Spoiled Goods-The Torn Serge….
There I sat nervously waiting for the interview to begin! I wonder what they will ask and if the tips I had received from police officer friends would help me make it through this long awaited moment in time that for now looking back upon my dream, seemed to have suddenly appeared and dropped me in this uncomfortable low chair.
I was there alone in the Yorkton municipal detachment or though it seemed until the silence was disrupted by the occassional low talking going on outside the door as shadows passed by the opaque glass. I had waited nearly my entire life for this chance to prove to whoever walked through that door that I was a good choice and would make a fine officer. Failure was not an option and coming from a very tiny prairie town everyone….I mean everyone knew what this day was for me and they were all rooting for my acceptance into the famed Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Back there at the time I only knew of one other hometown boy who tried but did not make it through training. So I was already feeling the pressure of not wanting to be turned away. Why there were more people that became ministers from back home than cops!!! In my little town everyone looked after each other and a handshake was all it took to settle on a deal. Help was always just accross the fence as neighbors were friends and friends were your neighbors and when supper was ready you could hear certain mothers yell accross town echoing off the row of country elevators we played around.
I suppose it started in grade school when we read the story of Dale the first Police Dog in the RCMP, or was his name Rex or Bullet? To tell you the truth I couldn’t recall as I sat there waiting, but my memories of my journey were right there playing like it was only yesterday that the story of that first german shepherd had my attention. I had to make my family proud of me as an RCMP officer because I just could not see myself as a minister even though that would have made my Dad just as proud!
Well the fellow that came into the office that seemed like I had been waiting for an eternity for was nice enough. I did not appreciate some of his questions and accusations as he grilled me for a couple of hours as he wrote notes all along, but my police officer friends had said be prepared for anything. So I sat there not allowing certain questions to get my goat as I knew his game! He thanked me for my time and said I would hear from his office in a few weeks and to stay out of trouble. Well a long written test followed weeks later and I was told that the waiting list was long and not to expect a call for up to two years!! I felt that was a pretty cheap way to brush me off but I called that staffing branch officer on a regular basis checking up on my file and the line-up. The time it took seemed like an eternity until that day a very official letter came in the mail and Dad handed it to me looking as nervous as I was taking it from his calloused hands.
It was official alright, I had never seen such quality paper before and the letterhead was a unique shade of green at the top center of that incredible letter of acceptance! Dad’s smile and glossy eyes told an instant story of immense pride as he patted me on the back and said “I knew you would make it son, I’m proud of you”!
Training was difficult and there was no way in hell that I was going to fail! How the heck did that poor SOB end up with a hammer embedded in his head, as the instructor passed around black and white photos of different crime scenes. I never knew that could happen to a human body, OMG! Are the people I will police doing things like this? There was no rating passed around before those pictures warning us. Some of my troopmates were visibly upset while others forced out weak laughter. You see from day one in Depot we were screamed at and taunted many times each day with that old saying. “ If you can’t handle it here you won’t handle in the field”! And so the training went day after day for six long/fast months…….Grande Cache, Alberta where the sam hell is that? Oh….it’s over here on the map north of Jasper and is a coal mining town in the mountains. Ok, no problem, how difficult could it be? Coal miners were hard working honest people and many came from small towns so we will have
lots in common right? “WRONG”! Ok so up to this point we the current Troop 18 had been bullied, intimidated, congradulated, passed out excercising, threatened and so on and so forth, yet not once did any instructor or class tell us what precisly we were going to be subjected to and how it may likely take it’s toll.
I don’t know if it was my first fatality the first week in Grande Cache or number one thousand and counting, or the too many ways the human body is found in crimes and accidents. Of little babies you held in your arms as you drove your police car like Mad Max to the emergency department trying to save a tiny life. The complete shock experiencing the sights and odors of so many different suicides and murders was nothing like what you heard about in training. I went home after such shifts and sat in the dark alone crying. No one higher up ever asked if you were alright, if you needed to talk, and to ask for help was showing weakness when you hear that saying ringing in your ears! So you go on, shift by shift, month by month and year by year holding things inside. I realized why so many members I worked with drank and partied like they did. They were hiding behind what helped them forget. I did not take that route and I tried to pray for help or a tougher skin to no avail.
One day your doctor asks you if you are doing okay and you try to bluff your way through a masculine “Of course”! He says that it seems like my patience is wearing thin and my eyes are always bloodshot! Hell all I said was that I was not sleeping well, where did this all come from? Depression??? I don’t think so doc! Am I not allowed to be sad from time to time or even be mad at things at times? Well you get the picture, and from there on I was prescribed different anti-depressants as he tried to find the right one for me, but those side effects seemed worse than just being sad or mad! Now he feels I need to take time off from work due to stress which is likely causing the depression. Well okay, a few days rest and relaxing fishing or golfing should do the trick. I never expected when I told my NCO what the doctor was prescribing that the reaction would have been anything but supportive. WAS I EVER WRONG! It was like I had desserted my team and it was all my fault because holidays and courses etc and even court was going to need changing or cancelled. I stayed away from work as instructed by my doctor and when I returned to duty things were very different. I had been alienated by some and gossiped about by others at the detachment where I hung my hat. Thank God for highway patrol, now there were some great people who seemed to understand and care.
