Nursing Behind Bars: My Experience As a Corrections Nurse

Ten years into practicing nursing, I was experiencing burnout, exhaustion, and apathy. I spent three of those 10 years working as a staff nurse in med-surg and perioperative units and the rest in various positions in home health and hospice.

Kelly Langford, RN

Since I wasn’t willing to switch careers, I decided to try a different specialty — something challenging, a bit more exciting, and outside my comfort zone. Flipping open the local newspaper to the classified section, I began scanning the pages for anything to pique my interest when I saw the ad: Part-time Correctional Facility Nurse needed for County Jail.

In my mind’s eye, I could envision myself in an episode of “Cops” or “Law and Order.” Life was finally going to get exciting! My nursing career was about to take a trip into the unknown.

Stepping Into the Unknown

I called the number listed in the ad, and the person I spoke with seemed genuinely excited to interview me. She said my work history sounded perfect, and she was eager to put me to work as a corrections nurse. My hands began to shake, and I felt nauseated as I pulled up to the building. I kept asking myself, “What in the heck am I doing?”

Taking a deep breath, I steadied my nerves and gave myself a quick pep talk, “It’s only an interview. They won’t throw you behind bars.”

The nurse manager met me in the front office, and I followed her through to the secured section of the building. She produced a large set of old skeleton keys and inserted one into the lock of an enormous, time-worn, steel door. We walked together through the doorway and she locked it behind us.

“Always close and lock this door,” she said. “We are entering the section of the building where there are inmates.”

The nursing office was a cramped, windowless room with gray cement walls, dim fluorescent lighting, and sparse furniture. A desk with an older computer screen sat to the left, a medicine cart straight ahead against the far wall, and a patient examination table to the right.

The nurse manager began the interview. “As corrections nurses, we have to be one part nurse and one part corrections officer. Does that bother you?” she asked.

“My mother was a state trooper, so I am not new to the world of law enforcement,” I told her.

A smile lit up her face. “If you pass the background check and drug screening, consider yourself our newest corrections nurse,” she said.

Welcome to the Jungle

My days were often fast paced and unpredictable. One afternoon when I was passing out the evening meds, a jailer grabbed me and said, “We need you in medical right away.” The officers just brought in a known drug dealer.

Zeus (the drug-sniffing dog) had gotten the better of the man, and he was in pretty bad shape. As I walked into the nursing office, I saw the guy lying on the examination table and moaning in pain. On his left arm was a deep tooth-shaped wound, …read more

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