|‘Us’ Versus ‘Them’ & Surviving Violent Encounters|
|By Kevin E. Bedore , Canadian Federal Correctional Officer|
What does it take to win? How prepared are you mentally for that confrontation you are likely hoping never happens? What can you expect to happen after the smoke clears? These are the questions you need to seriously consider while things are calm and cool and you have rational thought on your side.
When the time comes you will neither have time nor circumstances to attempt answering these vital questions. Without this awareness well ahead, you will be sure to lose and probably lose really badly, perhaps at the cost of your life, career and maybe somebody else’s too!
A controversial topic must first be examined. It is what has been termed the “Us versus Them” perception toward staff and inmates. It is a question that often times comes up in recruitment interviews more or less to determine a candidate’s ability to be impartial and non judgemental toward the evils some offenders might have done to society that resulted in their incarceration. “Uh I don’t think there is any difference between us and them”, is what the interviewer is basically looking for in order for the candidate to get favourable results in the job interview. That’s fine I guess for demonstrating the ability to become a professional minded correctional officer in a job interview, but that’s where this socially accepted naivety must take a sharp impasse in the learning curve of prison survival.
Once you find yourself working, things require an adjustment in order for officers to survive. The context of us versus them must seriously take on some reconsideration. First let’s examine what they are and have that we might not. I am talking about violent inmates not so called white collar felons that are doing property or financial crime sentences. They are no less criminals, it’s just that they rip people off, not rip them apart. Our focus from here in is the violent inmate. I think inarguably the worst kind!
Aggression is the attitude of violent behaviour and experts usually agree that there are basically two types of aggression that are the direct response to two separate distinct motivations. These two categories of aggression are survival aggression and predator aggression. Survival is usually the only aggression that some officers come to work with. Survival aggression is the instinct that when a threat presents itself you either fight back or run like heck! It is reactionary and yes nearly everybody has heard about it – fight or flight! Predator aggression on the other hand is something that is developed by the planning and practice of violent behaviour that is perfected over time. It in most cases is not reactionary but deliberate or perhaps in response to some types of stimuli such as wanting to intimidate or even a perceived wrong against them. Some might even be violent just for the simplest reason - because they can!
An inmate’s life inside is all about time. That is the commodity they have lots of. Essentially under the right circumstances a violent inmate carrying out a sentence has an unlimited time and opportunity to learn and become more aggressive and violent. Practice perfected over time.
This is where we see the next us versus them concept forming a distinct shape and must begin to look closer at it. We as officers work usually 8 to 12 hours a day several days a week. We go home and associate with our friends, family and loved ones. We try not to think about the violence or aggression of our work when away from it (or at least not consciously). The violent offender on the other hand has time to plan an attack and wait for you and the right opportunity to carry it out.
A major discrepancy between officers versus offenders is the lawful and unlawful nature toward respect for the law is or is not present respectably. First off offenders went to jail why? Because they (likely) broke the law! Generally aggressive violent type of offenders could care less about laws and rules of the institution with few exceptions. This further explains the other big difference between us versus them. We have a strict policy of what is acceptable for administering lawful use of force. An offender does not. They can and will use whatever means of force they choose with limited consequence if any (they are already in jail – perhaps doing a lengthy sentence already right?). An offender doesn’t need any justification to carry out whatever violent act they choose. They also many times have the means by using improvised weapons ranging from trash items to furniture to the so called ‘shiv’ or ‘shank’ (modification of items to create edged or stabbing weapons). Officers have a duty and responsibility to substantiate whatever actions that may be deemed necessary and often must make these crucial decisions in a “fraction of an instant”. They in all likelihood will in the end also have to face a jury of peers to prove that their decision was justified and lawful at the potential consequence of career and life ruining legal scrutiny.
Is our reactionary survival aggression going to be enough to counter or even survive the well planned carried out attack that comes from nowhere without a second of notice. What do you think?
So you might think “Oh ya we trained for that type of thing in the academy”, or “I am a nice officer why would they target me?”
The problem with these types of things is the mindset of the predator versus you.
