Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hootch and Shanks

Before there was a blog, there was a book. I mean I was working on a book. It is called, Everything I Needed to Know About Parenting, I Learned in Prison.

The idea was/is to share stories from when I used to work as a Correctional Officer in prisons (yes, hard to believe I know), and relate that to parenting.

But what can I say? Blogging gives me greater latitude for subjects to write about, and more immediate gratification. I'm still planning to finish the book, it is just going a little slowly.

Hootch and Shanks

Inmates are very resourceful, too often not in healthy ways. They have been known to hoard kitchen scraps like bread and fruit to make an alcoholic beverage called Hootch. Worse, they find scraps of metal and sharpen them in to makeshift knives called Shanks. They are only allowed to use plastic silverware for this reason. Once when I was working, an inmate was killed in some gang rivalry, the murder weapon? The sharp edges of a shovel.

Naturally, there are rules against this sort of thing, but inmates are notorious for not keeping the rules. Officers conduct routine cell searches for this very reason. In a cell search the inmate is required to stand outside the cell, or he may not even be in the area. The officers, always two at a time, go in and search the cell inch by inch for any contraband. Contraband, of course, is anything against the rules, which includes food, pornography, shanks, etc. Once Officers found a list of names and credit card numbers in an inmate's cell, that was obviously confiscated!

Children are very resourceful also, fortunately not with the same mal intent as inmates. To a child, any bed, couch or chair is a mini-trampoline; any surface more than 12-inches off the floor, a jumping off point; any stick, branch, wrapping paper roll, becomes a sword. Sometimes these activities are just fun, but they can have unanticipated consequences.

An old friend of mine, Todd, related to me his boyhood story of how he and his brothers had been jumping off the roof of a shed on their property. Unfortunately, his brother slipped, fell and sliced his stomach open on a nail on the way down. Slowly he made his way to the house, hunched over and bleeding. His mother, who having boys, had seen a lot didn't even look up from her mopping. She just said, "Go back outside and don't drip blood on the floor." There's a practical mom for you! Of course, once she realized the gravity of the situation, she responded appropriately.

In prison, there are many, many volumes of rules and regulations, the main purpose of these volumes of restrictions is to keep the officers, and the inmates safe. Officers, of course, cannot possibly remember all the rules, but they remember their favorites. Probably the most frequently used is "disobeying a direct order."

As a parent, I decided it would be better to keep things simple. After all what good are would volumes of family rules be if half of your subjects can't even read yet?

So instead of numerous rules such as:
1. Don't jump on the bed.
2. Don't jump off the bed.
3. Don't climb on the table and jump off.
4. Don't play with knives.
5. Don't throw rocks.
6. Don't...
7. Don't...
8. Don't...

We have one rule that covers all of the above. "Proper Use" I explained to the children that when things are used in a manner different than what they were intended for property can be damaged, or worse people can get hurt. So when they do something inappropriate like jumping on the couch, I just look at them and say, "Proper Use". They know just what I mean.

We have a one rule for teasing too. We are a family that loves to tease and joke with each other. If a day goes by that my husband does not tease me about something, I think he is mad at me. With children however sometimes teasing can get out of hand. Our solution is a one-size-fits all rule, "Both people must be having fun." At any point in the teasing if one person doesn't like it any more it must stop.

Success in teaching our children to obey simple rules now i.e. respecting themselves, others and property will protect them from ever having to learn volumes of prison rules. . .unless they want to learn them as an Officer.


  1. Excellent post Leslie! Since DH is a correctional officer I appreciate & understand a little bit better what parents & correctional officers deal with every day!

    Love ya!

  2. Hey Susan! I think you told me that your dh is an officer before, but I forgot. It is a job that is never dull...that's for sure!

    Thanks for reading!

    Love, Leslie

  3. You have such a lovely way of clearing the brush and getting to the root of the matter. In the spirit of nurturing all that is unique in my children, I missed some of this point. Now that I am done raising my sons (mind you they aren't grown up but they've moved out of the tutelage stage and into real world apprenticeships), I realize that they would have benefitted from the life lesson of "intended use." Reading your insights is a highlight of my day. :-)

  4. A.

    Thank you so much, reading your kind words is the highlight of my day...and I needed that right now. Thanks again. Leslie


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