Sunday, May 13, 2012


As a Krav Maga instructor, one of my favorite things to do is come up with drills and exercises that mess with people's heads.  

The goal might be to scare them into a freeze & get them to fight through it, create a confusing situation that forces them to take action even when no obvious correct course exists, or tell them things are going to be one way and then change the rules mid-stream so they have to deal with a situation as it actually is and not the way they thought it would be.

Whatever the situation is at any given moment, my ultimate purpose is always the same:  create a situation where they are forced to feel stress and act to end the situation in their favor.  While it's important to give serious thought to what you would/should/could do in a dangerous situation and to create a plan, I really believe that intellectualizing these things isn't enough.  As they say, everybody has a plan until they get hit in the face.  We often have to experience things ourselves, for good or ill, to totally understand.  

One of my own teachers at the Sheriff's academy appears to have the same philosophy.  A little while ago we had a class on the prevention of sexual assault in the jail - specifically on the Prison Rape Elimination Act.  I confess I never really gave this much thought before, and even had a somewhat callous and indifferent attitude about it.  As Miss Charlotte says, "Nobody wants to talk about rape except to make jokes about prison rape, like that's some great thing."

So anyway - we were sitting in class & the instructor came in and asked us to give him some elements we thought a good leader should have.  We said things like decisiveness, good organization skills, compassion, good communication skills, honor, trustworthiness and intelligence.  Then he asked us to say the name of someone in class who embodied those qualities.  Nobody raised their hand - we're a pretty cohesive group and no one wanted to single out a member, but I can never keep my mouth shut for long, so I raised my hand and mentioned that Mr. G seemed to embody all those things.

Mr. G was removed from the class & several minutes later led back in - but the officer's uniform he'd been wearing had been replaced by an inmate uniform and he was handcuffed like a prisoner.  I was scandalized to see him like that.

Standing next to him in front of the class the instructor asked us to imagine our Mr. G, with all his admirable qualities intact, as an inmate in our jail.  He asked us to imagine him being sexually assaulted and even raped.  It was very upsetting to think about and I wanted them to take those damn cuffs off my friend and put him back in his officer's uniform where he belongs.

But the point was well taken.  All the instructors have been stressing honor and ethics in the job, and the fact that we are the keepers of the inmates, not their judges.  But holy cow, it wasn't until somebody started screwing with my head like I do with my students that I truly felt it.  Then we had to watch a documentary about a young man incarcerated in another Texas jail who killed himself after the staff ignored his pleas for protection after being repeatedly raped by other inmates.  Sometimes the stuff we study is pretty depressing.

I'm not trying to imply that my instructors are encouraging us to baby, pamper, or feel sorry for inmates.  They're not - not even a little bit.  But they are teaching us to remember that each human being is more than the current clothes they are wearing, and to make sure the jail is safe and secure for the officers, the surrounding community, and the inmates.

I came away from the lesson with the determination that the inmates under my supervision are going to follow the rules and behave - and that no one is going to screw with them.  No pun intended.

It's pretty much exactly the way I've run things in classrooms in martial arts and the school district, just with more education thrown in and the stakes raised.

I have to admit I'm grateful for the lesson even though it involved a little slap in the face and am a little embarrassed by my previous attitude.  So, instructor, I'd say that was a job well done.

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