ACCA President Vance Drum’s Member Letter Number 4 – 2014

Greetings to our ACCA members!  We had a wonderful time in Tampa this Winter 2014 at the Mid-Winter conference of the American Correctional Association (ACA). We hope you will be able to join us in Salt Lake City for the Summer Congress of the ACA, on August 16-19, 2014.

Relationally Speaking:  Pastoral Care to Correctional Staff

In Tampa in February 2014 I presented a PowerPoint workshop titled “Relationally Speaking:  Pastoral Care to Correctional Staff.”  I give it to all of you in this President’s Letter #4. I will make three main points:

  • The Need:  Who Are Our Correctional Staff?
  • The Chaplain’s Response:  Who Are You (What Is Your Self ID)?
  • The Strategy:  How to Do Pastoral Care to Staff

I.  The Need:  Who Are Our Correctional Staff?

The title of this letter begins, “Relationally Speaking.”  Have you ever asked your security staff for a callout of a program or service, and nothing happened?  Have you ever called the switchboard asking for an emergency offender phone call, and the operator said, “I’m busy right now, call back”? 

It’s my view that much—but not all—of our success or failure as chaplains depends on how well we are relating to our coworkers.  I’ve been on both sides of the fence on this.  I can tell you that when I “joined the team” in my prison, things went much better for me and the ministry. 

So, who are our staff?  They are our coworkers and neighbors who have great needs and who are experiencing significant stress. 

Who Are Our Staff:  Problem Reports

A report from Alliance Work Partners (vendor for referrals for employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice) showed the numbers of self-reported referrals for the third quarter of 2012 by category:

  • Psychological:  89
  • Marital and Family/Children:  31
  • Legal:  34
  • Domestic violence, sexual abuse/trauma:  8
  • Substance abuse, including alcohol:  4

These self-reports for a 90-day period are significant; however, they are but a small fraction of actual occurrences in each of these problem categories.

Who Are Our Staff:  Generational Differences

At least five generations either work in our institutions, or have been greatly influenced by their parents.  Generally speaking, they may be described as:

  • Builders:  born 1900-1925.  Called the “Greatest Generation” (Tom Brokaw), this generation was strong, self-reliant, and independent.  They fought and won World War I and World War II, and went through the Great Depression and survived.  They were savers, and today they and their children own most of the money in the world.  Their biggest problems in school were teacher complaints about passing notes and chewing gum in class.
  • Silent Generation:  born 1926-1945.  This generation learned how to survive in hard times from their parents.  During the Depression of 1929-1941 and following, they shared the values of their parents.  Readers, self-sacrificing and disciplined, they held mostly common values.  They did not believe in divorce.  After WWII ended in 1945, they quietly went to work building houses and raising families. 
  • Boomers:  born 1946-1964.  Their parents and grandparents bought with cash.  The boomers bought on credit.  They own most of the debt in the world, though their children are giving them a contest for who can have the most debt.  The “me,” rock and roll and sexual liberation generation, boomers were the first TV generation, the first divorce generation, and the first to begin toleration of nontraditional lifestyles.
  • Generation X:  born 1965-1982.  Learning from their parents who lived through the protests of the Vietnam era, Generation Xers are skeptical of governmental (and other) authority, had school problems related to drugs, were late to marry (after cohabiting) and quick to divorce, are conversationally shallow (due to less face time because of computers and videos), are tolerant of everyone except people who are intolerant, are self-absorbed and suspicious of organization and structure.  They want what they want now, but struggle to buy.
  • Generation Y (Millennials):  born 1983-2002.  Facebook, MySpace, Instant Messaging and other instant communication technologies make this generation hungry for instant gratification, less conversationally social, and more in debt (due to higher education costs).  

Who Are Our Staff:  Anna Ivey Consulting

Anna Ivey Consulting has written that Generation Y workers are experiencing “extended adolescence,” “helicopter parents” who show up with their kids for job interviews, and a sense of entitlement.  Anna Ivey has written “15 Tips for Motivating Generation Y.”  They include:

  • Give them feedback.  They love to be affirmed;
  • Give them teams.  If you don’t, they get in teams anyway.  Teams are a good way to mentor Gen Y with older workers;
  • Be prepared to negotiate.  They’ve been negotiating all their lives with their Boomer parents who hated absolute rules;
  • Give them lots of small deadlines.  They do not do time or project management well.  Start them out with small deadlines;
  • Flatter them.  Find something in them to talk good about;
  • Don’t assume they’re technology savvy.  They may be able to text 10 pages in 5 minutes with their thumbs, but they may not know much about the technological engines of corporate America;
  • Teach them how they’re making a difference.  They want to feel significant, so stress the importance of their work for accomplishing our mission;
  • Give them flexibility and expect high-maintenance workplace preferences.   They expect their employers to find them, but they do not want their “findability” to be abused;
  • Teach them how to work face-to-face.  They would rather text their coworker, but most big decisions are made face-to-face.  They may not have much experience with face-to-face meetings;
  • Teach them how to write.  They may never have learned—even through college—how to write with correct grammar or spelling, and they may not think good writing is important;
  •  Assume they’re venting about you online.  New social media rules may come from your agency about this;
  • Tell them what you’ll do for them.  They are already planning their exit from your agency as they continue their search for their “dream job.”  If they’re good workers, help them stay;
  • Reward them intelligently.  They don’t want knick knacks; they would rather have an electronic gadget;
  • Feed their entrepreneurialism.  They are creative, so give them as much free rein as you can in your work environment;
  • Facilitate their lives outside of work.  Try to help them with their personal growth—for example, facilitating their continuing education—as much as possible, away from their work.

