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Correctional Officers Say Working in a Prison Changes a Person

Jail Cell
Jail Cell (Credit: Tim Pearce; Flickr)

In her first report, Shannon O'Brien told us about working inside a prison. Now in part two she takes us into the home lives of the officers. 

Former corrections officer Gary Gross says it wasn't just missing personal moments that affected his life at home.

He says your demeanor changes over the years.  "

"If you're not careful, you'll be talking to your kids like they're inmates, you know, you'll be talking to your wife like she's an inmate, and they're only gonna put up with so much of that, and if you can't get that corrected  then you're gonna have problems," he said.

Officers have to deal with inmates differently than members of their family, but the environment officers are surrounded in day in and day out makes separating it difficult.

Gross says although his demeanor changed, he was able to keep his work and personal life separate, unlike many others.

"They saw 100 cases that it did affect people at home and led to high divorce rates, family issues, different types.  Personally, I managed to deal with that aspect of it," he said.

But before they take the stress home there is plenty to deal with while at work in the harsh institution.

"You see things in there you never thought you'd see in your whole life," Cutt said.

On a daily basis, they worked closely with violent criminals and say they always have to watch their backs.

"Within the institution you would certainly watch each others' backs, you know.  You have to do that," Gross said.

Gross says most inmates are more violent toward each other.

Cutt says get confrontational over minor situations.

"A guy can get stabbed over two packs of cigarettes," he said.

But Cutt says officers are put directly in harm's way over fights because it is their responsibility to break it up.  Officers also have to be wary of health risks when breaking up fights.  In recent years, the number of inmates with sexually transmitted diseases has increased in prisons and now poses a threat to correctional officers.  Officers have to worry about contracting HIV, AIDS or TB because they're at risk of getting these diseases whenever they step in to break up a fight.

Gross says he was never affected directly by any disease, but he has seen many coworkers who have had to deal with the unfortunate situation.

As they saying goes, hard work pays off, but Gross says many officers are still struggling to make ends meet.  Gross says for many people, the pay can't even pay the bills and some spouses have to work two or three jobs  just to take care of their families.

"It's just not  that good of a job and it doesn't--most corrections officers working there that are young and have families, they qualify for public assistance," he said.

Gross is now the executive director at the Missouri Correctional Officers Association, and he has been lobbying for higher pay for 13 years.  He points out the high turnover rate and compares the pay Missouri correctional officers receive to other states that pay more.

Reporting from the state capitol, I'm Shannon O'Brien.