts running through my mind, and I had no formal training yet, so that was all new to me! Once the cell door opened, I focused hard on securing her legs. She was very strong, and at one point I thought maybe I had signed up for the rodeo rather than corrections because she was lifting me up and down with one leg like I was a wet noodle, and I was no small dude at the time, weighing in at around 275 lbs. After the entire situation was finished, I was informed by my co-workers and supervisor that these situations were rare and that most of the time staff will have formal training before having to handle situations such as that one.

I purposely started my blog with a very light story compared to some of the ones that I will share moving forward with this blog space. But I wanted to highlight that even the most routine situations in corrections could be considered crises or emergency situations for the general population. This was a day like any other, not particularly out of the ordinary. That night at home, I was thinking about my day. I knew from that day forward that my life had changed and that none of my days working in juvenile corrections were going to be the same or boring. When you experience these types of situations daily, it's no wonder why corrections officers have extremely high divorce rates, suicide rates, and mental health concerns.


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