Wild flowers grow next to chain link fence
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Many people in prison aspire to be rehabilitated. Throughout that process, role models are an important part of their support system.

One potential source of role models can come from the corrections officers (COs) whom we encounter on a daily basis.

This may come as a shock. The divide between COs and those who are imprisoned can seem wide. But there are more similarities between us than one might think.

We experience the same emotions: love, regret, anger, joy, depression, anxiety and hope. We might be tired because we stayed up too late. We might be worried about our mother’s medical test results. Our kids may be angry at us because we spend too much time in prison — most days, neither COs nor incarcerated people want to be here.

Although correctional staff may not view themselves as role models, they have the potential to positively impact our lives. Many of us incarcerated people have spent more time around prison staff than our own families.

COs have what everybody in prison wants: a good-paying job and the freedom to go home to their family each day. On our road to rehabilitation, some of us try to imitate them — to some extent — in the hopes that one day, we will also have that kind of life.

As role models, COs can play a pivotal role in our path to rehabilitation. Their treatment can either frustrate and discourage us or uplift and encourage us. We appreciate receiving recognition and positive affirmation when we are on the right track.

It’s a huge morale boost, for example, when administration and staff show up to our graduations — in some cases, they have seen more of our graduations than our families have. It’s also beneficial for staff to see the impact of the rehabilitation programs that the corrections department provides.

Efforts from all members of our community are essential for its health and well-being. I’m privileged to know correctional staff who, despite this impersonal system, continue to encourage, mentor and inspire us to be better citizens.

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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Jessie Milo

Jessie Milo is a writer incarcerated in California and a PJP contributing writer. He is a volunteer for InitiateJustice.org and an advocate for mental health.