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Professionalism During the COVID-19 Pandemic

During my days as an infantry soldier in the U.S. Army we had a motto: “Train as you fight.” In other words we, as soldiers, would train as if we were actually in combat (e.g. physical, mental, spiritual). In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is witnessing how various levels of government are handling the crisis. Obviously, opinions will vary as to how well our government reacts to the Coronavirus attack. While the world is separated, shut-in, anxious and fearful, life for inmates here at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington, runs at near normalcy. Why? Anecdotally speaking, it may be because correctional officers deal daily with chaos and change. Maybe, like the army, they “train as they fight.” This essay details what Washington State is doing right by correctly reacting to the unknowns of the Covid-19 pandemic.

One of the best performance indicators to evaluate staff is looking at the population serviced. If the service is keeping things as normal as possible for the population in question, the staff is considered doing very well. The staff have been able to keep hot and nutritious meal service to the inmates. This included adjusting to religious observances for Jewish Passover and Muslim Ramadan. Walla Walla Community College delivered homework packets and laptops so that students could finish work towards their associate degrees in business and digital design. Adhering to social distancing recommendations, inmates receive yard and dayroom use based on an organized schedule. In addition, many jobs are still operating as the penitentiary is a near self-sustaining organization. All in all, the inmates are allowed all the rights and privileges they normally receive due to the expert training of the staff, and commitment to duty. The expertise is validated by the simple observation that normal services are offered with little to no interruption. As opposed to the outside world, the inmates here have less stress, anxiety, and frustration.

“The staff here demonstrate great calmness in the midst of chaos, which creates order. All things considered, inmates seem to comply in an understanding manner.”

Another stress indicator for grading organizations and their staff is the ability to establish and maintain communication. In military organizations, communication operations are top priority. Here at the penitentiary, inmates receive regular and constant reminders via email, kiosk, memos, and staff, addressing COVID-19 concerns and applications to reduce infection. The staff released memos on masks, health updates, medical services, and changes to schedule, the idea being more information is best. Phone vendors have teamed up with the state government to offer two five-minute calls, free-of-charge, allowing inmates to keep in contact with loved ones during this uncertain time. In addition, access to news media and email provide alternate options for inmates to contact loved ones when they cannot call during scheduled times, in observance of social distancing. Inmate access to critical information, open lines of communication, and outside media indicates a well-run organization and staff that can adjust and react quickly to necessary changes.

How the staff operates in times of stress, I would argue, also determines the level of professionalism in the line of duty. A major indication is command and control. The staff here demonstrate great calmness in the midst of chaos, which creates order. All things considered, inmates seem to comply in an understanding manner. They exhibit reduced stress and anxiety. And organization by all staff, including correctional officers, seems to be at higher levels. Medical treatment has been exceptionally professional and caring. The medical staff takes the time to diagnose various symptoms, and patiently answer questions and concerns. Institutional staff have been observed logging extra hours in overtime, covering all areas to keep standard operations running smoothly. Additionally, correctional staff extend great courtesy and respect to inmates during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

However, during my time here at the penitentiary, this level of professionalism is present divorced from the crisis as well. The point being, there are so many things the staff is doing well that it would be difficult to list. Professionalism and duty seem to be a part of the organized culture at Washington State Penitentiary; whether due to leadership, training, or employee attributes, these people are to be commended.

In this essay, I have tried to relay the exceptional professionalism in the line of duty here at Washington State Penitentiary. This professionalism has resulted in a virtually seamless operation during the most chaotic time in our world history. I attributed this to three factors; maintenance of normal operations, increased contact with the outside world, and exceptional professionalism and dissemination of critical information by correctional, educational, and medical staff. I wish to thank Governor Jay Inslee, the Department of Corrections (DOC), DOC staff, and Walla Walla Community College for keeping all of us safe, sane, and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. God bless.

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

Corey Minatani is a writer formerly incarcerated in Washington state. He has a doctorate in ministry in theology at International Christian College and Seminary. He is also pursuing a paralegal certificate from Blackstone Career Institute. As an industrial/organizational psychologist, he evaluates prison college pedagogy, operations and grievance systems. Corey’s pieces are submitted via American Prison Writing Archive, a partner of the Global Forum Online.