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Addiction to Chaos

By Anonymous Correctional Professional

Say what? Yes, chaos “addiction” is real. Is it an adrenalin addiction? Where did it come from? When did it first become apparent that it may be causing problems in your life? Was it before or after your job in corrections began that you had chaos addiction issues?

I may touch on subjects that anger you, but hear me out. Please.

Were you, like me, raised in a home where chaos was a typical day? Maybe there was substance abuse or domestic violence in your home. That brings a lot of chaos on. Maybe there were sibling rivalries. That can make chaos. Maybe there were absent parents. This can make chaos by either making you the parent yourself and/or your siblings. That extra stress, and pressures of responsibility, the fear of failing can lead to living in chaos. Another scenario could be that parents stay out drinking every night and they come home to violent arguments until they pass out. Hearing the constant yelling, crying, and slamming doors every night could make you comfortable in chaos because this becomes a typical day in your life.

Nine times out of ten you continued this lifestyle in your relationships because that was your “normal.” Well, you grew up, you survived, and now it’s time to pick your career and get a job.

Let’s see, what are you going to be when you grow up? Hmmm……Car salesman? No, how boring to have to kiss someone’s butt for an hour or so to sell them a car you could not care less about. No, don’t think so…. Boring! Truck driver, be alone 24/7…. Boring!

Whoa, here’s something that I think will be perfect! Department of Corrections staff. Sounds interesting. You apply, you get hired, you fit like a hand in a glove. How can this be? You found your kryptonite…. CHAOS!!! The old familiar, blood pumping action, and even better than your childhood memories of your heart-pounding, adrenalin-pumping days gone by. It feeds your flame to the point of no return, or so it seems.

If you are at your max of chaos addiction or see yourself heading to that point, please get help! You do not have to suffer alone! Your employer has mental health contacts that can help you 365/24/7. Just call the number for Employee Assistance on the back of your insurance card. I am from Indiana, and we get eight free therapy sessions per year for mental health.

But wait, there’s more! We are going to use the coin analogy. You are on one side of the coin. Offenders are on the other side of the coin. What?! Where in the heck am I going with this, you ask.

Maybe you came from a chaotic home. You can pretty much bet that many offenders came from that same chaos to the nth degree. Their environment included abandonment, gangs, generational gang pressures, drugs, prostitution, violence, sexual abuse, etc. They break the law, end up in prison, and guess what? They fit like a hand in a glove. In prison they find all of the chaos they could ever want, and more. It’s a comfortable place.

Sounds familiar? The good news though is that both groups of people on the coin are capable of change. The first step is to recognize the chaos addiction and own it. Neither side of the coin realizes that they are feeding each other’s addictions.

Some require professional help to come up with a plan and to figure out how to work with it. Some will require medication and/or therapy during the process of recovering from an addiction to chaos. That does not show a sign of weakness. This shows you are human, and that you are serious about breaking the cycle of chaos that you are stuck in. This cycle may have been passed down for generations. “Normal” is more than just a setting on your dryer. When you are not used to it, it’s very uncomfortable and boring. Can you imagine day after day with NO amped up drama or stress? No more heart pounding out of your chest? No more yelling or slamming stuff around?

Once you face your chaos addiction, and you more or less come up on the other side (on a good day), the new you is calm as a cucumber, mellow, smiling, with an even tone of voice. But you’re still effective and professional, getting the same job done, only without drama. You keep yourself in check, and those around you will act accordingly. You may even get others on board with you, once they see the new you. I think others will want to know your “secret.”

In order to remove chaos from prisons, both sides of the coin would have to be dedicated to the change, and work toward resolution. It would be hard to get all on board, but if you make it a “mission statement” of the facility, it could be done. It would be a slow process, but I’ve heard in my life’s journeys that “slow and steady wins the race.”

Most important is to get yourself fixed. It is not your job to fix everyone else. Fix yourself, and pray for everyone else.

NOTE: I am not just referring to correctional officers. I am talking about all corrections staff. We all experience trauma while inside the fence. My office for two years was located on a dorm with 120 men and one officer, and yes, I am a female. I have worked with all sorts of offenders during my 28 years inside the fence. I feel that even those that grew up in the perfect storybook setting home can fall into the chaos trap. It fills a gap of what was lacking in their lives, and when they discover it, it can overtake them.

My personal experience with chaos addiction comes from a childhood of abandonment, alcohol being the cause. As I aged, I was attracted to people that dished out the same pattern. I found perfect relationships to fit my sick need, not realizing this until decades later in life. I latched onto partners that were not available. A few were married, the others not emotionally available because of the constant drug induced stupor that they lived in. Some didn’t even want a relationship. This way I was always ready to be abandoned, and their constant drama kept my chaos addiction fed. I can’t say that I am making wiser choices all the time now at home or at work. Both places keep me supplied in adrenalin. Life is good, right?! Wrong!! It’s not healthy to live like that.

One time I was in a “non-chaotic” relationship. I think that’s called “normal.” Talk about dull, what a snorer! I don’t know how those “normal” people do it. Did you ever watch paint dry? Well, it’s like that. Same ho-hum—day in and day out. But somehow, we have to break the pattern that we are all in (most without even knowing it.)

So, in my estimation, staff and offenders have become chaos addicts, and most come from crappy childhoods. And they’re passing the dysfunction on to their children, and their children pass it on to their children, etc.

Now what??? I wonder if there could be group therapy sessions offered at work for staff who are interested in learning more about chaos addiction. It would need to be offered to all shifts so that no one is left out. What about staff groups and also offender groups taking place? Then, after about six months, what about offering combined chaos addiction groups of both staff and offenders?

I believe that once we all realize what each other has gone through, we’d look at each other in a different light. I also feel that the mindset of prison staff would become more understanding towards both coworkers and offenders, and everyone would help each other get through the “withdrawals” from chaos addiction that will be experienced. I feel that the awareness factor alone on both sides of the coin would start positive change that is so desperately needed.

In this article I presented the problem as I see it. I presented some solutions. I don’t know where to go with it from here.

In closing, for decades I have had this burning desire to write about chaos addiction. Hopefully, I will find some peace knowing that I finally shared it. I will have twenty-nine years in the corrections field in November 2021, if I don’t retire before that. I am eligible for my full Social Security benefits August 25, 2021. Back when I had a lot of years to get to that date, it seemed like forever. And I couldn’t wait for that day to arrive. Now that it’s getting close, I find that I do not want to cut the cord.

What has changed to make me feel this way now? Is it that I don’t want to cut off my adrenalin dealer? I don’t want to give up my daily guaranteed fix? How sick is that? So, is chaos addiction actually an addiction to adrenalin? I refer to work as “the land of dysfunction.” So why am I okay with being comfortable there? Because it is a sickness, and I need to continue working on getting well.

I wish I knew how many who read this article found that they are right there with me. You know there’s comfort in numbers. LOL. Seriously, if you are right there with me, write to me through Desert Waters, and put “ATTN: CHAOS ADDICTION.” I will answer every email that is forwarded to me.

One more thing…or two (LOL), or three:

  1. I am of the opinion that there needs to be a place outside of the fence for retired staff, and a separate place for released offenders, for deprogramming the shell-shock of prison life when leaving for good.
  2. I am wondering and thinking that this article may also be fitting for police, fire, military, etc. Let’s share.
  3. I also, along with many co-workers and offenders, now suffer from PTSD. This is another topic in one way, but in another way, it goes hand-in-hand with chaos addiction. I believe that healing one (either PTSD or chaos addiction) will piggy-back into healing the other.

Live to See Another Day

By Anonymous Correctional Officer

It’s been almost three years now, but it is a day, a time that I will never forget.

I was seated in my wife’s van at the top of the parking garage at the airport. When our son moved away and started coming home on occasion, we found a great spot to watch planes land and take off. I had just watched our son and his fiancé’s plane lift off for their home in another state.

I then reached into my backpack and a notebook inside, just like the one I originally wrote this article on, to write a letter to our son. As I started to write this letter, tears started trickling down my cheeks. This would be my last letter to him. I needed to tell him how proud I was of him and the life he had made since he graduated from college. I needed to tell him how much I loved him, and that what I had done was not his fault in any way.

This letter would be followed by one to our other child, then a final one to my wife. When these were complete and sealed in a few days, my plan was then to take my life. There were so many things to say, but…

I was in a very dark place and had been for some time. I was tired, I was beat up emotionally, and I just wanted the pain to end. I had a terrific, very supportive wife, I had co-workers and a friend or two that I could talk to. I had resources through my employer that I could access. I also had my faith that had helped me in the past during dark times. For some reason, this time was different. This darkness had really enveloped me, and taking my life just seemed the logical choice.

I fought with myself. To even consider taking my life…. Those voices in my head were telling me, “You’re weak. You’re going to hell when you do this. You’re a coward. You have no guts.”

I just wanted the pain to stop. That’s all. I was in a tunnel and I saw only one way out. Taking my life would surely devastate my wife and children. I had friends at work that I could have reached out to that would have probably been very hurt. They would have said that they never saw it coming, which was by design. Right? When you’re in that place, you’re not thinking straight or logically. You are only focused on the pain. Besides, my family would be better off. Right?

The things we see, the things we’re exposed to in our profession, this stuff just adds up, and then maybe something happens in our personal life, and it all just seems to overwhelm us.

One day I was going about my duties at work and the thought occurred to me that I wished that I could just not feel. It would make it easier to handle what we deal with.

This profession is not for the faint of heart. It never was and never will be. We try our hardest to say, to think that what we’re exposed to doesn’t bother us, but we all know it does. The people that I have had the honor to work with are some of the toughest folks you could ever meet. Reaching out for help does not mean you are weak or falling apart. It actually is just the opposite.

I did not finish those letters to my family after all, thank God. Life got better. I did not seek out professional help and in retrospect, I really should have. Please, if you are in that place that I was, reach out to a peer, or your minister, or seek professional help. Talk to someone.

Live to see another day.


By Jason Timothy Roy

My phone rings. It’s my friend, my best friend. I know what is about to happen because I have been waiting and hoping for this exact phone call and conversation. I answer the phone, but not in the usual excited way. I am deflated and fatigued. It’s been some time since we have spoken. I have been avoiding reality. My best friend is reality. It hurts to avoid reality.

“Jay, come in to see me in the office.”

He didn’t call me by my nickname, which he gave me.

“I know Al, I’m on my way.”

I didn’t call him by his nickname, which by the way, HE gave to me, to call him.

I feel like there has been a warrant issued for my life and the officer is coming. There is no more avoiding. I am relieved. This is what I had hoped for. I went to his office. He let me in. No words were exchanged. He sat in his chair beside his desk. I sat down in the chair across from him. I could not look at him in his eyes. I felt shame and every other gross, uncomfortable emotional and mental feeling there is. But, in the moment just before I mustered the energy to look at my best friend in his eyes, I was drawn to a framed quote, centered on the mantle of the fireplace, located just behind his right shoulder. It simply stated,


No one is coming to save you.

This life of yours is 100% your responsibility.”

I blinked and read that quote again. I was at attention. A life altering moment in this universe. It was at that moment I realized that I was responsible. And I made the decision to save myself. I looked my best friend in his eyes, called him by his nickname, that he gave me to call him, and said, “Okay, now what.”

Moments before this phone call even happened, I was in the basement of my house. I picked up my old baseball glove. The leather was dried out and needed some oil. My father showed me how to oil my glove when I was a kid. I could not find the old can of Blue Ribbon Neatsfoot Compound Oil that “softens, waterproofs and preserves all leather goods.” I cried uncontrollably in my glove instead. Gushing, snotty, sniveling, and gasping for air type of crying. Now my glove was “oiled.” I sat on the stool at my workbench. I thought it was time to clean my firearm. I disassembled it, cleaned and oiled all the parts, not with tears, with the proper oil. I reassembled my firearm. And that is when I became stuck. Stuck with the questions: What do I do? What would happen? What if? So I racked the slide of my firearm and dry fired it. I felt the pull of the trigger and heard the click of firing pin. I racked the slide again, but this time I put the muzzle of my firearm to the temple of my head and dry fired it. I didn’t feel the pull of the trigger. I didn’t hear the click of the firing pin. I did not hear anything. I sat staring at the first live round of ammunition in the magazine on top of the workbench. I looked up at the exposed unfinished ceiling of the basement. My bedroom was on the floor above. An unforced conscious breath overwhelmed me. It felt like that first gulp of air you take after being crushed by a wave, held underwater and not knowing if you are going to fill your lungs with air ever again or drown. I sat and waited, hoping for my phone to ring, hoping for that phone call from my best friend, whose nickname was given to me by him, to call him by.

