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.