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Home > PTSD, family > A Solid Partner

A Solid Partner

August 3rd, 2010

Printed with permission.
I thought I would write an article similar to “the old Screw” to tell what 20 years in Australian Corrections has done to me, my wife and family. She has been a solid partner. Unfortunately, I cannot say I have been the same to her or my children.

I have just retired prematurely, diagnosed with PTSD from an incident 12 years ago that, if recognized at the time, I could have sought help for.

I now know it can grab anyone at any time at any place. No one is shielded from this horrific illness. Those who survive are those who seek help as soon as possible and work with the helpers. It is those who cannot or choose not to access that help that I now read as headline news in the Press. Admitting my illness and then taking the decision to ask for help is the hardest thing I have ever done. It is also one of the best decisions I have ever made. It takes a strong man (or woman) to recognize and admit to themselves that they need help instead of blaming others. I do not feel lesser of a man for asking for help. In fact I think it has made me a stronger person and definitely a happier person.

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, 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 the “grizzly old Screw” 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.” Luckily 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 whits, but beaten by a system that has failed me. 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.”

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  1. Lisa
    February 9th, 2011 at 16:59 | #1

    Good luck and enjoy your retirement. Be proud of who you are. Everything we do in life is like writing a book. You have just finished two chapters in your like, now close out that book with joy and happiness. Take care, stay safe, eat right and exercise. May you have 29 more years with your wife, children and potential grandchildren.

  2. Brie
    October 3rd, 2011 at 08:16 | #2

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. My father recently decided to end his own life after a two year long battle with severe PTSD after an early retirement from the state prison system. It is such a positive feeling to read this article and I’m so happy for you that you were able to be strong enough to admit you needed help. Some of the things you said in your article sounded like you were describing my father’s life and behavior exactly. I cannot even describe to you how happy I am for you and you family, keep up the positive attitude, you’re an amazing person!

  3. Pete
    October 6th, 2011 at 09:56 | #3

    I hear you I to am a 20 yr vet of Corrections, I have spent 20 yrs in a max in the US. I have recently been promoted to Lt. and must stay two more years to retire at that rate, My family wants me to for the $$ but I am soooo done, I have just lost another friend (Officer) from my facility this year to self inflicted gun shot wounds. NO ONE understands us. We are “Broken toys” “Damaged goods” after 20 yrs.I have been educating our mental health staff on our “world” and they have listened and have gone to Colorado to “Dessert Waters” a mental health facility for c.o’s you should go to thier site, yoiu will swear some of the stories were written about you. After all A con’s a con and a c.o’s a c.o dont matter where you are from. Good luck and happy retirement you earned I KNOW!!!

  4. Cheryl Reynolds
    November 20th, 2011 at 22:53 | #4

    This is a comment for A Solid Partner through my tears falling. After reading your story and dealing with my husband suffering PTSD for the past 17 years and only being officially diagnosed for 9 years I do understand the trauma correctional officers deal with on a daily basis. You see my husband would usually share those stories with me as it became obviously clear that the upper management had an attitude of man up and get over it and he needed to share with someone he trusted. It sounds like corrections is corrections no matter what country. My husband happens to work for Corrections in Canada for 22 1/2 years and has been off work for five weeks recently because of a series of again work related traumas. Glad to hear that you are beginning to heal and take your life back. My standard comment has always been that there was life before corrections and there should be life after corrections. Keep healing and hug your family for still being there for you. They all deserve a medal for what you have had to endure.

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