And the phone did ring and my best did call. He later told me that he called based on his “informed intuition.” A life-saving miracle.

If I Could Turn Back Time…

By Lt. John Mendiboure

The other day I worked a 16-hour shift, and I was on the same yard I started as a Lieutenant on in 2008.

As I sat at my desk reminiscing about all the things I have experienced over the last 12 years, one thing always stands out when I work that yard—January 22, 2010—one of the worst days in my career.

We did not have some huge riot that day. In fact, the whole 16 hours was relatively quiet, a good day to catch up on reports. I was working my second watch shift, spending most of it in the office tied up with paperwork. As I was working on a package, my Captain walked through my office on the way to his, and casually said, “Jack will not be in tonight.” I remember thinking it was weird that my Captain knew my Sergeant had called in, but I did not give it much thought.

A while later my Captain walked back through my office and told me that Jack was going to be fired when he reported to work. I remember thinking why would you tell me that? I had worked for Jack as an Officer, then we were partners for a while, and now he was my 5-day a week Sergeant. I was in a sullen mood for the rest of second watch knowing what was coming.

Sure enough, third watch started and Jack was not here, so I requested an overtime Sergeant. I was aware of the investigation Jack had been going through, and had no doubt that he would get his job back.

At this time, I had been on our Peer Support Team for 10 years. I told myself to call Jack and check on him, each time telling myself I would call him after I got off duty and we could talk uninterrupted. All night I kept thinking I should reach out, but I’d find a reason not to—like, too many reports to work on, I can do it after work.

Well before my shift ended I was notified Jack had taken his own life. I worked hard to keep my composure as I supported my staff. When my shift ended, I stopped by the Watch Sergeants office and told him to put me out. He asked, “For tomorrow?” I told him I would call when I was ready to come back.

I was married at the time, but fortunately my wife was living at her parents ranch as it was over an hour away and close to her job. I say fortunately because I could not have told her the torment I was going through. I love her and she is a great support system, but I had no words for my emotions. When I got home, I threw my uniform shirt and vest on a chair, walked to my bar, and I grabbed an unopened 1.75-liter bottle of Jack Daniel and some cigars. I then went out to the back patio.

I tried my best to drink the guilt and hurt away. I woke up the next morning sitting in my camp chair with my dog lying next to me. I did not get my stuff together, rather I reached for that bottle and proceeded to live in it and a couple more for the next few days.

This was one of the darkest times I have gone through. I had lost partners to suicide over the years, and talked with many who were suicidal, including a couple who had attempted suicide. I did not see any of the indicators in Jack and felt I could wait till my shift was over, yet something in my subconscious was telling me to reach out to him, and to this day I live with the regret of not following that prompting.

Oftentimes we see more of our partners than we do our own families and we get to know them well, all the intricacies in their personalities, behaviors and the subtle changes. If you feel your partner may be going through a tough time, reach out to them. I understand it is not an easy or comfortable conversation to have with someone you care about. It will be one of the hardest things you do to sit down with a Brother or Sister, and ask them if they are thinking of ending their life. Trust me when I say it is nothing compared to the pain of not asking and having them die by or attempt suicide.

That day proved a valuable life lesson.  I will never again hesitate to reach out to someone who is going through a rough time. I will not put off checking in with someone. The possible awkwardness or discomfort of talking about a situation is much easier to deal with than the devastation that can come if you don’t.

I have also come to realize that the way I dealt with the grief was not healthy. I now have people to whom I can reach out to, other outlets for my emotions, as well as resources I use instead of turning to a bottle of booze.

A Blessed Misfire

By Captain Mike Blackford

A couple of years ago I was tasked with writing an article for our Institution’s monthly training bulletin. I have nearly 20 years of Law Enforcement experience, mostly within the state prison system, and have worked at six prisons and one Headquarters assignment.  Even with all the different experiences I have had during my career, I was struggling with what to write about, when an email arrived in my inbox that read, “Another Brother has lost the battle and has taken his life.” Sadly, I wasn’t shocked that this had happened again, but that email solidified my decision of what I felt I needed to write.

I decided to open myself up and share a very personal experience that I felt was relevant and necessary for our staff to hear. I have served in our department’s Peer Support Team for several years and unofficially provided counseling support to my staff and friends/family/church for many, many years prior. Currently, I am assigned as our Institution’s Peer Support (PSP) Administrator providing a liaison between our PSP team and the Administration. When this story was originally published in our local bulletin, my boss shared it with our Headquarters Leadership, and it was sent out statewide. I received a lot of feedback from that article, mostly good comments, but as can be expected, some were critical. All of the feedback was, and is, truly appreciated. The story below is an edited version of the original. I am definitely not an author, but I have tried to address some of the concerns raised by the feedback I received.

I have never shared this story with anyone, as it still brings up many emotions.

Several years ago I had an officer that worked for me, who was a close friend for many years before I had joined the department. He was that big, boisterous, and, at times, obnoxious officer that everyone either loved or hated. He had nearly 30 years in and was very good at his job. One night I got a call from him asking me to stop by and help him move something in his garage. I went right over and when I got to his house I saw him sitting on the tailgate of his truck in his driveway. As I walked up to him, I noticed his .38 revolver sitting in his lap. At the time I didn’t think anything of it; we’re cops and we have guns, no big deal. It was at this moment that I saw his face. His eyes were swollen and red, and it was apparent he had been crying. I asked what was going on and he handed me the gun and thanked me for coming over. I still wasn’t sure what was going on, but I gave him a quick hug and sat down next to him on the tailgate. We spent the next several hours talking about the terrible things he’s seen during his 30 years in our department, and how he had spent his entire career pushing all those feelings down because he couldn’t show any weakness, as he was always expected to be rough, tough and ready for action.

He explained that as he was now approaching retirement, it felt like the floodgates opened up and all those pent up feelings hit him all at once, and he didn’t know how to react. He was angry, sad, anxious, and, he didn’t like saying it, scared as well. He said he was scared of what was going on inside of him and what the future may hold for him. It was difficult to see and hear my close friend and co-worker as he recalled, in detail, each and every traumatic event in his career. This discussion went on for hours and we eventually ended up at a Denny’s at four in morning, eating breakfast and finishing our talk. My friend thanked me again, and said he was feeling a lot better and he would be ok. When I got home and opened up my safe to put his gun away, I unloaded one bullet from the cylinder of his revolver. Then I saw it! The bullet primer was clearly indented! Apparently, he had pulled the trigger, but the bullet had failed to fire. I immediately, frantically, called him and said. “I’m heading back over, because we have more to talk about.” He laughed and said he expected my call, but not to worry, he was ok. I started to ask, “How,” and he interupted saying, “I guess God’s plan is better than mine.” As a man of Faith, I felt immediately comforted by his statement. We prayed together and hung up our phones.

I share this story because we have all lost too many of our own throughout our careers. Please take time now to invest and engage in your partners. We spend more time with our partners than we do with our families. We know each other’s personalities and quirks, and we should be able to notice when someone is “off.” Don’t be afraid to have those uncomfortable conversations with each other. Reach out to one another for help. There is no weakness in asking for help and no greater gift you can give than being there and being a listening ear for your partners. Suicide, that ugly word we are often afraid to say aloud, is real, and it is taking our Brothers and Sisters at an ever-increasing rate. We must find a way to normalize these conversations and reduce the stigma associated with suicide and mental health treatment for our staff. I don’t recall where I heard this statement, but we have to get our staff to understand and believe, “It’s ok to not be ok.”

If you’ve been with our profession for any amount of time, you have witnessed or done things that nobody should ever have to experience. These events are cumulative, and they do take a toll on our mental and physical health. There will come a day when all of these experiences will just “hit” you, and you will need a way to cope. Take time now to build those trusting relationships with your partners, so they will be there in your time of need, and so you will be there in their time of need. Behind these fences and walls we are all we have, so let’s put aside the petty disagreements and come together to ensure we all make it out of here every day, together as family.

The story above is much longer with more details than can be shared publically, in order to maintain some privacy for those involved. My friend called in sick for two weeks after that night and then retired. He is doing well and is enjoying his retirement. Other than a random “thank you” text I get, we had never talked about that night or the bullet that didn’t fire…until about a year ago. My story had somehow made it to him, and he called me to return the “favor.” He thanked me again and apologized for putting me through so much that night. I said no apology was necessary and I thanked him for reaching out and not pulling the trigger again. He said he was in town and would like to meet up to talk. The next morning we sat and reminisced for hours, at Denny’s, at 4:00 am. He asked me, “Do you still have it?” I pulled the bullet out of my pocket and set it on the table in front of him. He stared at it for a few minutes with his eyes watering up and in typical OG (Old Guard) fashion, laughed and stated, “Thank God for cheap ammo!” We both laughed and I knew my friend had not only survived the blessed misfire, but also all the painful experiences that had such a tight hold on him that day, many years ago.

I still have that bullet sitting on my nightstand. It reminds of the friends I’ve lost, the friend I almost lost, and most importantly it reminds me to engage and to be involved with the lives of those around me. Our nation is going through a very difficult time right now, and we need each other now more than ever.
Social distancing and stay at home orders have made it difficult to gather and enjoy each other’s company. During these trying times, get creative, make the effort, and find ways to spend quality time with each other and reach out to those who may be struggling. Regardless of which uniform you wear, I believe our profession is a big family that can be counted on whenever we may need it.

Mike Blackford, Captain
California Men’s Colony

We Suffer in Silence

By Lieutenant Bryan Hughes

Reprinted with the author’s permission from a Facebook post.

This will be a long post, but I’m going to do something most Correctional staff don’t do enough of, and that’s open up.

I broke down today, I cried. I don’t break often and NEVER talk about it or do it in front of anyone else.

At first, I couldn’t comprehend another co-worker suicide, but then I got to thinking about our lives. We as Correctional staff SUFFER IN SILENCE. Some of us deal with the daily stress better than others. Some of us can’t cope at all. Some of us have seen some horrendous things that people should never witness, and things we will never forget. Some of us have even had to do things that haunt the s#!t out of us daily and are the things nightmares are made of.

These demons are very real, and the more I think about them, the more they scare me. When we are working in the moment, it just turns into our daily grind. It sadly becomes our normal, but when we retire or let these things creep in our minds, things change. When we go from working every day to retired, we have to face those demons that we have spent 20, 25 or 30 years burying daily.

I can say the last 4-5 Officers who died by suicide have been great Officers and amazing people that no one would imagine in 100 years that they would ever do this. That is the thought that is haunting me. Demons are real, and we can’t escape them. These last several suicides were people that normally would have never taken their own lives. That tells me these demons are stronger than we realize, and they can overtake any one of us.
I used to say I would never die by suicide. Now I wonder if these demons will catch me one day. I have many Correctional demons that haunt me and bring me to tears when I give them even one second of my time. I guarantee these men never thought they would succumb to suicide either. We SUFFER IN SILENCE and don’t share these things with our families because we never want to expose our loved ones to the things that torture us. Many of us will take things to the grave without ever speaking of them again. Stress also weakens our immune system, causing many premature physical illnesses that take so many lives of Correctional staff.

We work in such a negative atmosphere. We work in the only profession where our own co-workers will talk s#!t about us if we save a prisoner’s life. They will literally talk s#!t because you did your job and saved another human life! I can say I’m guilty of that myself, and I have been on the receiving side. I guarantee some of my co-workers will talk s#!t about me for making this post, but I don’t care. I’m speaking the raw truth.
So I used to wonder why these great, amazing people never reached out to anyone, even one of us that understands the struggle. But I totally understand. We are trained to be non-human and emotionless. We are weak if we show any emotions, so we compartmentalize these demons. We stay silent and fight the demons in our heads.

I have a love and respect for the people I have worked with past, and present. I hope this will be the last suicide we have, knowing darn well there will be many more.

I have been doing this job for almost 23 years and every day my wife will ask me how my day was. Every day for almost 23 years my response has been, “Just another day.”

