The Words on the Wall:

The story behind the 364-word mural in entrance hallway at JATC, formerly Rikers Island Penitentiary

A few strides inside the James A. Thomas Center, just beyond the entrance door of this former penitentiary on Rikers Island, the hallway wall on the right displays 1,649 characters carefully painted in 1995 by an inmate artist acting under supervision of the then detention facility's administration.


NYC DOC Correction Officer views JATC entrance hallway mural of Correctional Officers' Creed.
Beneath the title Correctional Officers' Creed, the characters form 364 words on a parchment-like scroll, also painted on the wall.

Here are those words and the story behind their placement on the wall:

To speak sparingly ... to act, not to argue ... to be in authority through personal presence ... to correct without nagging ... to speak with the calm voice of certainty ... to see everything, know what is significant and what not to notice ... to be neither insensitive to distress nor so distracted by pity as to miss what must elsewhere be seen ...

To do neither that which is unkind nor self-indulgent in its misplaced charity ... never to obey the impulse to tongue lash that silent insolence which in times past could receive the lash ... to be both firm and fair ... to know I cannot be fair simply be being firm, nor firm simply by being fair ...


After entering JATC and proceeding toward the metal detection checkpoint, one can spot the CO Creed mural on the right wall of the hallway.
To support the reputations of associates and confront them without anger, should they stand short of professional conduct ... to reach for knowledge of the continuing mysteries of human motivation ... to think; always to think ... to be dependable ... to be dependable first to my charges and associates, and thereafter to my duty as employee and citizen ... to keep fit .. .to keep forever alert ... to listen to what is meant as well as what is said with words and with silences ...

To expect respect from my charges and my superiors yet never to abuse the one for abuses from the other ... for eight hours each working day to be an example of the person I could be at all times .. .to acquiesce in no dishonest act ... to cultivate patience under boredom and calm during confusion ... to understand the why of every order I take or give ...

To hold freedom among the highest values though I deny it to those I guard ... to deny it with dignity that in my example they find no reason to lose their dignity ... to be prompt ... to be honest with all who practice deceit that they not find in me excuse for themselves ... to privately face down my fear that I not signal it ... to privately cool my anger that I not displace it on others ... to hold in confidence what I see and hear, which by the telling could harm or humiliate to no good purpose ... to keep my outside problems outside ... to leave inside that which should stay inside ... to do my duty.


On the wall opposite the CO Creed mural is a plaque, more than a half-century old, listing Rikers Island employees who served in the Armed Forces during WWII.
The author's name, Bob Barrington, appears at the bottom as does the year painted, 1995.

Robert Barrington was a professor at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.

A member of the university's Department of Criminal Justice studies, he died of cancer in 1992.

Prof. Barrington personally knew what of he wrote. He also had close ties with correctional officers. His essays often dwelt on the challenges they face in carrying out their jobs and on the lack of public understanding of their profession.

His Correctional Officers' Creed was adopted by the International Association of Correctional Officers, published in its quarterly magazine, and printed on small cards that became part of the package of materials given to new IACO members.

At some point in 1995 that wallet-size Creed card came to the attention of JATC's administration.


Beneath the words of the Creed the muralist "signed" its author's name in the lower right of the scroll.
Considering the Correctional Officers' Creed to be a well-phrased motivational piece that could help promote esprit de corps, morale and a deep sense of professionalism, authorization was given to have the words prominently positioned where they could be seen daily by officers.

At the time, an inmate mural painting program was in progress at the facility.

So the idea of affixing the 364 words to the entrance hall wall came readily to mind.


Above: The inmate artist initialed his mural in the lower left corner and added "95" to signify the year.

Below: In the mural's lower right corner, he also dated it, using A. D. as in anno Domini (Latin for "in the year of Our Lord"), an ornamental flourish, and "95."


Making the display large enough to be easily read from a distance was a factor weighing in favor of a mural rather than a framed typewritten sheet of paper.

Inmate mural painting took place during evening hours to avoid interfering with the heavy volume of hallway traffic during daytime hours.

The name of the inmate artist still eludes research but he is believed to one who painted several JATC murals.

By far, Prof. Barrington's best known essay is Correctional Officers' Creed.

It has had wide-spread circulation in print media and on the web as well.

Besides being mural-ized on Rikers Island, the words have been adopted and adapted by various correction agencies into their officer training programs

Another Prof. Barrington essay also given some attention in correction circles has been his


The professional correctional officer follows a strange calling. He keeps people where they don't want to be and don't want to stay and no one likes him for it. By doing his job well, he helps inmates in ways they may not appreciate or acknowledge.


Another view of the CO Creed mural looking back from the metal detection checkpoint toward facility's entrance area.
The correctional officer protects inmates from the anger and guilt they feel for other reasons. He enforces rules which protect them from themselves and from one another in subtle ways civil rights lawyers never suspect.

