Ted Conover's foray into the world of corrections started as undercover expose of the Sing Sing prison system. He soon discovered a world rarely seen by those outside of corrections. More than once, Conover was advised that he was not a "prison guard" but a correctional officer and he quickly learned exactly what that meant.
Richard Lessington, a correctional officer in the District of Columbia, said, "Corrections officers become for each inmate their mother, father, counselor, priest and disciplinarian." It became apparent to Conover that most everything that was taught could be disregarded. Correctional officers were not just there to "guard" the inmates and enforce regulations. He soon discovered that instinct and past experiences were the best, and often only, guides in situations that he would encounter and that the line between right and wrong actions was often very gray. Conover stated that inmates advised him on more than one occasion, "You're going to learn, CO, that some things they taught you in the Academy can get you killed."
One officer notes that there are three basic assumptions that should be taken into consideration when dealing with the relationship between officers and inmates:
1) Negotiations are central to prisoner control because correctional officers cannot have total control the inmates.
2) Once an officer defines a set of informal rules with the prisoners, the rules must be respected by all parties
3) Some rule violations are "normal" and consequently do not merit officers' attention or sanctioning.
As Conover continued to growth as a correctional officer, he became more adept as working from instinct instead of the training manual. When Conover enforces the directive of a keeplock officer and logs the incident, he learns exactly what that selective governing means. He states, "...I had just enforced a rule that wasn't...