I say this to my wife rather than telling her that today I saw a prisoner stabbed in the neck on the 2nd gallery of 12 block die choking on his own blood, or that I did CPR on a probationary Officer who fell out due to a heart attack, with prisoners around him screaming, “Die m*#$&r! Die bitch!”, knowing these were the last words this Officer heard as he died.

The demons are real, and although I’m here right now asking you to reach out for help if you are battling these demons, I know that I would probably never ask for help either. That’s why I say WE SUFFER IN SILENCE. That’s what we do. We just “deal with it.”

I am here for ANYONE that ever needs to vent or talk about their demons, Corrections or not. To hell with religious beliefs, to hell with sports rivalries, and to hell with political differences. I am here for you. For those of you that continue to suffer in silence, just know you are never alone in your battle. I know it feels lonely, but we are all dealing with our own battles right with you. Thank you, Shelby Hughes, for always being here for me when I talk to you about my demons, or you just hug me while I struggle in my own head….

Keeping the Demons behind the Walls

By Lt. John Mendiboure

Sounds like our job description, doesn’t it?

The thing is, I am not talking about inmates, but rather the demons within us that we hide from others, fighting inside ourselves. Understand, after 22 years on the line, I still love my job, the staff I work with, and I still look forward to coming to work each day.

The issue, which happens to all of us who do this job, is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I know that term may turn some of you away as it is considered a mental health condition that people fear admitting to, as it could cost them their job, but I sincerely hope it does not.

The Mayo Clinic says, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they usually get better. If the symptoms get worse, last for months or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may have PTSD.

There is a great YouTube video I show when I teach In-Service training. It is by Mike Spears who retired from the San Diego Sheriff’s Department due to PTSD after a shooting. Mike says it does not have to be a singular event like a shooting, but a cumulative total of the things we see and experience during our career. Mike says we all have PTSD, just to varying degrees. I believe him when he says we have all experienced things which have forever changed us, and events we cannot un-see no matter how much we want to.

We have all witnessed horrible and traumatic things over the years. We work a certain area and remember both the good times and the bad. For the most part, they do not bother us, as they are just memories, such as riots, partners getting battered and hurt, homicides as well as many others. We consider these to be a part of the job, things we accept that come with the job we have chosen

Then there are the others, those traumatic events that change us to the core and bring forth the demons. These demons who come out when we least expect it, taking over our thoughts and consuming us during the quiet hours of the night.

For me it is one incident in particular. I was off work earlier this month and received an email about six of our staff members receiving the Department’s Bronze Star for Valor. That was all the email stated, they were receiving the award, and I knew why they received the award. Instead of being happy for them as I should have been, I found the demon coming to visit again and reliving that day. They were the first responders to an automobile accident involving one of our Officers and an Officer from a neighboring Prison. I was on duty that morning and heard about the accident from the Watch Sergeant. I grabbed another Peer Support Program (PSP) team member and headed out to the accident scene. When we arrived, they had transported the Officer from the other prison to the hospital and non-involved staff had left the scene. Our partner had not survived, and her body was still pinned in her vehicle. One of our staff who is a volunteer firefighter was toned out (called out) for the accident, and he was still on the scene.

My partner and I stayed with her body until it was removed from her car and the coroner arrived to take it. When they were extracting our partner from the vehicle, I was facing the scene with my partner who is the firefighter facing me to make sure he did not see the removal of the body. He was blocking my view as he was watching the family to ensure they did not approach the scene. (They had been called by one of the original Officers on the scene.)

Just as they removed the body from her car, my partner moved to my left and I had full view of it. That is a moment I will live with the rest of my life. The deceased Officer had been at my Prison for 13 years and previously worked directly for me when I was a Sgt., Lt. and acting Capt.

So instead of being happy for the six staff being honored for their efforts in saving the other Officer’s life, I found myself going back to that day. I spent the day flashing back, seeing my partner’s body being removed from her vehicle and placed on the ground in the body bag, then going with the Deputies to console her husband and daughter. Then waiting next to her remains on the side of the road until the coroner arrived, not wanting to leave her alone. I fought the feelings off all day. That evening in the shower I found all the emotions I had been holding in wanting to burst from me. I stood there under the water wanting to cry, wanting the water to wash away my tears and pain, but I was not able to weep.

I have cried many tears reliving that day this last year. I have gone to my partner’s house many times to check on her husband and daughter. Every time I hold it together, then upon leaving I have to pull over as I am crying so hard, I cannot see the road. When her husband and daughter were introduced at our Christmas party, I had to leave as I could feel myself coming apart. Towards the end of the party he sought me out to say “thank you,” and I felt all of it well up inside me again as we hugged. As I am typing this at my desk, I am wiping away tears, but to look at me I am not breaking down (on the outside at least).

Why was I not able to cry in the shower that night when I wanted to release all the grief inside me? Honestly, I have no idea, but it made me realize that I do have issues and need to talk to someone.

I have been on the job over 22 years, on my institution’s Peer Support Team for 20 years (team leader the last few). I am well versed in resources to direct others to get help, but for myself I never sought it. God has blessed me to have a beautiful, loving and supportive wife that I can talk to about anything. She senses when I am having a bad day, she understands and supports me.

Sometimes though we need to talk with someone we have no connection to. For us in California, Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a great resource. We get up to 7 sessions at no cost to us with a licensed therapist. For departments around the country, there are resources even if your state does not offer any. There is the Crisis Text Line 741-741 (a free and confidential text platform because sometimes it is easier to text than talk out loud to someone), National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-8255) and Aunt Bertha ( which helps to find free or low cost services. Just make sure you talk to someone, even a trusted friend or pastor of your church. Talking with someone is critical to helping us cope.

This job changes us, that is inevitable, but there are avenues to get help. The first step is realizing we have changed. Once we do that we can work on improving ourselves through self-care, and when it is needed, reaching out for help.

I know it is not easy, machismo, our sense of “I got this,” and I can deal with it, until one day we realize it—PTSD, “the demon,” is controlling us. Our families deserve the best from us, and we owe it to them to get help when going through the tough times.

God bless and stay safe,
John Mendiboure, Correctional Lieutenant, Avenal State Prison

The 21 Years of My Life I Wish I Could Change – Part 1

By Sergeant Mike Flowerdew

Well, to whoever is reading this, I just want to say hang in there! It will get better. I know it sure doesn’t feel like it, but keep plugging away at it. Be open to new things even if they seem weird or uncomfortable, try them and embrace them, because you are here reading this for a reason.

I am husband to a beautiful wife of 20 years and have 3 amazing children, ages 16, 13 and 9. I work for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and have for the past 21 years. It is truly a thankless job that is extremely negative, violent, corrupt and downright disgusting. This job consumed me! It changed me slowly over the years, and, like for a lot of us and our super egos, it affected me and everyone in my family.

I noticed a change in myself probably around my five-year mark. I started battling with depression, negativity, anger, hate and isolation, and these emotions and attitudes were slowly eating me up. The job took the person who I was and changed him. It changed the once funny, caring and happy person into someone that quite honestly makes my stomach turn thinking about. I was detached, craved loneliness and isolation, and didn’t really care about anything anymore. I turned to alcohol on my time off and usually drank myself into a stupor, went to bed late without saying goodnight to any of my loved ones, and got up the next day, and guess what? I still felt horrible! Not trying to preach to you about alcohol, but I guess it was my answer to hiding my pain. A way for me to forget about reality, my job, and to temporarily shut down those feelings.

At the time I didn’t see it, I thought, “Hey, it will pass. Everyone goes through tough times.” In my case, guess what? It didn’t pass. It got worse.

My marriage was slowly sinking. My beautiful wife had managed to run the house without me, because I was either working all the time or detached and not interested in doing anything. Now my once wonderful relationship with her was in shambles, and we were like roommates instead of a happily married couple. We never fought, but just kind of went on without each other. She was being a wonderful mother and taking care of my children, while I worked and came home and shut down. Thinking about this kills me! It tears me up inside to think that I was doing this and at the time I knew it, but couldn’t stop it or change. I mean, hey, it wasn’t me; it was everyone and everything else, right?

I was on vacation with my family in June of 2018, going through the motions, being fake. Fake because inside I was miserable and screaming, but trying to keep a face on for my family. This was my way of life. I was miserable, but this was all I knew, and, as odd as it sounds, I was comfortable with it. My thoughts were extremely bad! I wasn’t really thinking suicide, because the thought of my wife and kids hating me for it made me extremely sad and the damage I would cause to them really upset me. Then the thought of my mom and dad having to deal with their son’s suicide really put things into perspective. The one they brought into this world, raised, supported and guided into a safe direction took his own life.

With them came the thought of my one and only older sibling. My sister, how would she feel that her little brother, the one she grew up with, fought with, laughed with and shared everything with was gone by his own hands. No way! If I could have done it and made it look like an accident, I was all in. I didn’t want to live anymore.

The pain of feeling horrible, alone, worthless, isolated, sad, and angry was chewing me up. I truly wanted to die. I sat one day looking at the phone for about an hour, crying, and dialed the number to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for an authorization to get some help or advice. Of course they ask, “Are you in crisis?” I wanted to say, “Hell, yeah, I’m in a crisis,” but the unrealistic fear of a white van pulling up in my driveway, two hairy dudes with big moustaches getting out, tasing me and putting me in a strait jacket to haul me away to a hospital, stopped me. So I said, “No, I just need someone to talk to.”

That someone has turned out to be a therapist, a truly amazing person who I felt a bond with right away. I was never more scared than during my first appointment with her. I felt weak, ashamed and embarrassed for not being able to kick this on my own. I left after my first appointment and cried the whole way home. I didn’t want to go back because it was uncomfortable, strange, and once again I felt weak. She asked questions that of course I had to answer, and it was tough. I was and still am 100% honest with her because what good would it do me to lie? I’m seeing her for a reason, right?

After a few visits with her she diagnosed me with severe depression and PTSD. I knew I was depressed, but PTSD? I said, “I’m a veteran, but not a war veteran. How could I have PTSD?” To address the misconception of most people, including myself, PTSD doesn’t just affect war veterans. She explained that after all the trauma I had experience in 21 years working within the prison system, I was a walking trauma victim. I hadn’t really thought about it, and I struggled with the diagnosis because any of us in this business just shrug it off and do it again the next day. No big deal, right?
After talking with her during multiple visits and doing Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), revisiting things that I had witnessed and been a part of years ago in Corrections, I realized that the stuff we see doesn’t go away. It gets filed away in our brains only to wreak havoc on us later in life because it hasn’t been processed correctly. It affects our thought process and our moods. Mine came out as depression and isolation. I can remember each and every incident that I’ve been involved with over the years. While doing EMDR, I could recall the sounds, the smells, the weather, my partners, the looks on their faces, and even the Sergeant in Central Control on the radio that I honestly haven’t thought about in years, but I could hear his voice clear as day.

After a few visits she talked to me about starting a group. What? Talk to others about my issues? No way! Well, with her amazing powers and therapeutic ways I ended up going and once again my first day I felt like I was going to puke. But it really wasn’t that bad. I met some wonderful people that have the same issues, and you know what, it was good to talk about it and to have people actually understand and listen, instead of trying to tell you how to fix it. Although the people in my group are not in Corrections, I truly trust and enjoy talking with them and I have nothing but love for each and every one of them as well as my therapist. Every one of them will always have a special place in my heart, and I will never forget about them.

My therapist had me attend a PTSD retreat for five days, and I went excited and with high hopes. Here I was, the only Corrections employee at a retreat with Firefighters and one Police Officer. Instantly I felt like they couldn’t relate. I felt ashamed to be there hearing their stories about helping good people, and being involved in situations where they were assisting our neighbors, friends, relatives and members of the community. I was there as a guy looking for answers, and I was ashamed, because all I have done was witness horrific things that terrible people do to one another. I was looking for answers as to why I felt like I did, and I did not share my stories with the others, because I thought they couldn’t relate or even know what it was I was talking about. Although I met some wonderful people struggling to hold onto life, I left there sad and confused. Sad because I was tired of being this way, and confused as to why I still felt like I did, hopeless!

