Conference Planned to Address Mental Wellness of Corrections Staff

The nation’s only nonprofit founded to address mental health issues involving correctional workers will hold a two-day conference in Colorado over the summer to discuss how workplace stress affects the lives of prison guards in state and federal lockups.Desert Waters, an organization based in Florence, Colo., and founded in 2003, is planning to host the gathering, called “Reaching Behind The Walls,” in Colorado Springs during the first week of May.

“It is the first ever gathering of corrections staff and mental health professionals that I am aware of on the subject of the impact of the corrections workplace on staff’s personal and family well-being,” says Dr. Caterina Spinaris Tudor in an e-mail regarding the event. “It is long, long overdue.”

Tudor, a licensed psychologist, founded Desert Waters after being exposed to correctional worker issues when she moved her private practice to Fremont County (home to the majority of the state’s prisons and three federal facilities) in 2000.

Since its inception, Desert Waters has implemented a variety of treatment programs focused on correctional workers, including a free and anonymous 24-hour hotline where prison guards from anywhere in the country can call in to talk with a trained responder.

Common problems faced by corrections staff include anxiety and depression, as Corry Hodge, a former guard who used to work for the federal government in Florence, explained to Colorado Confidential in an earlier report:

“You’re dealing with a depressed environment, a place where it just oozes negativity, and you’re just walking into a dungeon every day,” says former correctional worker Cory Hodge.

“People are being kept against their will, people’s attitudes are constantly bad, and it has a way of affecting people who work there.”

Hodge started working at the Florence [United States Penitentiary] in 2000, and in 2003 transferred to [the federal supermax facility] after being stabbed six times by an inmate.

“It was me and a female correctional officer, who ran after I was assaulted and pretty much left me for dead,” says Hodge. “I fought as hard as I could and I managed to get out into the inmate common area where a hundred other inmates surrounded me and were encouraging this other inmate to kill me.”

But while Hodge survived and moved on to [supermax], he was still plagued by nightmares of a place he couldn’t leave.

“I would go home and just try to get over my day’s work, and then I would close my eyes to go to sleep at night and then I would be right back at work in my dreams,” he says. “I would be dealing with inmates while I was sleeping, and then I would get up and go to work and I’d deal with inmates in real life.”

Finally, Hodge quit [supermax] in 2006, citing low staffing levels, a desire to spend more time with his family, and the fact that “it never got better, it always got worse.”

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About the Author

Erin Rosa

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature.

Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state.

Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters.

She can be reached at erosa@coloradoindependent.com.

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