I’m a community education and outreach intern, and so was asked to go to the Success College job fair to speak with students. As we set up our table, I was surprised to see a couple of correctional officers setting up their own table — I was surprised because I recognized them from when I was incarcerated at Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility.

The Burnside jail. Photo: Halifax Examiner

I spoke with students and gave them applications to come and volunteer with us. After a while, I went over to see the Correctional Officer section of the job fair.

As I was walking towards them, I instantly felt hated and disrespected.

Their display included a huge wooden stand with contraband presented behind glass: shanks, pipes, a rope that was braided out of sheets (it looked like a noose to me), amenity packs with the little bit of basic necessities we get upon arriving to jail, cups, clothes, and a segregation  tray. All of this was front and center at their job fair table.

Displays like this send a dehumanizing message to future Correctional Officers.

I felt humiliated even though no one there knew my story. But just looking at their presentation, I knew that they weren’t trying to encourage these young students to want to make change and help “offenders.” Rather, they wanted to encourage the students to hurt offenders — to hurt us, to hurt me!

I was annoyed and wanted to be angry and unprofessional and really speak my mind, but I took a deep breath and asked, “Is this really how you guys are getting new officers?”

They were making the job look more like a rugby game than a prison with real humans who are either already doing their time for their crime, are innocent until proven guilty, or there for a 20-45 day breach for something that probably was so insignificant to the world that they shouldn’t have had to go to prison for it in the first place.

The new Correctional Officers are trained to hurt us, not help us, and being a guest at that job fair caused me to have a lot of anxiety, knowing that these people are legitimately being trained to cause us harm.

For example, the video they showed at their table contained different “take down strategies,” how to spray the pepper spray in an “offender’s” face, how to use handcuffs. Basically, they are taught how to degrade and humiliate human beings who are not even sentenced yet. Offenders are people too.

I find it very strange that COs are trained for physical abuse but are not trained to engage and connect with the “offenders” so they can help correct the offenders’ mistakes. They are not trained to see what kind of help the offenders need, but rather to punish the offenders even further. And they seem to be trained to treat the imprisoned as if they are guilty, even though many haven’t had their day in court and haven’t been proven guilty.

The treatment humans receive behind bars is very wrong, humiliating, and disturbing, and seeing the Correctional Officer job fair presentation just made me feel as if they were training an army for combat. Showing the Corrections students crack pipes and shanks is going to make them feel as if they need to be hard core and hurtful towards people who at the end of the day just want to do their time and go the hell home. These men and women are not sentenced to abuse time; they are sentenced to jail time.

I think instead of making a guard job look cool they should talk about the emotional and negative effects Correctional Officers inflict on people behind bars.

But like they say, “You can’t fix stupid but you can cuff it.” Being a guard should be more than just opening and closing doors, humiliation, and control. It should be mandated that all corrections students to take some kind of peer support class and counselling because at the end of the day if they aren’t supposed to correct, then why is it called Corrections?

Bianca Mercer

Bianca Mercer is a community education and outreach intern. She is a peer educator, and has presented nationally and around the province on issues of pregnancy, health, and incarceration. Mercer’s story of being in segregation while pregnant at the Central Nova Correctional Facility was told by reporter Maggie Rahr for The Deep.

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  1. You are right, Things that happen in jail are not changing so I want to make as much awareness as possible.

  2. To be fair, there are some violent and hardened inmates in prisons and if they don’t have strong guards to control them it could result in violence and suffering for other inmates. Yes, of course, the humanistic side of incarceration is critical, and in many or likely most cases prisoners are going to do better with good counseling and humane treatment, but corrections officers need to be able to deal with the hard stuff. Disclaimer: I have zero experience with the prison system.

    1. Corrections officers do need to be trained to protect themselves as well as other guards and inmates, and they are. The point is that while they’re trained in how to physically dominate people, they’re not trained in how to de-escalate compassionately. Sadly in this case as in so many others, violence begets violence, and that seems to be the language of our correctional system.

  3. This is a very important piece. Thanks to the author for writing it. And god bless the Halifax Examiner for giving this point of view space.