This analogy was best demonstrated by a law enforcement trainer I hold in highest regard – Col Dave Grossman. I paraphrase his example, putting it into a relevant context for our purposes here:
“Have you ever noticed that at the circus the handler is already in the cage when the lion is lead in? The lion perceives his surroundings much as we do when we go to work. The lion for some reason has hard wired into the brain the impression that when entering the cage the handler has an advantage. This is why the cats’ inherent predatory instinct gets short circuited – It thinks the handler is the predator and does what is expected of it, only attacking to survive if it feels threatened – which the handler does his best not to do – right? The Lion is entering unknown and un-owned territory. Ever wondered what would happen if it was done the other way around? It wouldn’t be nice.”
So then, how do we prepare for the unexpected encounter with the predator? This problem becomes even more contentious in the view of how your survival motivated behaviour will require a needed move forwards to be more consistent with predator aggression (yes violence) that the violent offender brings to the table. This in itself may be perceived with bias as being ‘over the top’ by those less informed who will undoubtedly be weighing your actions versus law and policy after the smoke clears. The unfortunate reality here is that in some cases those reviewing these cases do so without the experience or insight into time and the actual volatility of the situation.
Nearly every expert in the field of law enforcement / military survival agrees that reaction will never prove effective against well planned and placed action of the adversary, other than in extremely rare cases of exceptionally well trained individuals. Simply put, by the time you react to the attack it is too late. Do not think that the limited training you might have received thus far will be enough. There have been many that have learned this the hard way by bloodshed and loss of life. It has been said more than once that the best defense is effective offence and I couldn’t agree more if applied in a lawful manner.
A completely unexpected, perhaps even random attack is nearly unpreventable, much like an unexpected plane crash or train wreck would be. It is the mental preparation; powers of observation (maybe even a sixth sense if you believe in that sort of thing...) and decisive action that you need to look for if you want to win. Not always, but in many cases there might just be a feeling of something not quite right about an event or person. This should elevate threat response to that consistent with normal threat recognition type survival aggression. Now this is key – when this feeling of fear, and that’s exactly how you will perceive it, kicks in welcome it – don’t fear it. It’s time to even the playing field and use the type of aggression the predator has, not letting the opportunity lose its potency. If the officer doesn’t recognize this opportunity of maximal performance and opportunity this very short term advantage can reduce itself to an opposite effect of a freezing up, by consumption of the fear type feelings which will almost always lead to the most devastating of a situation.
In the wise words of late President Franklin D. Roosevelt and later liberally applied to many other things ‘Pop culture’, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” in some ways is so right and yet so wrong depending on your interpretation.
It may seem counter intuitive and likely odd, but this critical time is your time to act. A likely significant violent reaction is necessary and righteously required if survival is truly your goal against the committed aggressor that is motivated by predator type aggression/violence. Beware this window of opportunity is extremely short. If you miss it then you are back to the original question of who came more prepared, as in action versus reaction.
Strategically this is destroying the adversary’s initiative. And by doing so you seriously compromise the bad guys plan giving you a tiny margin to use your vital action to gain a degree of control which may enable you to win either by superior use of legal approved tactics or rapid withdrawal – you or the adversary. You need to take lawful immediate action, not wait to react whereby it is too late. This cannot be overstated and yet a cautionary note must be made. One must fully understand the significance of compliance with laws and policies which can often be a conflicting reality in these situations.
This article will not attempt to explore the specific tactics that are allowed or accepted because each location and facility has their own authorized and established practices. My advice here is very simple. Ask your trusted trainers what you really need to know to win. Use your awareness, pre planning and calm state of mind before the incident happens to decide what is appropriate and best. This is also the case with handling the aftermath and scrutiny of the investigation. Practice your report writing and verbal communication so you know what to write and say to explain honestly and justly why you took the actions you did. Take in some instruction from some of the expert trainers that speak at seminars and see what they think. Know the law and understand the mental dynamics of us versus them in the context of survival against the violent predator inmate you may come face to face with.
This little bit of extra work will increase your confidence. Perhaps someday it could be the deciding factor in who wins. We all want to go home to our families and get out of jail alive!
Editor's note: Corrections.com author, Kevin E. Bedore has 28 years experience in law enforcement, 23 as a Canadian Federal Correctional Officer. He began writing as a form of personal therapy to combat the negative effects that the correctional environment was having on him. He then realized that he had discovered something truly amazing that definitely needed to be shared with other officers facing the same challenges he had.
Other articles by Kevin Bedore
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT