When Lines Cross as a Public Safety Officer: What to do When Your Personal Life Collides with the Law
By Rob Stallworth
It’s well known that to work in corrections, you have to have heart. You have to be a strong individual in order to work in this complicated business and be a member of the criminal justice system. Integrity, character, trust, and leadership are just some of the words that come to mind when thinking about many of my colleagues. Those who work in corrections must possess these qualities in order to work with offenders and deal with their issues that most likely placed them in custody. But what happens when those lines crossover into your personal life and things spiral out of control?
Now, I’m not talking about bringing contraband into a facility or having a relationship with an offender. I’m talking about when your own family is in trouble with the law, the police are called to arrest them, and when the cops arrive they find out you’re a deputy at the local jail or a probation officer.
I had the privilege of attending the 143rd American Correctional Association (ACA) Conference this week and heard a personal story from a Chief Deputy with an Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office, who suffered this horror…but she’s not alone.
Not one of us who work in corrections, law enforcement or any branch of public safety is immune to life’s problems. We can put on our “face” at work to appear as if we are fine, but underneath, our emotions are upside down with grief and fear, knowing one of our loved ones has issues that could land them in jail or worse, dead. It can be stressful and disheartening.
“Mickey,” our Chief Deputy, described how she would throw herself into work, making sure the officers she supervised were “on point” and the inmates were not a threat to security. Meanwhile, at home, one of her children threatened to kill her with a knife if she went to sleep. Mickey says she dealt with these and other out-of-control situations at home for years, until she got up the nerve to tell her supervisor what was happening and to also obtain help for her children.
“Living with that mix…and going to work was very difficult,” she said. She also pointed out that she was successful at work because she believed she had failed at home. Mickey is now in a much better position, both personally and professionally, and able to share her story, but she cautions that there may be several co-workers going through the same thing at home.
Stress on all sides can be draining in our profession. In my opinion, I believe we have to recognize when we are stressed and instead of bottling it up, we may want to talk to someone…preferably a professional who is equipped to handle these matters. You need someone to provide worthwhile advice so you don’t “blow up” at the wrong time. If you fail to do this, that’s when your life—both personal and professional—could intersect and cross the line.
Have you experienced similar scenarios as Deputy Chief “Mickey”? How did you deal with it?
About the Author: Rob Stallworth is a Deputy Chief Probation and Parole Officer for the Virginia Department of Corrections in the Manassas, Virginia Field Office. His career spans more than 15 years with the department where he has served in various positions such as Gang Specialist and Academy Adjunct Instructor. Rob holds a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, and a Master of Arts in Journalism and Public Affairs from American University in Washington, D. C. He is also a member of American Military University’s Public Safety Outreach Team.