“Emotional labor is the process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfill the emotional requirements of a job. More specifically, workers are expected to regulate their emotions during interactions with customers, co-workers, and superiors” (Hochschild 1983).
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In a discussion from my Sociology class, I was obliged to respond to someone who offered a unique perspective about the emotional labor involved in working in a prison. I was fascinated by her title, “Working in a Prison,” thinking that there was some deep, hidden meaning, yet still, I was surprised by her insight. Her discussion pointed out that correctional officers often had to develop a “cold-hearted and mean prison personality.” I can understand and relate very intimately with the need for a separate work personality that often forces a person to become someone that they no longer recognize. Personally, I believe this asserts a whole new facet of the emotional labor mentioned in my class’ textbook titled, You May Ask Yourself, which reads, “While all public life requires some self-management of feelings, service sector jobs are thought to be extreme in this regard (Grandey et al., 2005)” (Conley 2019: 597). The negative effects of a separate work persona are evident in moments where the two personalities collide, causing that prison mentality to sometimes come out at home. Emotional labor of this sort makes it difficult to re-adjust, such as Conley’s statement about corporate psychopaths from our text, which reads, “Corporations act like psychos, claimed Federal Bureau of Investigation consultant Robert Hare in the film because they show little regard, remorse, or guilt for harming others; they are unable to maintain long-term relationships; they lie all the time; and they fail to conform to social norms by obeying the law” (Conley 2019: 602). This describes perfectly the difficulty that soldiers face after coming home from war.
I would say that the prison personality of correctional officers is very similar to the war mentality that soldiers developed while deployed, especially in the circumstances of soldiers who spent a significant amount of time “outside the wire,” meaning outside of the US military camps and behind enemy lines. The difficulty was in identifying the enemy because the enemy was disguised as innocent civilians. US troops are bound by the laws of warfare in the Geneva Convention, which clearly orders that warring parties have a duty to protect civilians, the sick and wounded soldiers, and prisoners of war. Strangely enough, Iraq was also bound by the same laws, being one of nearly two hundred countries that signed the agreement. In 2003, when US troops invaded Iraq once again, they were forced to adapt to the sudden need to be emotionally detached as seemingly innocent civilians, men, women, and children alike, were used as weapons to execute suicide bombings and human shields for insurgents to execute attacks. In the series of violations of our own consciences, we had become people that we no longer recognized with a tremendous amount of unwanted memories of what we did when we were soldiers. Many families have struggled with our returning soldiers, who had become someone their family no longer recognized while the person that the soldier used to be, died mentally... behind enemy lines.
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Conley, Dalton. You May Ask Yourself: An Introduction to Thinking Like a Sociologist. Sixth Edition. W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
Hochschild, Arlie Russell (1983). The managed heart: commercialization of human feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-05454-7.