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Former Correctional Officers Talk about Work Within a Prison

Jail Cell
Jail Cell (Credit: Mike Cogh; Flickr)

One correctional officer tells his story of how he was able to make a horrible and exhausting job rewarding.

Former officer Tim Cutt recalls a moment with one inmate that stands out to him personally. 

"He was taking a styrofoam cup and putting urine and feces in it and stirring it up, and he'd throw it on people," he said.

Eventually, Cutt asked the inmate what he was doing and what he wanted out of life.

Cutt took time with the inmate to give his advice and then years later the inmate stopped Cutt and thanked him.

Cutt says the man told him he had never had someone give him fatherly advice before and it helped turn his life around.

Cutt says the inmate hasn't received a violation in years.

Cutt says he felt he really made a difference when he busted an inmate for selling drugs within the jail.  

"He thanked me one day in front of a bunch of people.  He was doing a via satellite interview with Bill Cosby, and he stopped everybody and he says, 'see that man?  That man changed my life.'  He said, 'if he wouldn't have caught me I'd still be running dope inside this prison.'  And he has changed.  And actually he gets out next year," he said.

Cutt didn't go into this job thinking he would change anyone's life, he says that wasn't his job.

But even years after getting out of the job Cutt can vividly remember the situations where he made a difference.

Another former correctional officer Gary Gross has a completely different view of the job.

Contrary to Cutt, Gross says his views towards inmates didn't change over the years.  

"I did not judge inmates, you know, even if I knew what they were in there for.  I treated 'em equally, you know, and I realize that they're inmates, and they're in there for a reason, and it's my job to keep them there.  It's not my job to judge them or judge what they're in there for," he said.

Gross says he never found the job rewarding over the 14 years he worked as an officer.

He couldn't pin point a moment that stood out to him, or a time when it seemed to be more than just a job

"I had adjusted to working in the system, had promoted up in the system somewhat and was just established there, and it was my established job so I stayed," he said.

In order to survive in the mentally and physically exhausting job, they both agree it takes a certain type of person.

Gross says he was able to adjust to the job more easily than the average person because he possessed characteristics  that made him able to adapt to the hostile environment.

"I think probably I consider myself probably just a reasonably strong individual, you know, that I can deal with  the things that probably some people can't," he said.

But Cutt said it's not just inmates that make the job tough. 

"It's not only the inmates, it's the administration staff.  The administration staff--if you let the administration mess with you, you're done," he said.

Gross says, while having a thick skin is important, it's also important to remember to leave the job at work.  He says it's easy to let the stress of the job affect life at home.  In part two we'll look at how Gross and Cutt separated their work and personal life. 

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