Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Corrections Officer

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Occupation: Corrections Officer (Prison Guard)

Overview: a corrections officer works in a prison, guarding inmates serving out their sentences, ensuring they are afforded their legal rights while obeying facility rules and local laws. They rotate through different assignments, staffing different areas including the gatehouse, observation towers, unit deployments (accommodation wings, infirmary, recreation area, etc.). Some positions are very hands-on (such as new prisoner intakes, which require pat downs and inmate paperwork, escorting prisoners, and monitoring pod areas as prisoners engage in daily activities such as card-playing and TV watching). Other assignments include monitoring controls, running headcounts, room checks for contraband, and overseeing paperwork. They also may assist with vocational training for prisoners, helping them to make the best time of their incarceration both for personal wellness and to help them integrate with society upon release, and help inmates address behavioral issues that are tied to their offenses.

Correctional officers are responsible for the safety and rights of the inmates under their care as well as the safety of their fellow officers. Working in a prison is much different than portrayed on the screen, although no less dangerous. They may have to respond to fights, medical emergencies, and other incidents and know what to do in each situation, displaying complete authority. Despite needing to adhere to the same restricted spaces and routines as prisoners and the boredom that can result, correctional officers must remain alert and aware, which can be both physically and mentally draining. Inmates constantly test officers to determine any weak points, especially if the guard is someone new to them. They try to find out what gets under their skin, what bothers them, how to distract them, and where the lines are. Maintaining discipline by remaining professional, adhering to protocol, following through on one’s word, and treating everyone equally will allow your character to command respect and establish a functional level of rapport.

Working in an environment where people lie consistently and they have done a variety of unconscionable crimes can lead your character to adopt a jaded or darker viewpoint, especially and it can be a challenge to stay above it by treating each prisoner equally regardless of their crimes. Depending on the jail environment (level of security, type of prisoners, the support of management, etc.) this career can lead to burn out. Officers able to hold to a calling of modeling good behavior to inmates in the hopes of making an impact and rehabilitation stand the best chance of keeping a healthy and balanced mental state.

Necessary Training: Non-federal prison require a high school diploma or a completed general equivalency diploma, while federal prisons require a bachelor’s degree or three years of counseling and supervising others. Officers must also pass background checks and both a mental and physical health assessment.

New hires are usually placed in an academy and then also continue with on the job training. In addition to comprehensive education in facility procedures, institutional policies, and legal restrictions, officers receive training in firearms, learn self-defense, and are taught how to restrain, disarm, and neutralize prisoner threats.  If an officer is part of a tactical response unit they will be trained in how to respond to riots, hostage-taking, and any other dangerous situation that may occur. Training is usually ongoing, both to continually hone their skills and to keep them updated as new procedures and policies take effect.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: A knack for languages, basic first aid, blending in, enhanced hearing, enhanced sense of smell, esp (clairvoyance), exceptional memory, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, haggling, high pain tolerance, lip-reading, making people laugh, photographic memory, reading people, self-defense, sharpshooting, strategic thinking, super strength, survival skills, swift-footedness, wrestling

Helpful Character Traits: alert, analytical, bold, centered, confident, cooperative, courageous, courteous, diplomatic, disciplined, focused, honorable, just, observant, organized, persistent, persuasive, proactive, professional, responsible, tolerant

Sources of Friction: trying to manage friction between gangs, overcrowding issues, poor quality of living leading to volatile prisoners, prison rapes and attacks, a drug problem, discovering inappropriate conduct between a guard an a prisoner, a corrections officer who is unreliable, family problems due to shift work and frustration at work being brought home, disagreeing with a fellow officer’s way of managing prisoners (too permissive, abusive, playing favorites, etc.), witnessing a bribe, breaking up altercations between prisoners, a riot, a murder, an attempted hostage-taking, being accused of misconduct, seeing injustice (such as prisoners with untreated mental illness going untreated in general population)

People They Might Interact With: prisoners, prison staff, administration, the warden, psychologists, doctors and nurses, police officers, investigators, FBI, visitors, lawyers, delivery people

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: Because this work is mentally taxing and can drain one’s spirit, it is easy to adopt a jaded, negative worldview. This could prevent the character from fulfilling a life pursuit that has personal meaning or even seeing society at large as being worthy of working toward something better or higher.
  • Love and Belonging: shift work and overtime can impact one’s ability to keep family relationships strong, or make time for loving relationships
  • Safety and Security: prisoners can be deceptive, violent, and have nothing to lose, so working as a jail guard means a constant risk to one’s safety, especially in pod situations where one guard may be responsible for watching nearly fifty prisoners.
  • Physiological Needs: becoming overwhelmed during a riot or attempted hostage situation would mean an immediate risk to one’s life

Common Work-Related Settings: ambulance, break room, courtroom, hospital room, juvenile detention center, morgue, police car, police station, prison cell


Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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9 Responses to Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Corrections Officer

  1. Waiting eagerly for this Thesaurus.

    • So glad you’re enjoying it! We never know which of our thesauruses will be turned into books; some of them just stay at the blog, or at One Stop For Writers. We’ll keep you posted on this one :).

  2. Pingback: Writing Links 3/5/18 – Where Genres Collide

  3. Barbara Hussey says:

    Yes. I should have remembered not to trust Siiri’s spelling.

  4. Erika Hayes says:

    My SIL served for several years as a DO. (Detention officer) I think you nailed it. Another characteristic of a “good” DO is that they are hyper-observant. He often found things in cells during tosses – DOs work in an environment where they have to mistrust EVERYONE and that can leak over into their personal lives – they are always looking for motives to others behavior. (imagine what that is like if you are married to a psychologist! he is haha) they also must be able to remain calm in high-stress situations and that can be VERY beneficial in emergency situations outside the jail. Very good at taking charge in those situations as well. (ie a car accident, the DO will make sure everyone is moving to do something productive). They can appear secretive but they are not they are observing! 🙂

    • Great observations on how these skills and traits leak into other aspects of the character’s life! That was one thing I saw in the interviews I read for this entry…this is one job where you have to be 100% “on” all the time. Not only is it exhausting, but turning it off would be almost impossible outside of work, because this is so tied to self-survival at work. The boundaries between would be non existent I imagine.

  5. Barbara Hussey says:

    Good one, thanks. Another good occupation that writers could use is Parile Officer.

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