II. The Response:  Who Are You (What Is Your Self ID)?

Some of Gen Y’s general characteristics can work in a correctional environment—especially their youthful energy and self-confidence.  Other aspects of who they are (generally) will need to be adjusted to our unique workplace environment if they wish to continue in their jobs.  Our agencies need Gen Y, and some of them need us as their employers.

So, how do we respond to Gen Y (and Gen X and the Boomers) among us?

It’s good to realize that:

  • (a) Human nature is basically the same—across ethnic, racial, religious and generational lines;
  • (b) Nearly all people feel human needs for family ties, celebration, hope, faith and love;
  • (c) Most people feel a need to be attended to.

The Response:  A Personal Story about Self ID

I came to work at the old maximum security Eastham Prison in 1985.  In those days our court-ordered, state-wide prison reform was just beginning, but Eastham was known for being a bit recalcitrant.  In fact, Newsweek magazine in a cover story in 1986 did an article titled, “Inside America’s Toughest Prison.”  (I had no idea what I was getting into when I came to work there a year earlier.) 

In those days there was not much thought of rehabilitative help for offenders.  The wardens were from the old “warrior” school, not the new “manager” school.  I was trying to help offenders, but that was not the commonly understood mission of the agency.

I soon developed a poor attitude toward the staff.  I believed they were obstructionists to what I was called to do.  I did not like them, and they did not like me.  I was doing fine ministering to offenders, but I was going around the staff.  I was not on the team.  It was not a good situation.

But one day, in an annual employee performance evaluation, a great warden helped me with an epiphany.  He said to me, in a shockingly pastoral manner, “Chaplain, do you know that my staff needs you?”  I thought about his question, and I replied, “No.  I don’t know that, and I don’t believe that.”  He quietly responded:  “Well, let me tell you:  My staff needs you.”  Wow.  I had never heard that before. 

In the days following, I believe God began to speak to me about repentance and confession.  Following some prayer and personal repentance, I went to all the mid- and upper-level management of the prison, apologized to each one for avoiding them in the past, said I was turning over a new leaf, wanted to join their team, and help them in whatever ways I could.  Each one said something like, “Ok.”  As if to say, “We’ll see,” and, “Time will tell.” 

I was serious about my new path, and in time, things began to change in my relationship with the correctional staff.  I began to speak to them, to ask them how they were doing, and to listen to their responses.  I asked God for help in loving and caring for the staff that I had formerly held in disgust and disdain.  My prayers were answered.  In my 28 years as a chaplain at the Eastham Prison, the last 20 were much more blessed than the first 8.  The staff came to be my friends.  When they had a need, I wanted to be there to help.  When I needed something, they were eager to respond.  What a blessing.

III. The Strategy:  How to Do Pastoral Care to Correctional Staff

The Strategy:  Beginning with understanding

Pastoral care to correctional staff begins with understanding that our coworkers are persons with human needs for:

  • Respect—for all, despite our differences;
  • Caring—since God made and loves us all, we should care as God does;
  • A sense of fairness—basic justice and equity;
  • Empathic listening—letting people know you heard and understand what they said;
  • No gossiping—avoid this destructive behavior.

The Strategy:  What worked?

So, what worked for me?  Here’s the wisdom I’ve received:

  • Go through the warden’s (administrator’s) office when you arrive for work, and at various points during the day (it lets them know you’re there, and it gives them a friendly greeting/blessing);
  • In the warden’s office, offer to help with any needed extra duties;
  • Say hello to everyone in the warden’s office—even if no warden is there (the secretaries run the prison); if the warden needs to speak with you, he’ll ask you to come in his office—otherwise, wave with a friendly hello;
  • Make your way unhurriedly to your office, greeting folks along the way;
  • Say hello regularly in the Grievance Office, Classification, Count Room, and any office with which you regularly do business.  Greet all the correctional officers you meet;
  • After the warden’s office visit, get to know and befriend especially the mid-level management in your prison.  They will help or hinder your program, depending on your relationship with them.

The Strategy:  More formal pastoral care

Sometimes staff will have personal or professional problems they wish to confide in you.

  • Listen empathically:  Respond in such a way that they understand you heard and understood what they said, and that you understand the depth of feeling with which you said it;
  • Do not judge:  You are not their judge, so don’t judge;
  • Keep their confidence;
  • Refer to others who may be able to help.

Most of what we do in pastoral care to correctional staff is short-term.  They are busy.  Greet them, and converse with them briefly.  Do not detain them by your long, on-the-job conversation with them.  You probably cannot fix them, but you may refer—to an employee assistance program, to a spiritual advisor, or to a counselor.

Other ways to minister to staff include having volunteers who minister solely to the staff—distributing water and small packages of crackers or cookies.  Some communities of faith in the community have sponsored office appreciations at the front gate at shift change—distributing BBQ and a cold drink.  Officers know a community of faith did the good deed, and they appreciate it. 

Whatever it takes, do some regular pastoral care with your staff—both formally and especially informally.  If you want to do a more formal event for your officers, be sure to get your administrator’s permission. Regular pastoral care will bless them, and it will bless your ministry.