By Lieutenant Bryan Hughes
Reprinted with the author’s permission from the January 2020 issue of Correctional Oasis (desertwaters.com). This article perfectly illustrates the points made in the preceding article by Caterina Spinaris of Desert Waters titled “Breaking the “I’m good” code of silence”.
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 suicides 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 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 commit 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 lowers 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 damn 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....
Author: Lieutenant Bryan Hughes
Article can be found in the January 2020 issue of Correctional Oasis published by Desert Waters. desertwaters.com