I don’t want anyone reading this to think that these types of retreats are useless or unhelpful. I don’t want you to think that for one second! This retreat has helped me in ways that I am unable to explain. I was in a very bad place mentally, and maybe I wasn’t completely open to it. However, I can honestly say that I left there that day with fourteen new friends that I didn’t know five days prior. These are friends that I still stay in contact with to this day and we all formed a bond with one another that will never break. The counselors running the retreat were amazing, helpful and kind people that have made this their mission to help others and they are truly wonderful people. They gave me skills that I do practice daily, and I can say that their help and support have made me a better person, although at the time I did not realize it. Everything they taught me and told me remains within me. Just like all the stuff in life we hold onto, I will hold on to it forever and practice the healing methods that were taught to me.

Once my plane finally landed, and with the retreat behind me physically but not mentally, I got into my truck at the airport. I couldn’t wait for this moment so I could be alone and not show my real self. I got into my truck and cried like a baby. I was a mess! I didn’t want to go home, but I didn’t know where to go. I just wanted to keep driving to somewhere. I didn’t know where, but I just wanted to escape from everything.

It’s been 10 long months and I still see my therapist once a week if I can, and I attend group when possible. I’ve tried medication, but I didn’t like the feelings it gave me, and in my mind it made me feel like I was weak. I’m not saying that medication is not the answer because I truly believed I should have been on something, and I believe it is beneficial to a lot of people. However, with my therapist’s help I chose not to. She talked me into going to acupuncture. I thought, “Hey, what have I got to lose?” I went, even though part of me thought, “This will never work! It will never work, because I’m broken and need to be medicated.” After meeting and talking with the acupuncturist, she wanted me to start taking supplements (natural stuff), so I did. It’s been about 3 months taking the supplements and going to acupuncture and seeing my therapist weekly and I am a different person. Almost like the guy I used to be! What? I don’t know if it’s the placebo effect, a combination of everything, or the fact that I was really tired of myself, but I’ve found a happiness that I had lost years ago, and it is a wonderful feeling.

I am working hard at it, and l still have my moments, and I have to fight off my sad and negative feelings that like to reappear from time to time. I have a lot of work to do repairing my marriage, but things are really looking up. My wife is very supportive and understanding, and I make sure I try to communicate with her, because holding that stuff in isn’t good, and it’s not easy when you’ve been quietly struggling for so long. I know I’m not cured by any means, but it’s two steps forward and one step back.

I think back of that guy I was turning into just a few months back, and it honestly turns my stomach. It makes me sick, and I really hate that guy and I don’t ever want to experience him again! Although I never want to experience him again, I also love that guy and have learned a great deal from him. I learned to not stuff things away and to talk about them. I’ve become more passionate and sensitive. I’ve learned if you feel like crying, let it out, it’s your body’s way of healing, and, trust me, after progressing through this journey, I get emotional all the time. Embrace it and be comfortable with it. I’ve learned to recognize others that are struggling and try to offer advice, instead of telling them to snap out of it. I truly believe that the guy I once was, was a guy struggling, traumatized, confused, sick and overridden with negativity. I was wounded and scarred in ways that I can’t even imagine. It is horrible to think about, but I was sick with depression caused from events and images in my life that I will have with me forever. They were all things that I thought I had under control, but I was sadly mistaken. These memories will never leave me, but there are ways to deal with them. I honestly can’t explain this, but I now believe that these events in my life will make me a better person.

So with this long drawn out story of my journey, just understand that you can change for the better. It does work, whether it is individual therapy, group therapy, EMDR, medication, acupuncture, natural healers, retreats… the sky is the limit! Just be open. Everyone is different, and everything works differently for different people. Even though you are struggling mentally and physically, and your mind is telling you that you’re hopeless, keep pushing and you will see a difference. Keep doing what the little part of your head that isn’t overridden with negativity is telling you! Listen to it! It is extremely difficult to do, I know, but DON’T GIVE UP! PLEASE DON’T GIVE UP! Make that call, send that email, speak up, and seek the help you need, even though you think you have it under control. Confront that issue with your chin up, chest out, and stop letting it run your life. JUST REMEMBER, MY FRIEND, THAT YOU ARE LOVED, YOU ARE NOT ALONE, YOU CAN AND WILL GET BETTER, AND THE WORLD IS TRULY A BETTER PLACE WITH YOU IN IT.


The 21 Years of My Life I Wish I Could Change—Part 2

By Sergeant Mike Flowerdew

For those of you who are reading this and who read the first part of my journey, I want to say it will get better, but it is not easy.

I have found that my journey through this process has its ups and downs. After a short lived stint of happiness and enjoying life again, I found myself slipping back into depression. Sure, there are times in everyone’s life that we all get depressed, but my depression has been on a whole different level. The sad, alone and horrible feelings that I had before came back, and they have been extremely hard to get rid of. The daunting task of waking up to my alarm, putting my uniform on and heading to work has been exhausting.

I could feel it sucking the life out of me as I’d get closer to another day surrounded by inmates, negativity and ugliness. I found myself leaving for work an hour earlier than normal, only to park my car in a secluded pullout and cry. I’d sit and drink my coffee in the silence, dreading the day that’s to come and cry. When I arrived to work I acted like everything was okay and went through the motions, plugging away and being fake to my Officers, because I didn’t want them to think their Sergeant was weak and falling apart. I have a job to do, and it is what I signed up for.

When it’d be time to get off of work, I’d leave exhausted, barely able to drive home without falling asleep. And when I’d get home, I’d just want to go somewhere quiet and be left alone. I hated this part because my family needs me. My kids need their dad, and my wife needs her husband, but I didn’t know where he was. I’d lost him and I missed him terribly. I missed that guy that looked forward to coming home and being with his loved ones. I missed the once funny and happy person who had once again disappeared from my life. I’m sure my family missed him also. I missed the guy who looked forward to things and found joy in simple things like the sunrise, the sunset, the smell of fresh cut grass, the sound of birds chirping, the sound of my kids laughing, seeing their beautiful smiling faces and looking into my wife’s beautiful eyes. Those things were still there, but it was a struggle to enjoy them.

I addressed these feelings and issues with my therapist, and we both agreed it was time to visit the medication part again. I agreed that there was something missing, and I know that there is a very logical medical explanation as to why a person needs to take medication for depression, but I just needed to be ready for it. I wasn’t ready to take it before, and I was managing without it.

It has been explained to me that I need to rewire my brain and my way of thinking. It sounds easy, but it’s not. You see I’ve been in this funk for so many years, that it’s all I know. Like I explained in my first article, I’m comfortable with it and of course miserable, but comfortable. It sounds strange, but all these years of negativity, trauma and the heightened awareness have hurt my brain, and now it’s not functioning in a healthy way.

Through this journey I’ve been searching for answers and constantly looking for that ah ha! moment that clarifies why I feel this way, only to realize it’s my brain not communicating to itself properly. I am lacking the “nourishment” it needs to function at a healthy level. This is where the medication comes in. So I started taking a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI), Citalopram, which changes the levels of serotonin in my brain, and a Norepinephrine-Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitor (NDRI), Bupropion, which increases the levels of the mood-boosting chemicals Norepinephrine and Dopamine in the brain. With these medications I can honestly say that I am slowly climbing back out of that horrible pit. I have more energy, I laugh again, and, most important, I feel like I have a purpose on this earth. I’m finding once again enjoyment in things, enjoyment that I had lost.

I was really against the medication aspect, but maybe it helps my brain and my thinking to get back on track. I hope that one day, with trying to rewire the way I’ve been thinking for years and taking the medication, that I will be able to function without the medication. Only time will tell. And if not, so be it, I will continue to take the medication if that’s what I have to do, because that guy that had taken over my life recently needed help.

I truly feel better now than I did a year ago, before therapy, acupuncture, supplements and the PTSD retreat, and all that was positive, but there was something missing—the medication. I will continue to do these things with the medication, and I will to climb out of this dark pit that I’d fallen into.

I wanted to write this article to share with others that read my first post that it’s not all magical. I’m not magically healed. Healing is a work in progress. Like I said in the first post, sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back, although at times it may be three steps back. I have to keep pushing forward, cry when I feel like crying, and keep seeking the help that I waited so long to reach out for. Maybe if I sought the help I needed earlier in my career, it wouldn’t have been so hard to correct the problem.

Once again, if you are struggling you are not weak, weird or broken. You are human and you are not alone. Reach out and get help when you feel it is time. There are many great people out there that are willing to help you. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed about it. Reach out and GET YOUR LIFE BACK!

For a lot of us stuck in this funk just talking to someone and being open helps. You have to be ready for this, and you have to get past the stubborn “I’m fine” thoughts. Therapy has helped me a great deal, and it was the best decision that I have ever made. I have an amazing therapist that has a wonderful outlook on life, is very humorous and bright. She is someone that I look forward to talking to. A lot of it is just conversation. Just talking about the past or everyday dilemmas actually has an amazing effect, especially when you’ve been shut down for so long. It feels good to get it out.

Through this journey I have discovered that my depression and treatment are no big secrets anymore. I find myself sharing openly about the fact that I have been in a really bad spot for a long time and once again I’m climbing out of it. I’m not ashamed of it and maybe my testimony will help someone, maybe just one, but one person is better than none.


Recovering From Years of Depression

By Sergeant Mike Flowerdew

It’s been a long road! Two and a half years ago I was headed for the bottom at an alarming rate. I was in dire need of some help and answers. My depression was off the charts and the overwhelming thoughts of taking my own life were a daily occurrence. I reached out to get help, and it was the best move I have ever made.

I did not know what was going on in my life, other than I felt miserable all the time. I was tired, felt alone, depressed, sad, drank too much, and the list goes on and on.

The seed of recovery was planted when my department started training its staff on the effects of Correctional Fatigue yearly. Hearing stories from other staff members about their struggles was another revelation. It was really heartfelt to listen to a well-known staff member that everyone looked up to share with intimacy their struggles. No one even knew they were struggling. This choked me up, and it really helped me understand that I was not alone, and that Correctional Fatigue was real.

I promoted in 2017, and was required to attend the Sergeants Academy. One of our class days included the benefits of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). The class was full of information about how to use it, who was eligible, and what it covered. Not being new to the department but a new supervisor, I was now responsible for recognizing change in personnel, and possible issues with our employees and offering EAP. This training opened my eyes and that seed really started to grow.

For years everyone, including myself, joked about EAP not knowing that one day I would use it and it would save my marriage and my life. You see, after the training on EAP and the Correctional Fatigue classes I started to evaluate myself, knowing that I had issues, but I didn’t know which way to go. For years I was miserable, and my thoughts were that it was just a phase. But because of a sequence of events that happened in my career, I couldn’t take anymore, and I was in a downward spiral. I finally stepped up and made that call for help.

I’ve been seeing a therapist for over two years now, and will continue until I feel the time is right to stop. I’ve been to a PTSD retreat, I’ve done acupuncture, group therapy and tried different kinds of medication. All were very helpful and have helped improve my health and stability, but it wasn’t until recently in my journey that I have found peace. Peace because I finally feel like I can breathe, without the overwhelming weight of myself crushing me. It’s not perfect, because I still have my days of sadness, but they are usually short lived, and I’m able to recover quickly. That’s a big change from where I was three years ago.

I feel like I have a new beginning, and it doesn’t come without trials, but I will keep seeking for what it is I need and push for it. You see, I was in a very bad place and although since the beginning of my therapy there were changes, it was frustrating because we all want that quick fix. After years of living and working like this, change just doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long process to create closure, tap into things we don’t want to talk about, and rewire our brains. The positive and happy thoughts just don’t come back that fast. At least they did not for me.

I’ve learned to be present and in the moment, instead of being overwhelmed with sadness about the past or the future. This process is not easy for me and I really have to work hard at it, but it does work. So I try to change the way I’ve thought for years by stopping those thoughts and thinking of the present. I recognize where I feel uncomfortable, whether it’s my head, stomach or whole body, and I think about why.

Now, thinking about the present, recognizing things around me, and of course thinking happy thoughts are all part of the process, and IT REALLY WORKS! I’m a 48-year old male with 23 plus years in the department, stubborn with a type A personality, and I can testify it does work! You just have to seek the guidance to get there.

In the past two years I have met and talked with some amazing, wonderful people that are there to help. This is what they do, and they live it. They specialize in this kind of stuff and they will guide you back into your functioning life.

