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Acrostic Scrabble
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 07/08/2019

Jail interior
This is a series of new icebreakers from Joe Bouchard, a retired 25 year corrections veteran and corrections writer. He wrote these icebreakers for the International Association of Corrections Training Personnel (IACTP). These are a part of over 200 icebreakers Bouchard has written for IACTP since 2007. To learn more about IACTP, please visit www.iactp.org.

To run this simple exercise about codes used in prisons and jails:

  1. Read the introduction to participants
    Tic tac toe boards…
    Underlined letters…
    Deep codes…
    Anyone who has worked in corrections for a few years has seen at least one of these mechanisms used by offenders to mask communication from staff. But the more corrections staff are aware of the tactics, the more likely they will be to keep the facility safe for all.

    One method of coding is found in the acrostic. That is when the first letter of a word is the first letter in a coded word. If, for example, one wanted to convey the location of the hidden key, the note could say, “Use Night Darkness Every Routine Midnight And Twilight.” To most, that would seem to be gibberish. However, the first letters of each word written in order spell UNDERMAT, or under (the) mat.
  2. Unfold a scrabble game.
  3. Place a few random words from the entire pile of letters. For example, CROSS, HOUR, RASPY, IDLY, SAID (CHRIS).
  4. The words do not necessarily matter, though cryptic words add to the mystique.
  5. The words do not necessarily need to connect. The point is that the first letters of each word leave a clue in the acrostic method.
  6. Break the class into teams of four or five.
  7. Tell the teams that some prisoners known to use code were in the game room and left the following words on the scrabble board.
  8. Inform the class that the Inspector believes that this is a code and could possibly be an acrostic.
  9. Allow each team time to look at the board with the words on it.
  10. Let the teams find the acrostic and deliver its meaning.
  11. Modified acrostic mode can be played with advanced trainees. Once the words are laid on the scrabble board, simply announce that one letter in each word represents a part of a clue word. The letter in each word does not necessarily have to be the first letter.
Of course, it is a numbers game and offenders have ample time to devise new ways to conceal plans from staff. Still, every bit of knowledge counts. Understanding codes is a great way for staff to enhance security. Or, writing in an acrostic manner, “Sure am feeling extra terrific like you!” (S A F E T Y! or safety!)

Joe Bouchard is a retired corrections veteran and writer with 25 years of experience. At the time of his retirement, he was employed as a librarian by the Michigan Department of Corrections and was collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014” and "Operation Icebreakers: Shooting for Excellence" among others. The installments in this series include his opinions. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.


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