Confessions Of A Prison Guard

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For many Americans, the recent hit TV series "Oz" on HBO along with Fox's "Prison Break" were the first insights into what it's like to be a prison guard. Of course, as is the case with any drama, it's difficult to tell whether the actors' portrayals of corrections officers are the real deal or simply tired stereotypes.

In the U.S., nearly half a million people were employed as correctional officers, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2010, the most recent available. With median pay of about $39,000, working as a prison guard is among the better-paying occupations that require no more than a high school diploma. Further, for many it's a secure job that promises years if not a lifetime of employment.

But it's also dangerous and stressful work, with one of the highest rates of on-the-job injuries -- which usually result from confrontations with prisoners. According to Corrections.com, a website dedicated to the profession, correctional officers have the second highest mortality rate of any occupation. Further, the site notes that prison guards on average live to be only 58 years old.

More: Ohio Jail Fights Women Guards' Discrimination Suit

So what's being a corrections officer really like? Job seekers who want to know will probably want to look beyond "Oz" and "Prison Break" to get a real taste. There's no shortage of first-person accounts on the Internet, including several recent postings on Reddit's IAmA, a website where Reddit users can ask questions of anyone who's offering to talk about his or her career and life. The answers frequently offer some fascinating real-life insight into any occupation.

One such thread, excerpts from which appear in the gallery below, features answers from Reddit user ziggymilson. He describes himself as a correctional officer at the Eastham Unit maximum security prison in Houston County, Texas, notable for once housing Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame -- the Depression-era duo who became infamous for a murderous string of bank robberies.

Among his responses, ziggymilson addresses some of the challenges that he faces on the job, which include outdated software and poor communications between staff. Still, the 20-year-old appears content with his job, adding that "day-to-day operations seem to run pretty smoothly in my neck of the woods." For more, check out the gallery below.

(Editor's note: Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" feature uses anonymous sources, which can't be verified. Excerpts that appear in the image gallery below have been minimally edited for style and punctuation.)


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What It's Like To Work As A Prison Guard
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Confessions Of A Prison Guard

A. It's one of the better jobs in the area, and my mother did it for 15 years as I was growing up. I knew it so I went in for it.

Source: DarkLiberator and ziggymilson on Reddit

A. It pays decently. I make close to $2,000 a month after taxes. The benefits are great; I pay close to $29 a month for full health coverage, dental, life insurance and short- and long-term disability insurance.

Source: Calidean and ziggymilson on Reddit

A. Personal safety is always an issue, I can just hope that I'm all right when something goes down. You do start acting differently on the outside, and behave differently than normal, you'll find yourself not wanting to sit with your back facing a door, or looking everyone dead in the eyes, just out of habit after a while, but usually it's nothing big.

Source: Calidean and ziggymilson on Reddit

A. It happens, we can't always stop it. It's always a big issue, but we do our best to make sure they're safe from rape, or any sexual harassment for that matter. We take it very seriously.

Source: sindher and ziggymilson on Reddit

A. I think the one that sticks the most was: "I'm doing two life sentences in here, you think killing you is going to f*** with what I'm doing?" Not really an insult, but it's the worst thing I've listened to.

Source: sophamapoph and ziggymilson on Reddit

A. I haven't met a man who hasn't owned up to what he did. They know they should be there and I know it's my job to keep them in.

Source: Diabetesh and ziggymilson on Reddit

A. We're not allowed to know what they did, they can tell us, but we can't go into records and look specifically. I choose not to know that way it keeps me in a professional state around them. I can't act one way to one and one way to another; that doesn't fly.

Source: Horseahead and ziggymilson on Reddit

A. A lot of time spent on shift is actually filling out paperwork; everything is documented. I work the night shift and have to count four times in the eight hours that I'm there. I also spend a lot of time turning out inmates for chow time, medical reasons and other various things.

Source: isometimesweartweed and ziggymilson on Reddit

A. Not anyone while I've been working here. I think the last attempt was seven years ago.

Source: 10110101101 and ziggymilson on Reddit

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