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Most people know or see correctional officers (COs) who live around their neighborhood. You have seen them at a gas station, your kid’s school play, a sporting event, etc. They wave, shake your hand and smile like all your other friends.

How would you feel knowing that the same person could be the same correctional officer that humiliates and verbally, physically, mentally abuses prisoners everyday at work? Most people would not believe it, but it happens every day in Illinois prisons. I do not understand how a fence separating a prison from society can change a CO’s attitude toward another human being so drastically. 

How can some COs, who are military veterans, go from serving and protecting our country, to abusing some of the same men who they might have served with? So many prisoners suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), yet society continues to turn a blind eye on prison abuse. 

What causes a man or woman to act one way at home with their spouse, children, and friends, then go to work as a CO and abuse prisoners, just because they are in a position of authority? A drug addict, rapist, or murder is frowned on for their actions and sent to prison, but we reward COs with a job with excellent benefits and an awesome retirement for committing some of the same violence. 

A 2004 American Psychological Association article called “What Makes People Do Bad Things,” discusses what can happen to people who are placed in positions of power. It referred to an experiment that Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford psychology professor, conducted in 1971, in which he recruited students to play the role of jailors and prisoners. The experiment was intended to last two weeks but was shut down after only five days due to the student jailors becoming too abusive and brutal towards their fellow students acting as prisoners because of “institutional forces and peer pressure.” 

Here we are 50 years later still allowing COs to transform into the Incredible Hulk at work, able to destroy anybody in their path. 

Those of us in prison in Illinois have been branded with a six-digit number which marks my life, so it will never be the same. Whether I am innocent or guilty, have family support, get rehabilitated or educated, that six-digit brand will haunt me for the rest of my life. 

Because Illinois is hard on sex offenders, a Civil Committed Center in Rushville, Illinois, has been maxed out at 500 people. As a result, the prison where I am converted two wings into a house that can hold over 200 people for civil committed sex offenders. This prison allows women staff to wear tight-fitting clothes, which seems to be unnecessary temptation? 

Many staff here also make homosexual jokes to, or in front of, LGBTQ+ offenders. One sergeant recently made fun of a cellie I had for having a mental disability. 

Would you like to know how an officer gets punished for these abusive actions? They move them to a different house for two weeks or put them in a tower to be disciplined. Then they go right back to humiliating and abusing prisoners who are afraid of reporting their conduct because they fear retaliation. 

What bothers me the most is that Illinois taxpayers, including my family and friends, are paying their salaries. It’s sad to know your family and friends are basically paying a CO to abuse you. 

So I ask myself: What is the point of prison? Police officers and correctional officers can abuse men in broad daylight, post it for everybody to see on social media and the news, and then only get a slap on the wrist. Why did a doctor who sexually abused hundreds of gymnasts get sentenced up to 175 years in prison? Aren’t COs taking advantage of a trusted position just as the doctor did? 

It should not take men and women getting murdered in broad daylight for people to finally say enough is enough. I pray that with all the support from celebrities, athletes and prison reform groups that change is coming. 

Thank you to Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ groups for shining a bright light on corruption and abuse on your side of the fence. I hope it does not take decades for the same changes to happen on this side of the fence. 

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Aaron

Aaron is a writer incarcerated in Illinois. He is publishing under his first name only for fear of reprisal.