Correctional Officers, Wisdom

How to Protect Yourself From Sociopaths

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Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, tunneled out of Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York on June 6.

From several accounts, including statements from Matt’s own family and facts about his crime, this man is a psychopath; at minimum a sociopath.

The female employee fell “in love,” and was likely manipulated into doing things clearly outside of her job duties. This happens in correctional facilities. A lot.

This scenario bothered me, mainly because I’ve seen similar events happen where people get hurt, lose their job and crush their family.

There is never only one victim and often the community pays. This escape has more than 800 police officers looking for the convicts in a search that costs $1 million a day.

I’m not a psychologist, my degree is in sociology and criminal justice, but I do have first-hand experience with psycho/sociopaths through my 28 years working at the California Department of Corrections.

Plenty of staff members fell prey to smuggling in contraband (comfort items, drugs, money, etc.) when they fell for an inmate. In every case, the inmate gave them up (snitched on them) when confronted. So much for love.

The set-up for escapes and other illegal activities has happened throughout the nation in several prisons. In Baltimore, a prisoner ran his drug enterprise out on the streets through his, and his gang members, manipulative relationships with 13 female correctional officers (CO’s). Four female CO’s got pregnant from the ‘mastermind’ inmate.

In the Baltimore case, gang members were told to target women with “low self-esteem, insecurities,” and other personality traits seen as “weak.” The same has happened with male CO’s and female inmates. The CO’s and prison employees were ‘groomed.’

But, you don’t have to be employed in a prison to be taken by a psycho/sociopath. The T.V show, Catfished, illustrates that point. So do the Nigerian money schemes and other online manipulations.

Forewarned is forearmed.

These are the ‘symptoms’ of a sociopath/psychopath as described by Dr. Richard Hare, the expert in psychopathology and also the top FBI consultant on psychopaths. His book, Without Conscience, is an eye-opening read and still relevant after 15 years.

Dr. Harer describes a world of con artists, hustlers, and other predators who charm, lie and manipulate their way through life.

This information should be required reading for any correctional employee. I’d recommend it to anyone as there are sociopaths who manipulate people outside of any correctional facility.

Many sociopaths lie, cheat, steal and never enter the CJ system. They’re out in our communities embezzling money, duping men or women for money, or stealing from the elderly. is an interesting site on how to recognize and recover from sociopaths.

How can psycho/sociopaths be recognized? And how can you protect yourself?

Educate yourself and be aware.

Here are the traits cited by Dr. Hare:

Interpersonal traits

  • Glib and superficial
  • Egocentric and grandiose
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Lack of empathy
  • Deceitful and manipulative
  • Shallow emotions

Antisocial lifestyle

  • Impulsive
  • Poor behavior controls
  • Need for excitement
  • Lack of responsibility
  • Early behavior problems
  • Adult antisocial behavior

You don’t have to read the book to know that much of the manipulation on a person could have been stopped by having boundaries.

I like this definition given in an Indiana University self-awareness bulletin:

A boundary is a limit or space between you and the other person. You are the gate keeper and get to decide who you let in and who you keep out…You may still be keeping a distance, but you are giving them a chance to prove their trustworthiness both physically and emotionally. The purpose of setting a healthy boundary is, of course, to protect and take good care of you.

Healthy boundaries come from having healthy self-esteem and self-awareness. Here’s a great list of healthy and unhealthy boundaries.




Correctional Officers, Female Offenders, Women in Prison

What I Learned in Prison

                                                                    Women in Front and Behind the Cell Bars #3

Disclaimer: No real names used. These stories are from one employee’s perspective during 1980-2008 with the California Youth Authority (CYA).Training, classifications, and agency have significantly changed in the last 10-15 years. There is no longer a CYA, it merged under the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. This is the first post.
The red brick building I stopped in front of looked like the other eight buildings nearby. Behind me, I heard the sound of a car careening to a stop in front of the unit across the grass. Two Correctional Officers ran up the walkway towards the unit where Wise Ass had gone to just a couple of minutes earlier.
I pulled on the door handle of my assigned building and found it locked. A black rubber button on the left side of the door looked like a doorbell but something told me it wasn’t. I flipped through the five nearly identically shaped silver keys on the metal ring that Sarg had given me and slipped the largest key into the lock above the handle. The cylinder clicked but the door didn’t open. I tried twice more.