If you are stuck and confused make that call, reach out and get your life back. Don’t be ashamed, embarrassed or worried about what others think. We’ve all worked with someone that isn’t with us anymore because of the pressure and the overwhelming feelings. Reach out, speak up. No one is there to judge, and there IS help!


Sergeant Mike Flowerdew

A Solid Partner

By Phil Haskett

The summer day was bright, crisp and cloudless. Although the Parade Ground looked so small, I stood there with pride as my wife of 10 years watched on with our two small children as I was presented with the Dux of Course award on the final day of training at the South Australian Academy for Corrections. No thought entered my mind about how strenuous it was going to be for my family over the next 20 years wondering if I was going to come home safe and well; if I was going to ignore them because I had a crappy day; if I was going to retreat into a bottle of beer for the night feeling sorry for myself at having a prisoner win one over me; or if I was going to snap at every remark my wife or kids made because the daily exposure of working “behind the wire” made me more and more act like an inmate.

No. This was one of the best days of my life. I was the best. I was top of the class of 1990!!

Now, 20 years later, I sit here in early retirement because of PTSD due to an incident that happened 12 years ago, ashamed of myself for being a harsh partner and father. For being self-centered. For being secretive about my worries and not confiding in them for support. For keeping them at arm’s length and keeping them out of my inner world.

I feel no sense of pride for coming home in a bad mood, sometimes injured, often tired, occasionally feeling unappreciated for doing a solid day’s work, angry because a roster was changed by a Supervisor who favoured a “mate” to a softer post, scared and distant towards them after being treated as a perpetrator and not as a justice administrator. Sometimes I felt like I had done something wrong, when in fact all I did was go to work, putting in my 12 hours at 100% (and some).

On days like these I’d go home expecting a champagne reception each time. Did I ever ask about their worries? No. I was too set in a self-centered mentality. Me first, second and always.

But now I have just completed 20 years working in a negative industry that gave me no skills whatsoever to cope with the emotional strain I was to put my family through. I have other skills, other knowledge, but none to make me a better person outside the wire, or to my family. I now have to be “re-programmed.” Thankfully, I have found the means.

Not once did I ask my family what they thought of my chosen career. Not once did I listen when my wife said, “Don’t talk to us like one of your prisoners” or “Do you know how badly you speak to us lately?” or “Why won’t you listen to us?”

Through this, I am still married to a great wife, who gave me two fantastic boys and who has stood by me through thick and thin. This is what I call a solid partner. Yes, we have had our disagreements (let’s not pull punches. . . they were loud verbal fights) and hours of a strained atmosphere in the house. But 29 years of marriage has beaten 20 years of Corrections.

I am an Australian-born British Army veteran who served in the finest regiment in the British Army, the Coldstream Guards; who was once a leader of fighting men in action; a respected non-commissioned officer; a Queen’s Guard who shone on duty at the palaces for the tourists to photograph; someone who always looked after his men and always sided with the underdog; the one who always came out of battle smiling, ready to go do it again the next day and the next and the next, whenever asked. Never complaining; never questioning. But today I feel beaten. Not by an adversary in physical battle or in a battle of wits, but beaten by a system that needs new direction and one which needs to listen to more people like “The Old Screw” instead of “bean counters.” In the end, staff are a more valuable asset than the financial “bottom line.”

And yet, although feeling beaten in some aspects, I feel a sense of achievement for what I have gained in the past, both in the military and in corrections. Attaining the positions of leadership. Making hard decisions that have saved subordinates from injury. Making myself available for anyone who wanted a shoulder to cry on. Starting initiatives that have forged the birth of an organization that helps correctional staff in times of crisis. The awards and letters of recognition for bravery, courage and dedication are nice to reflect on, but really are hollow compared to a colleague who just says, “Thank you for just being you, mate.”

But as much as I cherish those thoughts, I feel that I am responsible for letting my family down. It was my choice to enter the world of corrections, not theirs. It was my choice to let myself be dragged down to a lower level of caring when I should have separated work from home. I just was never shown that there was an alternative choice to make apart from the one I took in those 20 years.

This first week in retirement has not given me a sense of joy at what lies ahead. Instead, it is giving me joy to know that I am responding to help from others. Help to learn how to leave the negatives behind. Help to think more positively. Help to leave my poor attitude behind. Help to leave the withdrawal from my family behind. Help to regain the unquestionable love and devotion I once had for my family.

Now I have to learn how to treat my wife and family like I should have done long ago. Now is not too late to ask for forgiveness and for me to give back to them what I had so many times demanded from them. The one thing above all … unconditional love and respect. Now in retirement I have some “firsts” to achieve.

• My first goal: “To revert to the past person who my wife married and who my kids first called Dad.”
• My first lesson to learn: “The glass is now always half full, not half empty.”
• My first observation to make: “It doesn’t matter how tough you think you are; it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help!”
• My first promise to make: “To realize that there are always people far worse off than I thought I ever was.”
• My first hope to wish for: “That I be forgiven for my past failures and be remembered for trying my best.”

And remember: You are stronger by accepting help than by denying you need help.

Down with a Sickness

By Lieutenant Bryan Hughes

COVID-19: a subject I was tired of hearing about and had no intention or interest in writing about. I knew this virus wasn’t nearly as serious as we were being told. I knew the government was totally overreacting. I felt like I was being placed on sanction by our Governor. It first started as loss of privileges, and then Top Lock. I just knew this was Government control and overreaching. Until I lost half of my Officers to this sickness. Until an Officer passed away due to this virus. Until several officers were placed on ventilators. Until the facility I work at was obliterated by this virus, and prisoners were being taken out by ambulance daily. Until I got sick and was off work for three weeks.

I don’t go to the doctor. I’m stubborn. When I get sick, I just suffer through it, and make my wife miserable. Like with most men, when I get sick it’s like the end of the world. I usually joke with my wife when I’m sick and tell her I’m dying. Only this virus turned out to not be a joke. People WERE dying. Not just a few, and not just strangers. A transportation Officer had died. An administrator had died. Prisoners were dying every few days. More and more staff were missing from work every day. And a civilian friend of mine died from this virus.

I called my doctor, and he sent me to the hospital. Because I was exposed to the virus, I wasn’t allowed to physically enter the doctor’s office. Because my breathing was not affected severely, the hospital sent me home to quarantine there, and only return if my breathing got worse.

I had a fever of 103 degrees, a pounding headache, all the joints in my body ached, and I’ve never coughed so hard in my life. These symptoms lasted almost two weeks. I had to stop watching the news, because it was nothing but death and destruction due to the virus. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I let the worry get in my head and cause a couple panic attacks when I was at my worst. Could this really be the way I’m going to go? All the things I’ve been through, seen and done in this life, and a virus like the flu was going to be the death of me? My wife walked in the room while I was in the middle of my second panic attack of the week. (I never told her about the first one.) If people have never had a panic attack, it is impossible to explain this experience, and people will never fully understand what a panic attack is like.

What could be worse than being sick with a virus, stuck at home, quarantined away from the world? GUILT. That’s right, GUILT! My officers are walking in that facility every day for a minimum of 8 hours and most likely 16, and I’m not there leading them. They are entering the facility facing an invisible enemy. On top of the fear of catching this virus and taking it home to your loved ones, you also have to maintain the facility to run as smooth as possible with tensions running higher than they have been in many, many years. Tensions have been so high among the prisoners that an uproar is minutes away at all times right now. Lower level facilities are experiencing violence they don’t normally have to deal with.

Knowing what my Officers were facing every day, and that I wasn’t there leading the charge was hard for me to accept. Although I knew it would be counterproductive for me to be at work, making more people sick, I felt I should have been there as an example of true leadership.

I was encouraged by the number of Officers that texted, called and emailed me to see how I was doing. I expressed my feelings of guilt to everyone that checked on me, and they assured me they understood. My staff reassured me that they knew I would be right by their side if I could.

All the staff checking on me daily probably has done more for my recovery than any medicine did. I have an amazing staff, and I couldn’t be prouder of every one of them. That is one thing about Corrections staff that no one can take away from us. When it is time to get serious and take care of business, Corrections staff show up.

If you’re a supervisor, let your staff know you’re proud of them. Whether they admit it or not, these are stressful times. Probably more stress than many have ever experienced. Those that are stressed and scared are looking to you more than they ever have.

As for my health, I’m better. It’s been 5 weeks, and all symptoms are gone except this cough. But I’m back at work where I belong, in the world I know, and with the staff I appreciate more and more every day.

As always, be safe, be vigilant and take care of each other. Keep on keeping on!

Let There Be Hope—A Chaplain’s Perspective

By Correctional Counselor Jeff Rude

As we all know, or at least should know, working in the Corrections Profession for any amount of time takes its toll on all of us. Many have sat back and denied the effects, many have accepted the effects, and others are still not sure. I am here today to express some thoughts on how we can change the effects this career choice has had, or is having, on us. And, to let us all know there is Hope.

First, I want to let you know I have worked for a Department of Corrections for over 24 years in a variety of positions. I worked in custody for 19 years, with 7 of those as a sergeant. I spent a year as the Grievance Coordinator listening to offender complaints and “swimming in the swamp of negativity.” And now for the past 4+ years I have been a Case Manager. I have seen and experienced my share of traumatic events. I have also experienced symptoms of Fatigue, Depression, Stress, Anger, Frustration, and the list goes on.

I am sure you are wondering about the byline being “A Chaplain’s Perspective,” especially since I never said I held the position of Chaplain. Well, to make a very long story short, I will tell you where the byline comes from. At 20 years into my career, I came upon Desert Waters’ Correctional Oasis, and began to read it each month. I quickly realized there were issues/concerns within my department and I wanted to help. You see, I grew up in a family that was not perfect, but was God-centered. I always had the drive to “help” others when and where I could. In 2014 our state brought DWCO Master Instructor Greg Morton to teach the From Corrections Fatigue to Fulfillment (CF2F), and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend. I became a certified instructor for CF2F and taught many classes for our Department.

Around the same time, I applied for and was chosen to be a part of our Critical Incident Stress Management Team. I attended the training academy for this and learned more skills to “help”. About 2 years later I became a Certified Chaplain through the National Police Fire Chaplain’s Academy, learning even more skills to “help.” I continued to learn more and more skills to “help,” and that was all well and good. But the underlying issue still remained: why was I not improving? What was it that I wasn’t dealing with?

Let’s dive into the fray. For years I denied the effects of this career. I denied the changes that were happening to me and in me. I denied how I was treating my family, my friends, and myself. Sounds like a lot of denial right? Well, it was. It took me almost 24 years to decide to get some help, to finally accept what was happening in me. So I called the Employee Assistance Program hotline and garnered a referral to see a Mental Health Provider. I showed up early and, I have to tell you, I was extremely nervous. The man I met with was terrific. He took the time to listen and explore my state of being. To top it all off, he was a man of faith, and that made a huge difference for me. I believed in my heart that I could trust this man, and I knew he would tell me the truth, whether I wanted to hear it or not.

Then it happened. The diagnosis. I didn’t want it. Heck, I even denied it, though deep down I knew he was probably right; after all he is the professional. As the words came out of his mouth I sat there in denial saying to myself, “Nope. He’s wrong; I don’t have that.” I then was given a list of symptoms for said diagnosis and as I looked them over, I found two of them I didn’t meet, but there were about twelve to fifteen that I did. I finally had to admit and accept “the diagnosis;” I have PTSD.

As I sat back and thought about my career and all the things I had been through, I began to realize my misconception. I had believed there had to be an “event” so severe it would cause PTSD. I thought it had to be a shooting or a death or being in a war zone. Then it hit me: we work in a war zone everyday of our careers.

We encounter people who threaten us, assault us, and fight with us. We read story after story of the heinous crimes they have committed. We interview them about their crimes, so we can better understand what programming they may need in an effort to “rehabilitate” them.

I came to realize, through the help of a few Mental Health Professionals, that PTSD is not necessarily the result of one “event;” rather it can be also caused by prolonged “exposure” to these stressors. All the fights, assaults, threats, and reading or hearing or listening to them tell us how they did what they did and why. This might be the leading cause of PTSD in those who work in the Corrections field.