The correctional officer knows inmates as people, 24 hours a day. He knows them as does no other employee in the justice system. Their snores, coughs, moans and screams, and their fitful sleeplessness at night, their bathroom and eating habits, their bullying, their remarkable idiom and symbols, and unique body language, the kindness and tension rise and subside to mysterious, unconscious tides and social rhythms no sociological treatise will ever explain.

Scholarly criminologists who never carried the keys frequently remark that correctional officers, like inmates, are "doing time." It is usually said for effect ... but it says nothing to the initiated. It isn't true.


A last close-up of the mural to call attention to the artistic skill of the inmate muralist. In painting a brass-color framework, he matched the brass bar look of the adjacent telephone booth door's Art Deco design. The mural's other colors match or blend with the floor and hallway wall colors. The text's nature as a "Creed" and the mural's location in vicinity of the officers' Roll Calls and opposite the WWII Honor Roll made placement of the words on an open roll of parchment appropriate. Whomever "GnZ" is or was, he did well. One suspects Prof. Barrington would have appreciated it.
Correctional officers don't do time. No one should try to lay that on them. They needn't accept a transfer of guilt from [any] quarter. Not from inmates, surely, because, correctional officers have not done the crimes that bring people to prisons.

If he is professional, the correctional officer does his job knowing he will not be romanticized by t.v. like police.

By those who want him to be a helping person, he will be seen as punitive. They usually don't consider how hard it is for the normal person to routinely inflict discomfort without provocation.

He will absorb and contain hostility without being himself hostile and will pay the price of that. He is the stuff high blood pressure is made of.


Prof. Barrington was appointed by Michigan's governor to the state's Correctional Officers' Training Council (emblem above) and was elected its chairman. The council oversees operations of the state's CO training academy (illustration below).

The correctional officer will do his job knowing that citizens who demand big time sentences for criminals will not pay big taxes to buy the painfully expensive maximum security space that these sentences require. As always, however, the job will be done though the risks are increased. The correctional officer is not doing time. He is doing a job and that's enough.

Those words and the Correctional Officers' Creed were authored by an academician whose knowledge of Correction and its Officers wasn't academic.

Bob Barrington's early professional career years were spent, first as a Probation and Parole Officer and later as a Correctional Officer, with Wisconsin state correctional agencies.

Given his B.A. and M. A. degrees in social work from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and his penchant for writing crisp, clear and often compelling prose, he rose steadily through the ranks and up the command ladder to become the superintendent of training, to sit on the state parole board and to chair its sex crimes panel.

In 1968, Bob accepted an invitation to head a correctional training center at the University of Ottawa, returning to the U.S. about a decade later to chair the Criminal Justice Studies Department at the University of North Michigan in Marquette.


Bob and Florence Barrington.
In the mid-1980s, Prof. Barrington chaired the Michigan Correctional Officers’ Training Council -- a governor-appointed panel -- overseeing operations of the state's correctional academy and related programs.


Click image for PDF of CO Creed mural facsimile by NYCHS.
He played a leading role in establishing the training curriculum for Michigan COs.

Through his work and writings with the International Association of Correctional Officers, his promotion of Correction professionalism extended beyond state and national boundaries.

With advancing years, he stepped away from his UNM chairmanship but continued as a faculty member, teaching until his death in 1992.

His survivors include his wife, four sons, a daughter and seven grandchildren.

Mrs. Barrington presented the university with his collection of books and other reading materials on correctional-related subjects.


Prof. Barrington, left, and Dr. Jess Maghan, right, then NYC DOC Assistant Commissioner for Training, were IACO leaders. With them in the image above is Mrs. Barrington as IACO honored Bob at retirement.
They became the featured items in the "Bob Barrington Library & Reading Room" that UNM dedicated in his honor in Gries Hall on the Marquette campus.

His widow, Florence, noted he came from a family of educators:

"Both his parents were teachers and their three sons -- Bob and his two brothers -- all became educators."

Florence said that Barrington, growing up during the Great Depression, used to visit the shanty camps of the unemployed poor near his hometown of Waupaca, Wisc.


UNM sign identifies Bob Barrington Library & Reading Room.
Those scenes of jobless people -- desperate, despairing, all needing a chance, all hungry for a decent meal and for some hope -- made a lasting impression on him.

After WWII Navy service in the European and Pacific Theatres, he pursued social work studies and entered upon a correctional career.

"He wanted to make a difference," his widow said.

Her soft voice pronounced the words with a firmness that reflected her unspoken conviction that he had.

--- To Rikers Pen/HDM/JATC inmate murals
--- To Anton Refregier's WPA mural Home & Family.
To NYCTV photographer Peter Bossio's photos of Refregier's Rikers WPA mural --
--- Rikers Penitentiary mess hall movie mural
--- To Harold Lehman's Rikers Penitentiary mess hall WPA mural.
--- To Ben Shahn's NY -- Rikers Mural: NYCHS Excerpts.
--- To NYCHS home page.