I kept doing my job and putting in my time and went through a divorce, was an animal in my martial arts training for twenty years, all along not knowing what was going on inside my brain. What the RCMP knew of back when I went for my interviews in 1976 and 1978 was never brought up once, not one millisecond of warning or instruction of how to prepare and cope. Now my doctor is talking with our Force doctor in K Div and I am ordered to head to Edmonton and am put through a series of tests and examinations that would exhaust a rock! Guess what….another stint of time off is ordered. Oh isn’t this just freaking great, I am going to be really popular now! So I try to cope and distract and take on a little side home business, do some yard work, see my councillors and so on and so forth. Then one day out of the blue Deb shows up and says she can’t lie that our NCO sent her over to spy on me because he felt I was full of shit! Well isn’t that special! Now I am pissed and start paying attention and amazingly I notice some of my fellow officers driving past in their own vehicles as well as a PC which BTW…….was WAY OFF route to their homes or to get to rural complaints as the Force did not police the city I lived in! More tests, more time off and what do you mean I have Post Traumatic Stress Dissorder? What the hell is that anyway and how long will I have it? Of course it goes away doesn’t it? So the depression that I was diagnosed with was just one of the symptoms of PTSD and it is often missed diagnosed by general practioners.
Well the RCMP doing one of the two things they do best came up with a plan and it had nothing to do with helping me! Transfer now or be forced and live away from home or quit!!. (yes I did say they did two things best….the other was willful blindness)
Wait a minute…..I was never told from the very first interview nor warned that PTSD was a risk I would face given the nature of my duties and that it would change the person I was and liked into someone I did not know or like at all. I cannot finish a project, I can’t sleep, I can’t wake up, I can fall asleep in traffic. I can’t stay asleep, I start things and in the middle of it I drop what I am doing and start something different only to repeat the process! I have no patience and I break down and cry without warning. Focus…….on what…….you have got to be kidding me! I can’t remember silly simple things two minutes later and I just forgot what my point was! Why is everybody wrong all the time and why do I want to scream? I just want to dissapear and be left alone……forgotten about! If a bus runs me down I dont care! Nothing is good enough and I am loosing friends that I never thought would dessert me! I can’t stop this video from running in my brain and turning on without warning when I see something, smell something, hear something or drive by a car that looks like that one that burnt or rolled into the ravine with those children inside. My regular doctor says that I need to remain on stress leave until things improve and to keep away from police issues and the detachment. But now the pressure is applied intentionally by this clever pawn sent by staffing and she wont leave me alone!! I travel with my daughter for her to compete in a talent competition in Vancouver relax and enjoy her company and I get one call after another pushing me to transfer or quit. I have no intention of quitting and will do so on my own accord when I make it to 35 years service thank you very much I expressed! Further more I will not accept the transfer and grieve it to the bitter end. Little did I know that Superintendant so and so and his buddy, my NCO were playing their cards and I was the target. I should not have agreed to taking ANY time off when told by my doctor and the force doctor that it was in my best interests. I should have listened to my old Sub-Div Superintendant and transfered with his full support after my divorce! Now there was a cop who supported his cops! The pressure got to me and I was very emmotional and angry when I told the staffing branch pawn that I QUIT!!!
You see all through the years as I did my job like a good little soldier and pressed on I was continually being damaged emmotionally. Each time another traumatic situation took place I lost a little bit more of who I was and did not realize what I was becoming. But you know what…..the RCMP knew all along about the risks associated and never warned an anxious applicant, a focused recruit and a tanacious new officer, not once in the years I was in the force was I ever asked or provided with actual concern and councilling following my first axe murder to my first SIDS, my first fire victims, my first traffic fatality, seeing a woman’s face beaten nearly off her skull, a child sexually abused, a teenager hanging from a rope in his mom’s basement, a decomposed body and so on and so on etc etc etc.
I know some of you may disagree but had all this been put to me at the time I was going through my first interviews and training at Depot I likely would have taken up theology or stayed in construction. I do not like this person I have been moulded into, what I had evolved from to become this man that struggles everyday with frustration and then some. But the RCMP knew and they knew it all along and did nothing! No due dillegence no concern no sir no way!
Since I was pressured out of the force it has been difficult to remain loyal to one job and although I can perform at the levels required in the professions I have occupied since 2005 I still cannot come to terms within when I drive by that spot in the highway from that fire, or that house that held the bodies. You cannot run away from this and no one wants to trade me for it!
I believe with all my heart that THE RCMP and THE FEDERAL government are responsible for every officer and civilian employee who suffers from diagnosed PTSD within not only the RCMP but our military as well! Drug dependancy and endless suffering cannot be bought and paid for any more than it can be ignored any longer. Fair compensation to care for all those with PTSD so they can live as close to a reasonably normal life as one can expect is a good place to start because it is not just the individual who suffers, its their families as well. So what is fair for one may not be fair for another. What works for him may not work for her! No one can look me in the eyes and say without any doubt that I will be cured from this any more than they can stop the video from playing constantly in my head making me paranoid for the safety of my family, loved ones and friends. I am like all those others like me who deserve and just want to know our future is secure, that our spouses and families will not be forced to endure such practiced unfair and cruel treatment and avoidance.
SPEAK OUT AND SPEAK LOUD OFTEN UNTIL YOU ARE HEARD!! ITS NOT OVER UNTIL YOU/WE WIN!
By Warren Pister