You see, our biggest enemy is denial. The biggest reason people like you and me go undiagnosed and do not get help is denial. The power of PTSD is in the “unknown,” because what we don’t know can cause severe and possibly irreparable damage. It is the fear and stigma attached to “Mental Health” that keeps us from seeking the help we need. It is the unfounded fear that our brothers and sisters will think poorly of us and think us weak. It is this fear that I am attempting to overcome in the hope you will overcome it as well.

I am a Chaplain. I also have PTSD. But neither of these two things define me. I am who I am because of my God. The way I see it is that He has allowed me to go through these things (fights, assaults, threats, etc.) to mold me into the man I am. Remember, it is not just experiencing these things first hand that causes us harm. Indirect exposure—hearing about them and reading about them—can cause just as much harm.

I am a man who is designed and destined to help others. I can see that now more clearly than ever because I finally learned that to help others, I must first take care of myself. If I don’t take care of myself then I am no good to anyone else. As the flight attendant always says, “First put on your oxygen mask before you attempt to help others.” If you are not taking care of yourself, you will quickly become useless to those you are attempting to help.

There are many programs out there designed to teach us the skills needed to take care of ourselves. Take one. There are many videos out there on self-care. (YouTube is a good source). Watch one. Heck, take more than one and watch more than one. Take as many classes, watch as many videos, and read as many books as you need to find the way to “YOUR” wellbeing.

For me, my God is the source of my wellbeing. I still need to practice the other skills I have learned through classes I have taken, videos I have watched, and books I have read. But I must tell you, all the skills in the world will not have lasting effects until you find that one thing that is your rock, your source of wellbeing, peace and hope. Find yours.

My final encouragement for you today is this: make the time to care for yourself, and find your rock, your source of wellbeing. For only then can you think to care for your family and friends the way you want, the way you need, the way you should.

Blessings to each and every one of you, and may divine light shine upon you.

With love,
A Chaplain

CF2F—A Family’s Perspective

By Anonymous Family Members

The wife’s story: How does someone with 20+ years cope with stress and the everyday concern for their personal safety, as well as their co-workers’?

You become a different person, or you develop an alter ego, if you will. This allows you to keep a stern profile and not allow people to see any other side of you. For safety and security issues this is more than acceptable. However, one needs to be able to turn that off when they leave work and go home to their family and friends.

Although I’ve never worked directly with offenders, because my husband deals with it on a daily basis, I feel as though I have lived the experiences, situations, etc. that he has. He has always been a wonderful provider, soulmate, father and friend but recently I had noticed, those things were slowly diminishing and he was becoming someone that I did not feel as though I knew anymore. The stress of the job was getting to him and that stern profile he had to maintain eight hours a day while at work became his profile every hour of every day.

Our daughter had even noticed the change in her father and they had always had an inseparable bond, as most fathers and daughters do. This was breaking our daughter’s heart and after a recent disagreement they had, she lashed out at me saying some very hurtful things about her father. I knew in my heart she truly did not mean them, but was so angry she had just come to her boiling point and exploded. I asked her to give herself a few days to calm down and then discuss it with her father. A few days went by and she did what I asked. I did not witness the conversation, but I came in towards the end of it and I could see the pain and hurt in my husband’s eyes. He had no idea things had gotten this bad. We, as a family, then also discussed other issues that needed addressed.

I felt that we had made progress, but I did not have any idea how much until my husband went to Desert Waters’ class, From Corrections Fatigue to Fulfillment (CF2F). I remember him coming home from the class and immediately hugging our daughter and apologizing for his behavior and who he had become. I saw an immediate change in him after this class and his passion for this program. The man I married 25 years ago has become the same man I fell in love with all over again!

This isn’t something to be ignored. Corrections is a very stressful job, and your family and friends are the ones who suffer from it. Don’t shut them out. They are the ones who love and support you every day.

The daughter’s story: My father has always been my biggest role model.
Every morning, he set me up for success. Words of encouragement were spoken, he told me I would do amazing things, he said that he loved me, and out the door to work he went.

The mornings, they made me happy. It was always the afternoon I dreaded, when dad came home from work. Dad would come home defeated every day, answering constant phone calls, and just looked like he had given up. My cheery, loving father seemed to vanish when he was off work.

People started telling me things about my dad like how power-needy he was, how he had to be in constant control, how his emotions always affected his attitude. I began to realize that my dad was becoming his work. I struggled with connecting with him, never feeling like I could disclose information to him, and instead feeling scared to tell my dad about my life in fear of him disapproving, or snapping at me.

My mom and I brought this to his attention, and that’s when things began to change. My father was so hurt. He never realized what was happening.

Next thing I knew, Dad was gone for a week, in Springfield, attending the CF2F workshop. I remember the day he came home, and he came into the door and hugged me, and started giving Mom and me a summary of his week. Dad broke down, sobbing. He told us all about these things that he learned, the stories he was told, and how he didn’t feel like he was alone in his struggle of becoming his work. I broke down right along with him. From the moment he stepped into the door, I knew my dad was back. He was given the right tools to understand and cope with what he was going through, and he used them.

Now, once again, Dad channels his rough patches into productivity, and I have never been so proud of him. Dad and I have never had such a strong relationship, and I look to model myself after the person my father has become.

My Thoughts about CF2F

By Lt. Tony Gonzales III

I am coming up on 23 years in the department. I have been gassed with urine and feces on multiple occasions. I have been physically assaulted on 4 occasions. I saved an inmate’s life who was hanging, which resulted in tearing ligaments in my thumb, requiring surgery to repair. I responded to the aid of a Counselor while they were being assaulted, which resulted in the inmate mule kicking me in my knee, tearing my MCL and ACL, requiring surgery to repair, resulting in pins in my knee.

During Desert Waters CF2F Instructor Training for the course I From Corrections Fatigue to Fulfillment (CF2F) would return to my hotel room and self-reflect on things I would say and things I would do, which became the norm in my life. For example, I was oftentimes told by my spouse that I was talking to her like an inmate (authoritative, demanding, ordering). I would dismiss her comment and never believed that I talked to her in that manner. I have become distant with friends outside of work, so much so they don’t include me in our “get togethers” I once participated in. I would come home from work and not want to talk to anyone. I didn’t like answering my phone and would look at who was calling. It could be my Mom, Dad, or my children, and I would let it go to voicemail. I absolutely hated going to big events with big crowds. I was always so judgmental of others while in the public. I would immerse myself so much into my work, I would stay over 1 to 2 hours for free. Once home, I would constantly worry about what I needed to get done the next day, which would cause me to be distant with my family. I believed the reason why I got a divorce was my wife’s fault.

And now that I have had the class and can recognize my behaviors and have ways of dealing with them I am working on change. My current wife and I sat down and went through the Participant’s Manual, and she pointed out my behaviors, but now I felt like she had an understanding as to why I act a certain way.

Now when I come home she greats me with a hug and a kiss, welcomes me home, doesn’t ask any questions, and lets me decompress for an hour.

It’s funny, when I begin to “Spiral” as my wife and I like to call it, she reminds me of the fatigue to fulfillment.

For me personally it has helped tremendously and I believe if I would have had this training 10 years ago, I probably would have remained married, as I now recognize that I was part of the problem.

And for the first time in 10 years I took my kids to the Fair, although it was difficult I kept telling myself 96% of these people are good people. I did so well, I took them back the next day.

The week after I returned from the training, I sat in the class as the Peer Support Team leader. During the class I interjected and told a story that when I and my previous wife would get into arguments she would always yell at me and say, “Stop talking to me like I am an inmate!”

Shortly after we went on a short break and when everyone returned, a class participant raised his hand and said after I told that story it broke him down and during the break he called his spouse and apologized for a fight they had a month ago when she told him those exact words. He thanked me for the story, and really appreciated the class.

During that day I left the classroom on 3 occasions and provided Peer Support to both custody and non-custody staff. I literally sat in a participant’s vehicle with them and talked for 30 minutes while he broke down in tears, because the curriculum identified how he was feeling. The participant indicated he could not return to the class because it was real heavy. I told him we were getting ready to discuss the fulfillment portion of the class, which would greatly benefit him. The participant returned to the class and completed it while actively participating in the group exercises. At the conclusion of the class he thanked me for getting him back into the classroom.

At the end of this class, participants clap, give standing ovations and always come up front, thank the instructors and always say, “We have been needing a class like this for a long time.”
I, along with many participants and instructors believe this course should be longer than 7 hours, due to the amount of conversation that happens. This class gets the participants talking, and, couple that with the activities, we are pressed for time.

I think a course like this would be great for the academy. It would prepare the new cadets to recognize the onset of Correctional Fatigue. In my eyes this training is invaluable and needed. I have been an Instructor for 15 years and have never seen class participants have so much gratitude for a class.

Flavor of the Month

By Anonymous Corrections Professional

How did my career in corrections destroy my home life? It happened in a flash. Really, it took almost no time at all. And to this day, I regret the price I paid for my naivety.

After my first three days working in MAX (a maximum security prison), I called my sister. “It is pretty exciting!” I told her. “I feel like I am visiting a totally different culture. Training was okay, but getting to work in the prison is exciting.”

“Are you getting to know people?” she asked.

“Not really,” my voice fell. “I am eating alone in the lunch room and that feels weird after years of having lunch with the girls in my old office. I do get lonely.”

She said, “Don’t worry, Jenny. You’ll get to know people. You are outgoing and fun. People are always drawn to you. I remember what Skip said on your wedding day. ‘I married Jenny because she is sweet, generous, and she brightens up any room. I know I want to spend the rest of my life with this beautiful woman who shines from the inside out.’ In no time, people at that prison will get to know you and you will be having lunch with a crowd.”

I remember smiling with pride as my sister talked about Skip and his attraction to me. At age 39, we had been married 15 years. We were having fun raising two rambunctious boys, ages ten and twelve. We loved our chocolate lab, Loyal. We enjoyed the same things: skiing, camping, and being active in our church. In fact, we were small group leaders for the marriage class and people often told us that our small group had a big impact on their marriages.

When my sister assured me that I would be making friends, I imagined that I would soon meet some women whom I could relate with. I looked forward to having someone say, “How was your weekend?”

The problem with being new in that prison, staff weren’t very friendly at first. The inmates were the ones trying to be friendly. But, I knew the rules and inmates didn’t get away with making personal comments.

But, there was one inmate who kept looking me up and down when he passed by my workstation. I knew what to say if an inmate said something inappropriate. I was confused about what to do if their eye contact was inappropriate. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I asked a fellow officer. I chose Benny. Benny had worked there at MAX for 22 years. He seemed to be well liked by many of the other officers. He was always upbeat and was one of the only people who had been somewhat friendly to me in my new job at MAX.

When I mentioned the situation to Benny, his happy demeanor changed. He suddenly looked stern. “Let’s go talk to that inmate,” he said. We walked down the hallway and he called the inmate out of his cell. We took him to a counseling office and Benny shut the door. “Hey Dipshit!” he yelled in the inmate’s face, “Officer Bosemma is going to be a good female officer. She doesn’t need any of your shenanigans. When you look at her….” he stared at the inmate and let silence fall in the room. “You–look —at— her —face. Now, get back in your cell. You are celled-in for 24 hours while you think about how to respect an officer.”

After the inmate left the room, he searched my eyes to see how I had responded to the situation. “You okay, Jenny?” he asked with a familiarity that surprised me.

“Wow.” I responded. “Thank you. You did that well!” He chuckled and patted my arm as we left the counseling office. I felt warm and I felt protected. It was kind of cool at the time.
When I got home that night, I sat on the couch and petted Loyal as I told Skip all about the event. Skip’s first question was, “How were you sure that inmate was being inappropriate?”

“Oh, I just knew,” I responded. I had always told Skip a lot about my work in the office downtown. He enjoyed hearing about the funny stories about the women who worked there and their varying personalities. But, Skip had no understanding of prison culture. So, I quit talking about work.

Going to work started to become exciting. There were fights in the yard and war stories in the lunchroom. The days flew by in minutes and I wondered why I hadn’t started my career in corrections years before. Benny was often there to chat and ask me about my weekend. I told him about our family outings and about getting to go jogging with loyal Loyal. He told me about the movies that he and his wife went to see. He brought coffee to my post almost every day. Sometimes, he would wait and walk me to my car.

