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Tales from the Local Jail: A Good Mentor Is…. Part II
By Gary F. Cornelius, First Lt. (Retired)
Published: 10/26/2022

Rolemodel A professional staff working inside a jail is as strong as the supervision, training and mentoring officers receive. Back in June 2014, I wrote a column titled A Good Mentor Is. I discussed in that column the value of mentors-the professional correctional officers (COs) that help staff throughout their careers.

Mentors-these are the officers that help other COs stay on the right path and leave a lasting impression on all that they come into contact with. They have been described as what my World War II era relatives called the ‘Steady Eddies’-the officers that help things get done, take care of problems and work for the good of all. Remember those old war movies? When the new replacements get off the truck and report to their squads, the grizzled old veteran sergeants assign them to the veterans-the ones that know what to do.

The same is true for corrections. Mentors are willing to help, have good ethics and a sense of duty, and lead by example-even though they may not have rank. They are enthusiastic, curious about new and better ways to do the job, communicate well with other staff and are mature. Mentors see a problem and their first instinct is to not complain but work to solve it.

Stress is a problem in corrections, and COVID-19, short staffing and protests advocating the defunding of jails and the police have resulted in some COs feeling ‘burned out’. Some may think that the best way to work in corrections is to come in, do the job and collect the pay. Many of us, myself included, felt a calling to public service. There is no ‘magic wand’ to make the job stress free, or to stop us from getting frustrated and emotional. But if you are understanding what I am saying, mentors appear to take things in stride.

For example, you are a CO working inside a jail unit. Maybe you are relatively new to the job. You tell a group of rowdy inmates to quiet down. They know that you are new. They say to you that they are not making that much noise, and you ‘picking on them’ is not fair. You repeat the order, and they repeat their comments. You call for backup-and the veteran CO responds, the CO that has been on the job for many years. He backs you up, telling the inmate that you have given them an order, and that he knows the inmates from working in that unit. He stands by your side and tells the inmates that they will quiet down-just like they were asked to do, or maybe the unit television will be turned off, everyone will be locked down and “my colleague (you) and I will discuss with you the benefits of having less noise in the unit”. Oh, he continues, “it is close to dinner time, and you all are hungry, but we will resolve this first. It may take a while-but the quieter and more cooperative you all are-the smoother things will be. Now you all think about that and pay attention to your unit officer. It is your choice”. The mentor-the veteran CO who wants what you want-a smooth shift-just showed you one way to handle loud inmates. He clearly laid out the consequences and the choices they had. The mentor has given you a tool to keep in your toolbox-and showed you one way to resolve an issue. He talks about this later, explaining that in his many years on the job-if you tell the inmates what may happen and how they can influence it, they have a way out. It gives them the power of choice-and things can calm down.

On a side note, I assist in presenting general instructor training at the Hampton Roads criminal Justice Training Academy in Newport News, Virginia and have done so for the past several years. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this training is that I continue to learn more about corrections and training from students-law enforcement officers (LEOs) in the class. To pass, each LEO must present a fifteen-minute presentation. Topics are of their own choosing. One presentation was The Benefits of Mentorship, from Deputy Lynn Claiborne, Commander of Training and Development at the Hampton, Virginia Sheriff’s Office.

Deputy Claiborne discussed how valuable mentors are. Thinking outside the box, mentors can also be described as:
  • Providing motivation to fellow officers.
  • Giving good, practical advice.
  • Sharing their experiences and views to facilitate success in how COs do the job.
  • Giving direction-if a CO is heading down the wrong path, the mentor can direct him or her.
  • Achieving goals on how the CO wants his ort her career to go.
  • Providing support: the COs realize that they are not alone.
  • Being a coach: just like on the athletic field, mentors are the coaches that teach players the best ways to perform.
Also, mentors develop proteges. Protégés are the people that are supported and guided by a more experienced person-who has an influence. In my 2014 column, I spoke of ‘Corporal Bob’, who gave me advice and ‘showed me the ropes’. What I learned from here stayed with me throughout my 27 plus year career.

Let’s be realistic. Some COs are jaded and negative. They may think that the job is not a good one, and no matter what mentors do and what their proteges learn, it won’t make a difference. The job ‘sucks’. Deputy Claiborne explains that there are good benefits from mentoring. For the mentor, there is a sense of self improvement as skills are improved. Mentors know that they have done a good thing, and this results in self-satisfaction. The same results hold true for the protégé-a satisfying feeling of self-improvement. This builds confidence, and to work inside a jail, confidence of officers is very important. Finally, all of this benefits the organization. Knowledge is shared-from the veterans who pass what they have learned onto new staff. Leadership is diversified-as new ways are learned to handle situations. This all serves to build a strong culture-an environment where COs think outside the box and develop ways to deal with situations on the job. While the aforementioned example of noisy inmates may seem trivial, all of us who have worked inside a jail have learned that there are many different ways to handle different problems.

In closing-appreciate your mentors. Develop them, and your staff will benefit.

Thank you to Deputy Lynn Claiborne, Hampton, Virginia, Sheriff’s Office for contributing to this article.


Claiborne, Lynn. (2022, July). The Benefits of Mentorship. Power Point Presentation, Hampton Roads Criminal Justice Training Academy.

Cornelius, Gary F. (2014, June 12). Tales From the Local Jail: A Good Mentor Is..The Corrections Connection. http://garycornelius.corrections.com/?p=225

Lt. Gary F. Cornelius retired in 2005 from the Fairfax County (VA) Office of the Sheriff, after serving over 27 years in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. His prior service in law enforcement included service in the United States Secret Service Uniformed Division. His jail career included assignments in confinement, work release, programs and classification.

He has been an adjunct faculty member of the Criminology, Law and Society Department at George Mason University since 1986, where he has taught four corrections courses: punishment and corrections, community corrections, jails and preparation for internship. He also teaches corrections in service sessions throughout Virginia, and has performed training and consulting for the American Correctional Association, the American Jail Association and the National Institute of Justice. He has also presented webinars and Skype presentations on correctional issues. His latest book, The Correctional Officer: A Practical Guide: Third Edition was published in April 2017 by Carolina Academic Press. He has authored several other books in corrections, including The Art of the Con: Avoiding Offender Manipulation, Second Edition, (2009) from the American Correctional Association, and
The American Jail: Cornerstone of Modern Corrections, (2008) from Pearson Prentice Hall. Gary has received a Distinguished Alumnus Award in Social Science from his alma mater, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and an Instructor Appreciation Award from George Mason University. In January 2011, Gary started a blog “Tales from the Local Jail” on The Corrections Connection (www.corrections.com) followed in December 2012 by his second blog, “Talks About Training” on Corrections One (www.correctionsone.com). Gary has served on the Board of Directors of the International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP) representing local adult corrections. He has corrections projects in development, including, a new second edition of The Twenty Minute Trainer, from the Civic Research Institute, and a new third edition of Stressed Out: Strategies For Living and Working in Corrections from Carolina Academic Press. Gary has appeared on CNN, MSNBC and Tier Talk, discussing corrections security, training and staff issues. He presents training for InTime Solutions and Lexipol. He resides in Williamsburg, Virginia.


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