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Injuring the soul
By Barry Evert, Sergeant
Published: 05/12/2008

Supernova2 At some point, many officers are faced with injuries in our line of work. Some are more severe than others, but many take us away from our jobs, and sometimes even our normal lives.

I have been faced with numerous injuries that have taken me out of commission for short periods of time. The injuries were mostly minor, and I was able to return to work rather quickly without any major disruption of my daily life. Broken bones here and there and concussions are part of the job, and most of us can recover quickly.

For some of us the time may come when a truly debilitating injury can put us on the “injured reserve” list for a longer period of time. This happened to me a couple of years ago.

What started as a relatively minor problem blossomed into a loss of sensation in my hands, and for all intents and purposes, all meaningful use of my hands for several months. I came to realize something during this time; some of our injuries go deeper than bones and flesh, they injure our soul.

This may sound a little too dramatic, but few can appreciate the feeling of worthlessness when injured to the point that daily tasks become a struggle. Whether it is temporary or permanent, what needs to be recognized is the effect it has on many of us.

I have known many officers who have become injured on the job and have suffered horribly because of their injuries. Most of us talk amongst each other about how bad we feel for the officer, but do we ever do anything about it?

If you know someone who has suffered a serious injury, be it on or off-duty, you should understand some basic facts. The officer is struggling to grasp that his career may be over, and is very concerned about how they will provide for their family or themselves.

They are often in a great deal of pain, both physically and mentally, and are beginning to blame themselves for the injury.

The disabling effect on the officer makes they like they are less of a person because they can’t do what they used too.

I struggled with depression and feeling of worthlessness as I struggled to recover from my own injury. I have spoken with other officers who have been severely injured and have found the same to be true for them.

The officer has spent much of their adult life as a “protectors and defenders,” and now suddenly he may not even be able to complete simple daily skills such as bathing or using the restroom without help.

This has a profound effect on their self-esteem. To make things worse, they may be starting to understand that their career is over, and may not have an alternative means to take care of the household. This is another blow to their psyche.

She will push away many offers of help to mask her disability. All of this combined will eventually lead to a severe depression. So how do we even begin to deal with all of this? The answer is simple; love and support your brother/sister, even when they are not at work.

If you know a colleague who has been severely injured or is suffering some type of disabling disease, you cannot be scared to act. It is a daunting thought to come up with a conversation to have with someone when you could not imagine what you would do if you were in the same situation.

Just remember that no one is expecting you to be the officer’s counselor or doctor. A simple call, reminding him that you are thinking of them can mean a lot. There is no greater feeling than getting a telephone call from an old partner or pretty much anyone at work to check on you after being away for a while.

You do not have to put yourself in the officer’s situation. Let them guide the conversation. If they want to talk about their injury, let them vent on you; but, if they do not talk about it, simply make small talk about family and life.

This little conversation may pull them out of a daze. Remember that we allow this type of venting from offenders all the time, why wouldn’t you do the same for a fellow officer?

Try to remind them to enjoy their family time while they are off, and that work is the same as it has always been. One of the hardest things for that officer is to really enjoy their time at home. Many miss being part of “the action,” and may feel out of sorts when they don’t know what is going on at work.

Do not exclude them from what had been normal activities outside of work before the injury. If the injured officer was always there on poker night, invite him back; or if he can’t make it because of his injury, offer to move the game to his bedside if needed.

I think most of you catch the drift of what I am trying to relate to you. Be there for your partners, they are counting on you, even if they don’t say anything.

If you are the injured officer, keep in mind that a lack of phone calls does not mean you are forgotten. Many of your partners are scared to call you because they think they have to have the answers to your problems before they can call.

Feel free to call them to see what they are up to. This will make it easier for them to talk, and make you feel better knowing that they have been thinking about you.

Try to enjoy your time with your family. I know this seems ridiculous, but you are after all, at home with the ones you love. This can be your own family, your parents, or maybe some other important relative that is taking care of you.

You are not less of a human because you are injured! I cannot stress this enough.

I understand that you have worked the “toughest beat” in the nation, and that you have never backed off a fight. I know that you were the first one in and the last one out. And we all understand that you can’t do these things right now, or maybe even ever again. Does this make you less of a person, less of an officer? Of course not.

Instead of feeling useless, teach others to learn from your mistakes, and dedicate yourself to the training and development of the next generation of officers. You have never run from a fight, so don’t run from this one.

The loss of physical ability can be devastating. But no pain is as great as the belief that you are less important than you were before your injury. This type of depression can lead the officer to quit trying to get better and simply give up. We have lost many good officers over the years to this type of depression, and it is high time we do something about it.

I have spoken many times in the past about officer suicide; and at a time like this, officers are at a higher risk of suicide than ever before. Do not be afraid to support your colleagues, even if all you can do is call and tell them you miss them at work.

We are always an unbreakable team when we go into battle on duty. It is time we form the same bond for our off-duty battles.

Sgt. Barry Evert began his corrections career in 1999, and is now a Correctional Sergeant at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. He has been with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for eight years. His specialty lies in teaching, tactical emergency response, riot tactics and officer safety improvement.

He is a firm believer that a good home life breeds a good officer, and is currently writing a book, which supports that idea and details the essential skills and techniques new COs should learn in the first two years of their job.

Other articles by Evert:

Getting stuck with getting stuck, 2/10/08

Crawling into the bottle, 10/08/07


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