An attractive older female officer stopped by my post one day and said “Officer Bossema. It appears you are the flavor of the month with Benny.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Oh, I was his flavor of the month about ten years back. He and I had to go to training out of town and he got me to meet him in the hot tub. Nothing happened! But, he had intentions. He wouldn’t talk to me after we got home. He is civil to me now. He is worried that I am telling people about what he tried.”

“He must not have been married then. He is different now.” I responded.

She laughed quite loud and an inmate across the way looked over at her. “I need to keep my voice down. Sorry about that.” She whispered, “He was married then too. His wife has no idea how he is. He always goes after the most attractive woman in the prison. That’s you for this month.”

My mind was reeling with a multitude of thoughts: This is scary. This is exciting. Benny’s a “player”. I never had a “player” pursue me. They had ignored me in high school. I’m a mom now. She just said that I’m the most attractive woman in the prison. Why does that matter to me? I’m a wife now. Why is a married man acting like that? Maybe I should stop being his friend? What would Skip think about all of this? I won’t have any friends here if I don’t have Benny. Why do I feel happy about this?

She was waiting for my response. “Well, I’m happily married. I’m not interested in Benny. We are just friends!” I said emphatically. I continued to say that same statement to myself over the next few months. I even had to say it to a supervisor who pulled me aside and asked if I was being sexually harassed.

Meanwhile, work continued to get more and more exciting. I weighed what the officer had said about Benny but in my mind, I had found one of the best friends a person could ask for. He was respectful and fun. He was popular at the prison and I liked having such a friend. I even enjoyed being the flavor of the month. I couldn’t wait to debrief with Benny on the way to the parking lot every evening. And then there was the day that he had to leave his car in the shop to get new tires. He asked for my phone number so he could call me in the morning to get a ride from the shop. I picked him up and we came strolling in to work together. I didn’t worry what people thought because nothing was going on. I was just helping a friend.

After Benny had my phone number, he found reasons to call me now and then. And then one evening, he called me from Safeway and asked me to drive over. He said it was an emergency. I will never forget what he said when I walked up to his sporty little car.

“You are beautiful and I think I love you.” I was stunned. I told myself to run away and save my marriage.

“You are married,” I said lamely. “I am married.” I turned away and got in my car. I went home to Skip. I hugged my wonderful husband and hugged my kids. But, that is the last warm hug that ever happened between Skip and me.

Because, the next day, I had to go to work and Benny was there. He was popular and handsome and he wanted me! I ignored him at first, but he was relentless. Yes, he was relentless and he knew what he wanted.

I had a two-year affair with Benny. I became addicted to his attention. I was addicted to vanity. I was demoralized. I was consumed by guilt. The sweetness of my marriage took wings and flew away never to be seen again. It ruined my reputation at that prison and among my friends in the community. I worked there for many years but many people knew me as the Benny’s fourth flavor of the month. Several years later, Skip and I signed divorce papers in a law office. We both sat in a darkened room and cried.

Benny is still married to the same woman and continues to look for new flavors.

Although financially ok, I lost my home, my garden, family outings, family prayers, many friends, Christmas mornings with my family, and thousands of other cherished valuables. I did get to keep Loyal, my chocolate lab.

After my boys graduated from high school, Loyal and I lived alone in a house 90 minutes from my ex-husband Skip. One weekend, my boys were visiting Skip at his home. I was walking the aging and graying Loyal when his hip gave out. I called the veterinarian and she said “Jenny, Loyal is an old dog now and this is going to keep happening. I think you need to bring him in and it is time to put him down.”

I tearfully called Skip (who had embarked on a new relationship with a good woman) and he drove all the way out to my house to get Loyal and lift him into the back of the pick-up. I drove behind the pick up as we made our way down that sad road to the Vet where Loyal would be put to sleep and then buried in Skip’s backyard. The boys rode in the pick-up next to their dad. It felt secure just to be driving along behind him and our boys.

Loyal was looking over the edge of the pick up at me. He was smiling the way that dogs smile when they see all their loved ones together where they belong.

And I was asking myself: “WHY DIDN’T I PUT MY FAMILY FIRST?”

Start Building Your Village NOW

By Cheryl Callahan

Capt. James A. Callahan, Jr. 27-year veteran of Middlesex Sheriff’s Office, MA, died by suicide, age 53, June 2011. I am his widow.

Life with Jim Callahan (Cal) was complicated by the fact that he kept his feelings and emotions bottled up. Although buried deep within him, they ruled his every day behavior. He could not communicate his hopes, fears, or anxieties. Some of his troubles came from the job. Some came from home. Everything was exacerbated by continuous exposure to the “bad side of life” ever present at work.

His job was extremely important to him, but it came with enormous amounts of pressure—24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It took Jimmy years to open up to me about how hard it was to spend every working night making sure his coworkers were safe, keeping the peace inside the prison walls, and checking on inmates to make sure they hadn’t killed themselves. When surrounded by so much negative energy, it is difficult to believe that good things can happen in life. Jim was hard pressed to “look on the bright side” of anything outside his family.

You Correctional Officers accept a huge amount of personal responsibility. It comes with the job – a very important job. Your personal characteristics include honesty, sound judgment, integrity, and a strong sense of responsibility and commitment. You take care of others. You protect them. You do not want to burden others with knowledge of the evil, sadness and despair you encounter on a daily basis as part of your job. Many of you find it difficult to go home and share your daily activities with your family. Taking a psych patient to the hospital or finding an inmate dead in his cell may be part of your world, but you do not want to make it ours. You know more evil than we “outsiders” encounter in a lifetime and your instinct is to keep it from us. You do not want to pass along the nightmares. You do not want this evil to permeate your home.

I am here to tell you that by bottling this up and protecting your family from all that goes on in your day, you are actually doing yourself and your family a great disservice. No one, no matter how strong and secure, should be asked to contain your daily stress. You need to recognize that it’s ok to talk about it, process it and let it go. Get rid of it! Suppression can kill you. Look what it did to Jim.

Jim grew up with a Dad whom he respected. He loved his father and was proud of him. So proud of him in fact that he followed in his Dad’s footsteps by becoming a Correctional Officer. Unfortunately, “Jas” Callahan’s life ended in 1973 after being assaulted and pushed down a flight of stairs by an inmate. Jas paid for his dedication to the job with his life, and, in a totally different way, so did Jim. It’s a sad parallel.

Hillary Clinton once said “… we have learned that to raise a happy, healthy and hopeful child, it takes a family, it takes teachers, it takes clergy, it takes business people, it takes community leaders, it takes those who protect our health and safety, it takes all of us. Yes, it takes a village.”

YOU are part of that village! We all need a village to keep our sanity today. The weight of the world does not rest on your shoulders alone. This is part of what went wrong for Jim. His village was too small. Family can’t be your sole resource for help when a crisis arrives.

And know this….. You can’t start to build a village when you are in crisis. You have to have it in place LONG BEFORE a crisis arrives if you are going to survive!
Looking back I see the “Jimmy quirks” were not simply quirks, they were symptoms. Symptoms of anxiety he chose to ignore and symptoms I just learned to live with.

His Symptoms List:
1. Locking doors behind him.
2. Always looking at the “negatives;” never even considering the positives.
3. Social anxiety—“Why meet someone new? My old acquaintances are all I need for the rest of my life!”
4. Always “sick.” Do you “bang in” because you can’t take the stress at work?
5. Sleeping around the clock. Who sleeps 12–14 hours/day? Someone who does constant battle with anxiety is exhausted at the end of the day.

Obviously now when I look at this list now…I clearly see a person prone to depression. Depression can be genetic or it can be brought on by a particular situation. Both played a part in Jim’s story.

He didn’t wake up one day and suddenly “catch” anxiety and depression. I am confident he was genetically predisposed to it. I never realized how great the struggle was until it was close to the end.

Just “yesterday” he confided in me that whenever he applied for a job, he threw up from nerves. He couldn’t drive to the Sheriff’s out of town office without mapping out the route, driving it at least twice before he had to “go for real.” Drive in and out of Boston… forget about it… Talk with a professional about his worries – no way!

The most unfortunate thing of all is that if he faced his fears he was able to overcome them. He just lacked the insight to see the successes he had when he put mind over matter.
He learned to drive to and from Maine. He was able to overcome his fear of public speaking when it mattered. He could meet with the feared physicians if he just went prepared.

Back to the depression. He was in severe depression for the last six months of his life. I was asking too much of him. He told everyone he “needed time off to care for his wife,” but in reality he was trying to hide his depression from his coworkers and deal with it all alone. He didn’t have a TEAM in place to assist with his troubles.

If he only understood what Solomon once wrote: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.” Solomon suggests we seek and follow wise coaching. Don’t go it alone. The risks are too great!

How is it I am here standing in front of you today? Easy: I have a huge support network that keeps me going. My team consists of friends, therapists, family, and others I consider life coaches. Even my bosses/coworkers are part of my team. In addition, I’ve had huge amounts of support from the Middlesex Sheriff’s Department.

Jim’s anxiety got in the way of his building a support network. His fears were so great he couldn’t face them. He actually made a heroic effort: he reached out to his family, he reached out to EAP, he attempted to give in to my requests that we get help…but in the end his anxiety clouded his judgment. He couldn’t cope with the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy/anxiety, and he couldn’t see there was a path forward.

Don’t make the same mistake! Take the easy steps now before a crisis arrives. Become familiar with services that are available at work. Know that there is confidentiality in place if you need services. Respect your fellow co-workers’ privacy when you see/hear something you don’t have any insight into. Cut them some slack. You never know what is going on behind the scenes, so why gossip about it?

If you are under stress at work or at home, then seek professional help! This is NOT a sign of weakness. You will NOT be judged. You will NOT be told how to handle a situation. You will NOT be forced to take meds.

How can this benefit you? You will get a sounding board, a mentor, someone who can outline options available to you that you may not have considered. Listen to the coach; s/he only offers suggestions. There is nothing negative about it. Physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists and LCSW’s are available to offer suggestions and hold your hand through a transition. You have an Employee Assistance Program available. You don’t have to go it alone. You need only to be open to ways your life can improve. Think positive. You call all the shots!

Anxiety and Depression are very treatable. Seeking assistance with depression does not translate to “I am a failure.” It is actually an empowering step to improve your own health and well-being. I hope you value yourself enough to utilize the resources available to you.

To those of you who don’t experience this reality, you need to be aware of sudden changes in behavior in coworkers. Be on the lookout for dramatic mood changes, avoidance behaviors, weight loss, increased alcohol consumption, or general malaise. Offer some support or point the person towards your EAP.

James A. Callahan, Jr. was a kind and loving man who wanted to protect his family from anything that wasn’t kind and loving—to his own detriment. He was unable to reach out to the medical community, his coworkers, friends and family during his hour of need. To his thinking, this was a show of weakness. It filled him with shame and left him feeling alone in this world. In crisis he couldn’t overcome these feelings. Don’t let yourself get to this point.

I am confident some good can come from this tragedy. That’s why I am here to contribute to the 2012 Conference on Correction Officer Wellness.

– Depression kills.
– Awareness is the key to overcoming it.
– Action is the solution to the problem.

Start Building Your Support Team, Your Village, TODAY!

Wish I understood PTSD long before 2012.

Recovering & Helping Others Recover

By Jeffrey

I began my career in Washington State Department of Corrections in July 1995. I was hired at the Twin Rivers Corrections Center in Monroe Washington. As soon as I made permanent officer I worked as a Sick Leave relief officer for 2 years. I worked between Twin Rivers and the Special Offender Center. TRCC is a medium security prison that houses several offenders who are in for a sexual crime; mostly against children. SOC is a close custody facility with primarily mentally unstable offenders who would just as soon kill you as look at you. Several do conduct themselves with a modicum of restraint and respect for officers.

On nights while working at the Special Offender Center I had opportunity to respond to several emergency issues. These issues ranged from offenders cutting on themselves, staff assault, staff being thrown on with body fluids (milkshake), and the list goes on. I was blessed enough to have never been assaulted myself, but knew many others who were not so fortunate.

I worked between these two institutions for four years. I was then promoted to Sergeant at another institution across the state at Airway Heights Corrections Center. I worked in a living unit as the sergeant for 6 years. During that time, I conducted many investigations regarding fights, assaults, and other such issues. I had to deal with medical emergencies, fire emergencies, etc.