A knocking sound came from my right side. Two young women in blue t-shirts and jeans, inside the living unit, looked at me through a wide window. One pointed at the door and made a twisting motion with one hand and a pulling motion with the other.

                Okay, so the female offenders taught me how to open the unit door on my first day.

Once inside I heard some laughter. It came a quarter of the way down the hallway. I expected the offenders to laugh, but it was the staff members sitting on a desk. Oh yeah, they were expecting the ‘new boot.’

“At least you didn’t push the button,” the older guy said and smiled. He looked like Rosie Grier, the football player.

“Yeah, the other newbie across the way pushed it,” the woman who was about my mother’s age said and pointed to the unit where Wise Ass had entered. “It’s an alarm, not a doorbell.” She slapped her thigh, laughed hard and then hooted “Oh, lawd that was funny.” 

I drew a deep breath. Thank goodness, I listened to my gut.

The female staff member, Mrs. South, notified the unit supervisor that I had arrived and after introductions, she told me to watch and listen to my co-workers as they went about their shift. I had two days of ‘shadowing,’ the staff before I’d be on my own.

                                                    Have you ever gone to a foreign country?

You don’t know the language, culture or rules. That feeling of being out of place, stared at, and vulnerable sweeps over you. You try to act like you’re okay with everything, but you’re not. Several young women sat in large softback chairs arranged in slanted rows on the right side of the living area. They frequently turned and looked at me. They were checking me out. A pretty young woman with a blonde ponytail came up to the counter and wanted to know my name and age. I gave my first and last name.

Mrs. South asked if I was a Miss or Mrs., “I’m getting married in two months…” Her hand flew up in front of my face. “Call her Miss Alvarado,” she told the girl, who promptly left and spoke to a couple of other girls.

“Don’t give them more info than absolutely necessary,” she instructed me.

Rosey Grier shook his head. “No nicknames, horseplay, or otherwise over familiarization.” I never heard the word ‘horseplay’ before but I understood the rest.

“Before we leave this desk, take this.” Mrs. South handed me a shoestring knotted with another. “Use it as a belt. String your personal alarm and keys through it.” I was so embarrassed that I didn’t look at Rosey Grier.

                                                      As we walked and talked, she ‘schooled me down.’

Within a few hours, I had another vocabulary: wicket, yard, count, code 2, code 3, trays, scrape, 24’s, EP’s. “Keep your head up, watch your surroundings, don’t act scared even if you are.” I needed a notebook for the info and earplugs for the noise of clanking keys, doors, and buzzers.

Meanwhile, the female offenders looked at me or looked away from me. Some looked scary, some like typical high schoolers, a couple like surfer girls, and one like a shy mouse. My co-worker said I’d interact with the ‘wards,’ the next day.

“So are all of them here for misdemeanor stuff,” I asked.

“No, all felonies.”

This was confusing. In college, ‘wards,’ referred to wards of the court, under 18 years of age, not for felons. She saw the question on my face.

“This facility was modeled after Dr. Glasser’s therapies. The social workers tell us to call them wards.”

“You mean Dr. William Glasser, the founder of Reality Therapy?”

“He did his research here, but that was back in the early sixties when we had runaways and incorrigibles. Things have changed. There weren’t drug babies, coke fiends, and gangbangers back then like now,” she said.

After my eight hours were over, I felt a little disoriented. Mrs. South buzzed open the front door for me. “Don’t forget that belt tomorrow,” her voice rang out as I rushed out into the clear evening air.