Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

Remarks by Commissioner Brian Fischer
Medals and Memorial Ceremony
Albany Training Academy
June 14, 2011

Last month many of us attended a memorial service at Green Haven Correctional Facility for a fallen officer, today we're here to acknowledge civilians and correction officers, and next month there will be a memorial for fallen Parole Officers and September will make the fortieth anniversary of Attica.

I mention all this as a way to keep our perspective in the proper place. We are all facing issues not of our making. Many of us feel the pressure to do more with less, to rise above unfair criticism and to accept our complicated roles within state operations. Because most outsiders fail to understand that which we do, I suspect some of us have even begun to ask ourselves, "Is it all worth it?"

Perspective is necessary.

With the Division of Parole and the Department of Correctional Services joined as one organization, our 31,000+ staff inter-act on a daily basis with over 91,000 offenders, both inside the prisons and in the community. We do this day in and day out, twenty-four seven. We do it because that's what is expected of us, and that is what we have trained for. We do it, knowing the hazards, the problems, the frustrations and yes, even knowing the danger. While some people call it professional duty, I like to think of it as our personal commitment. Accepting what needs to be done while being aware of what can go wrong is what it's all about.

It is why perspective is important, and why we combine our memorial service with an honor ceremony. We demonstrate the full range of our daily efforts, the consequences of terrible acts against us, while we also celebrate the heroic accomplishments of our co-workers. The two are not opposite actions but part of a continuum of action from the worst to the best and back again as incidents and opportunities develop.

No words of sorrow or sympathy can undo the loss of our fellow colleagues. For those no longer with us, however, our presence here today speaks louder than words. We come together out of respect and as a show of solidarity in the face of uncertainty.

For those we honor today, the four correction officers who placed the needs of others before their own safety, we come together to say, "Well done, you deserve the recognition of us all."

Together, the two elements show the worst that can happen and the best that does happen, all within the scope of our daily activities. Other than members of the State Police and the Division of Military and Naval Affairs, what other state agency staff encounters the worst and best in the same environment.

Why then do we all go to work every day, knowing what bad things might happen? Why then do we stop and lend ourselves to others as today's heroes did? What makes us who we are?

I choose to believe that we act as we do because while we seldom talk about it, we are all basically ethical people who understand our role in our society. Whether we man a gate or tower, make a home visit to a parolee, cut down an offender attempting suicide or jumping out of our cars to come to the aid of someone we don't even know, we do so because of our principals. We're not above making mistakes, not above acting out of emotion rather than intellect, nor about putting ourselves first. We are mortal, with all the inconsistencies that come with being mortal. Yet, at the same time, we strive to do the right thing. We have principals and they set us straight when we follow them. It is why we go to work every day in the most complicated of worlds.

In the words of an unknown author: "When one bases his life on principle, ninety-nine percent of his decisions are already made."

This is the fifth time I have spoken at our memorial and medal ceremony. I have come to understand that while speeches are what is expected and appropriate, the brotherhood and sisterhood that we share is far more important to our agency. We have faced many difficulties in the past and will undoubtedly face more in the coming months. So long as we remember those who came before us, and take notice of those who have stepped up and acted with honor as our medal awardees have done, we will not only continue but advance in our efforts to operate the best correctional and parole system in the country.

Thank you.