One thing you must understand about being a sergeant at AHCC is that there was little relief available to us. So, those of us who were lower in seniority did not get much for vacation time and such. As a lower senior sergeant, I was also subjected to mandatory overtime on a monthly basis. Thus, after 6 years as a sergeant, I decided that I really needed time away from work and demoted back to officer. This afforded better vacation to me and allowed me more time with my family.

As an officer I had to handle the duties as every other officer; angry offenders, aggressive offenders, depressed offenders, medical emergencies, death of offender family emergencies, etc. On one specific night, I remember it extremely well, I had to respond to an inmate who was assaulted and died. I responded to find my partners performing CPR and attempting to revive the dead offender. All such efforts were fruitless as the offender’s carotid artery had been severed by a “one-in-a-million” punch from another offender.

As I continued my career, I thought I was doing very well with dealing with all of these traumatic events. I was well adjusted, relaxed, and relatively without stress. Or so I thought. I read my first issue of Correctional Oasis in December 2012. In this issue it talked about PTSD and how it had a higher prevalence in DOC than even the military. In the January issue I read about Corrections Fatigue and found the information valuable. However, I honestly did not think it applied to me. But I did think of many of my partners who I identified as being affected. I continued to read the publications each month, learning about Fatigue, PTSD, Depression, and the issues each of these causes in the lives of those who suffer them.

In June 2013, I finally had to admit that I too was suffering from this issue. It presented itself in me when I lost interest in things that I truly loved to do (I am an avid bicycle rider). I began to recognize that I was suffering from a case of depression. For a while I suffered in silence, even to the point of contemplating suicide. Now, I do not believe that my depression issues were caused only by my choice of career and the things that I have dealt with over the years. I do, however, believe this was a highly contributing factor and exacerbated the issues.

But then one of my friends from church recognized that I was having some difficulties. He asked some very probing questions and I truly had to accept the truth of my predicament. He and some other friends were able to help me to get through the issues and I am now doing much better. In fact, I believe it is behind me almost 100%.

Upon going through this, I have begun to have a passion for helping others who are suffering these issues. And, since I have been an instructor for my department since 2001, I put a suggestion in to our local training department that we incorporate a class on this subject during our annual in-service training. I also suggested this to the Director of Prisons for Washington State. I received positive feedback from each of these persons and we are now teaching a class entitled “Wellness: Occupational Stress Management.”

I have had the privilege of instructing this class and have received some interesting feedback. At first, most of my colleagues are resistive to the material. I get attitudes like: Are you serious, this doesn’t apply to me, why do we have to go over this lame subject, and others. But more times than not, by the end of the class the vast majority have changed their minds. In fact, several have requested the link to your website so they too can subscribe to your publication. I view this as a very encouraging sign, and I am looking forward to learning more, growing more, and helping more.

Learning this, and going through this, also encouraged me in other areas as well. I applied for and was accepted to the Critical Incident Stress Management Team for our region.

I thank you for the timeliness of your research and publication.


Words of Wisdom

By Anonymous Correctional Officer (Retired)

As a veteran C/O I have seen way too many families break up after a few years at this job. I have seen drugs and alcohol devastate marriages, friendships and careers. I have seen too many people kill themselves while employed or within a few days after termination from the department. I myself have spent a night with a Smith and Wesson 686 on my lap. I put it up, and got the help I needed.

Through the years I may have put a finger on two pieces of the puzzle: (1) people need success in their jobs, but in corrections you mostly see failure — successful people don’t come back to prison; and (2) the rest of the Officers in the criminal justice system have the tendency to view us as the B-team.

We as a group have to do more to increase our professional presence within the criminal justice system and with the public.

I was proud to protect and serve the people of the state of _____ for nearly 28 years. In fact, it was with mixed emotions that I took off my uniform and hung up my leather for the last time.

Now I’m doing the greatest thing you can do being retired – taking care of my grandchildren.

Forever Changed?

By Jeff Rude

A little boy grows up in Anytown, USA, playing cops and robbers. He dreams of becoming a Police Officer someday. He wants to be the hero, to help others, to save others. As time goes by, he attends college, gets his degree and starts his career in Corrections. He thinks to himself, “This is right up my alley. I always wanted to work in Law Enforcement and this is great.” First day on the job, he attends the local Safety Briefing and gets his initial induction into the fantastical world of Corrections. He begins his job working all shifts as an on-call officer. He is told to always answer his phone when it rings as that may be the facility offering him work. He takes the calls as they come in and works every time they tell him to. He thinks, “Is this what I really signed up for? Am I ever going to make it to a permanent position?” He presses on and continues to work when they call. He begins to wonder if he can continue with this; he is working 50 – 60 hours per week on all shifts and it is beginning to wear on him. Am I Forever Changed?

He goes in to work one day and get called to the Shift Commanders office.  He is thinking to himself, “What did I do?  Am I in trouble?”  He reaches the office, and there sits the Shift Commander looking at him with a straight face, giving no indication of what’s in store.  He sits down at the invitation of the Shift Commander and waits to hear what his fate is.  The Shift Commander looks at him seriously and says, “Would you like a job with us?”  He thinks to himself, “Well that is the dumbest question I’ve heard in a while!  Of course I want a job!  Why else would I be putting myself through this torture for the past 9 months?”  He says only, “Yes, I would love a job here.”  He is told he will be working on 1st shift (graveyard) as a Unit officer.  He is excited, nervous, fearful, and hopeful all at the same time.  He worries if he will make a good officer.  Am I Forever Changed?!

First day on the unit as a full-time officer, he conducts formal count.  He and his partner agree on their numbers and submit the count slip to the Shift Commander.  As they wait for the announcement that count is clear, they instead hear, “Formal Re-Count” over the radio system.  Immediately his heart rate rises and he thinks, “Did I cause the re-count?”  He and his partner begin to count again.  Only this time, their numbers are different and he realizes he was the cause of the re-count.  His thought go from “Am I going to get in trouble for this?” to “Am I going to get fired for this?”  They submit the count slip again with the corrected numbers, and, sure enough, count clears.  He then gets the visit he was dreading from the Shift Sergeant.  They all sit down in the office and discuss their mistake.  He freely admits to his causing the re-count and apologizes for causing everyone the extra work.  He is told he will need to submit an Incident Report explaining how the miscount happened.  He is still worried if he will be fired or receive punishment for his mistake.  Am I Forever Changed?!

As time goes by he pours himself into the job and vows to never make another mistake, only to be disappointed on several occasions.  Mistakes happen; that’s a fact of life.  His partners tell him to “suck it up” and “quit whining.”  He doesn’t see it as whining, but tries to see it from their point of view.  He begins to slowly shut down that part of who he is.  He begins to build the walls around him that will protect him.  He begins to change at his core and become a little more cynical and withdrawn.  Am I Forever Changed?!

One night at work, he is doing a tier check when he sees an offender standing by his bunk looking toward his TV.  He doesn’t think much of it and keeps walking.  Another hour goes by and he starts his next check.  As he looks into the cell, he sees the same offender standing there looking at his TV.  He thinks this is odd, so he knocks on the door to ask the offender why he is just standing there.  He gets no response.

He begins to get angry at the offender’s apparent disrespect, so he kicks the door and turns on the cell light.  And that is when he sees the torn bed sheet tied around the offender’s neck and fastened to the bed frame.  Panic begins to well up inside him, and he thinks about what he needs to do.  He remembers what he was taught at the Academy, and makes the radio call.  Response comes to the unit and they make entry into the cell.  They get the offender down and begin resuscitation efforts, all to no avail.  The offender is dead.  This is the first dead body he has ever seen; this is the first time he has ever had to do CPR; this is the first time for many things.  Am I Forever Changed?!

Later that night after spending hours writing his reports, he begins to feel the weight of what just happened.  The adrenaline is now gone, and he is left with the lethargy that follows.  As he reports to the Shift Office to turn in his report, he hears the staff talking.  They are cracking jokes about the offender.  They are laughing at what happened and making light of someone dying.  He wonders what is wrong with these people.  Then he wonders what’s wrong with him because he feels differently than they do.  Am I Forever Changed?!

As time goes by, he gets “better” and puts this incident behind him.  More and more incidents happen and he of course responds to each accordingly.  He deals with the stress of the job and the many responses to fights, assaults, deaths, as best he can.  He joins the crowd by participating in the jokes, the innuendos, and the “gallows” humor.  He begins to shut himself off from the outside world because “they don’t understand him.”  When he goes out, on the extremely rare occasion, he sits in the corner and watches everyone who comes in, and decides if they are a threat or not.  He looks around the restaurant and judges everyone there by how they look, how they dress, the tattoos they have, and whatever else reminds him of prison life.  Am I Forever Changed?!

One evening, he takes his wife out on a date.  They go to the restaurant and she begins to converse with him.  However, he is not paying attention to her because there are threats everywhere; the waiter, the people at the next table, the cook, the person who just walked in, etc., etc.

As he continues to scan the room, his eyes finally meet those of his wife.  He is taken aback as she is glowering at him.  He reacts by asking, “What?” in a very harsh manner.  Then “THE” discussion happens.  She begins by asking why he doesn’t show affection toward her any longer.  She asks why he is always distant from her, why he is always angry with her, and why he doesn’t like to spend time with anyone.

He, of course, reacts by saying she is crazy, and completely denies the accusations. But are they accusations, or are they observations made by someone who loves him?

The conversation goes on and on.  As they get home, he goes to the bedroom and begins to ready himself for bed because, after all, he has to work tomorrow.  He thinks about the conversation and wonders if there is something wrong with him.  He ponders whether or not his wife has a valid point and if he has pulled away from her and shut himself off.  Am I Forever Changed?!

At work, he begins to mold himself into the officer they expect him to be—strong, self-sufficient, hard, unyielding, an enforcer, and the list goes on.  At home, he pulls further and further away, though he doesn’t realize it.  When confronted about it, he says he hasn’t changed; he is the same man she married.  Is he?  Deep down inside he knows he has changed, but he can’t seem to admit it to himself.  He can’t accept the fact he has become someone he doesn’t like and doesn’t respect. In fact, he has become someone he despises.  Now the thoughts come like a dam breaking, “She would be better off without me; the world would be better off without me; I need to end this turmoil and pain; I need to escape.”  Now he begins to see how he has changed and thinks to himself, “Am I Forever Changed?!”

He wakes in the morning to find himself sick to his stomach and, quite explicitly, throwing up.  He has a headache from hell, aches all over, and can’t get warm.  He calls work and tells them he will not be in today as he believes he has the flu.  He goes back to bed and hopes to get better, but he only gets worse.  He gets scared and asks his wife to take him to the Doctor.  Over time, the Doctors run test after test to no avail.  They try many different medicines, but nothing works.  Then, after many months, his Doctor looks at him and says, “I have staffed your issues with my colleagues and we believe what is going on with you is related to stress.  We recommend you seek professional help via a Mental Health provider.”  He reacts badly and tells the doctor to run more tests, this is not in his head, this is not related to stress; this is a physical illness.  Am I Forever Changed?!

He finally relents and goes to see a local Mental Health provider.  He begins very standoffish, but finally relents and gives the provider “some” information.  After a few more visits, the floodgates open and he “vomits” all his stressors on the provider.  The provider looks at him with compassion and care all the while.  When he is done, he feels somewhat better.  More visits, more “vomiting,” but now something is different.  You see, the provider has been giving him “homework” to do, and he has been doing it.  He sees more about how the job has changed him, and he doesn’t like what he sees.  He vows to change and makes the effort to do the things the provider encourages him to do.  He doesn’t see the change and asks the provider, “Am I Forever Changed?”  The provider looks at him intently and tells him, with emphatic conviction, “No, you are not Forever Changed, you can make changes for the better.”  He finds hope and encouragement, and puts forth the effort to make positive changes in his life.  He thinks to himself, “I am NOT Forever Changed!”

This is an allegorical story about the life and changes that happens in ALL who work in the field of Corrections.  We are all changed by this job and by what we see on a daily basis.  Maybe we don’t recognize it or we try to bury it deep, but we need to accept it, point at it, name it, and get help.  We, as human beings, all need to give and receive comfort, compassion, and care.  Please make the effort to take some time and recognize what is happening inside you, seek some help, and make changes for the better. 

Am I Forever Changed (for the worse)?! 

Only if you choose to do nothing.