Interview with California Rehabilitation Center's Joe Baumann

Joe Baumann has worked as a corrections officer for the past 27 years. A resident of Lake Elsinore, Calif., Baumann is one of more than 800 corrections officers that change shifts behind the walls of California Rehabilitation Center, a medium-level correctional facility located in Riverside County's city of Norco. recently interviewed Mr. Baumann to get his thoughts on being a corrections officer and his advice for anyone thinking about pursuing this profession.

Q. What made you want to become a corrections officer?

A. I was managing a motorcycle shop, and I made really good money five months out of the year, but I wanted something different. I applied at a few different police departments, and corrections called me first. The first few years I really enjoyed it, but it has changed so much in the last 20 years.

Q. What do you like least about this career, and does it relate to this change you mentioned?

A. The corrections industry had pretty extensive growth in the '80s and early '90s. Because of this and because of the bureaucracy, no one in management is held accountable for anything. When we have an officer murdered, there are policies and procedural issues that go along with that, and no one tries to fix those policies. Most of the stress isn't from inmates; it's from supervisors and managers. There is a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking post-incident. Even though we are trained, everyone is scared that they are going to get into trouble if something goes totally wrong.

Q. What is your favorite part about your job?

A. I like dealing with a lot of the frontline staff. There are a lot of really good officers and first-line supervisors, and they really are the glue that holds the whole thing together. It is the people at headquarters that usually get the pat on the back when things go right, but it is those frontline folks that hold it all together.

Q. How would you describe a typical shift?

A. Most days I walk in and go to the supervisor's office and sign in, and then I go to a housing unit and relieve the other officers, who also pass along information about the upcoming day. We have a movement sheet which specifies which inmates are supposed to go to certain appointments.

We do a safety sweep of the building and make sure no there are no glaring safety or security concerns, and then we release inmates to breakfast. After they come back and are done with breakfast we do a check to make sure inmates are going where they are supposed to.

We have five locker and bunk searches per shift, and we also pass out laundry and personal supplies. We spend a lot of time chasing people down and making sure they are at the appointments they are supposed to go to. That is a basic, typical, no-drama day.

Q. Tell me about a difficult real-life situation you were in at work, and describe how you dealt with it.

A. We had an incident a few years back where an inmate had a single-edged razorblade and was threatening to cut his wrists in the shower. There were five of us standing around arguing about how to get the razorblade away from the guy without getting hurt.

Ultimately we got him restrained without getting injured or injuring him. There was just no outlet -- we had to process the scene and try to get it done and deal with the stress at the end of the shift. In that sort of circumstance we were arguing, because no one had been trained on how to deal with that type of situation. We were going back and forth with ideas about how we could deal with the situation without getting into trouble for using excessive force or getting each other hurt.

Q. How do you deal with job-related stress?

A. I get rid of most of my stress either by reading, or by riding and working on my motorcycles. While I am at work, most of the time I just give myself a timeout -- there is really no other way to do it. You are basically stuck in a facility, and you are very limited in the things you can do. Most of the time you just have to take five and go to the bathroom, or go and get something to drink.

Q. What training did you receive before your career what kind do you receive now?

A. I did time as a shore patrolman in the Navy, and when I first came into the department I had a six-week training academy. About 10 years ago, the academy requirement went up to 16 weeks. We also get a week's worth of training each year in the use of the baton, as well as in chemical agents and various other types of pathogens.

Q. What types of weapons or defensive techniques are available to you at work?

A. It usually depends on the position. Everyone at the facility has an expandable baton, stab-resistant vest and some form of pepper spray. Some of the security patrols carry bigger versions of the pepper spray and/or pepper-spray grenades, which is a blast-dispersion pepper-spray hand grenade. We also get annual training for defensive techniques primarily centered on the baton and how to use it for both strike movements and defensive blocking motions.

Q. What are your thoughts on inmate manipulation, where inmates try to influence correctional officers for personal gain?

A. Where do I even start? Where people get into the biggest problems is if they do favors or show favoritism to an inmate. If that is perceived, then every inmate is going to go to that type of behavior automatically. The inmates know what they are allowed to do, and they know what you are allowed to do.

Q. What's your work schedule like? Also, how are weekends and holidays handled?

A. The schedule is hard. The institution gives each correctional officer specific hours and days off, and every three years they do a seniority bid. The person with the highest seniority gets whatever time off they want and from there it trickles down. Thirty percent of the job is set aside for management and training purposes, and the rest goes out for seniority bid. As far as holidays and weekends go, you'll know if you have to work them when you bid for days off.

Q. What kind of advancement opportunities might there be down the road for someone in your current role?

A. You can get promoted to a sergeant, or you can work as a councilor or a parole agent.

Q. What skills and attributes do you think a good corrections officer should have?

A. Human temperament and the ability to communicate. The job requires someone who doesn't get flustered easily or overreact to a difficult situation. A good corrections officer doesn't freak out when something goes wrong, and he or she is someone who has the ability to communicate with the inmates at a level they can understand. You have got people in prison that are fourth-grade dropouts all the way to Ph.D.s, and you have to effectively communicate with all of them.

Q. What kind of advice would you give a new student going through a corrections program?

A. Be ready to work a lot of long hours. You are going to work 15-hour days on holidays, and you are going to be working double shifts on your birthday. Be aware of the impact that it takes on your family life, because it takes a heavy, heavy toll.

Please note: Unless explicitly stated otherwise, any job outlook predictions, career/educational advice, and salary information found on this page are based solely on the opinion of the interviewee and not that of or any other organization.