It’s natural to have strong responses to trauma
As a leader, one of my duties is to bring awareness to the issue of mental health. I try to let people know that it’s natural to have strong responses to trauma—and it’s important to talk about it.
Because he has experienced trauma and PTSD in his personal life and his professional life, Randall is in a unique position to help others.
I had childhood trauma from watching frequent domestic violence from an alcoholic father, and I had frequent food insecurity and lived in poverty. During my more than 26 years working in law enforcement, I dealt with 30 or so suicides and 35 or so fatal accidents. I probably did 50 death notifications. I was also a rescue scuba diver and pulled 19 victims from lakes, rivers, and streams.
Randall faced more traumatic experiences when, in 2004, he stepped away from his career in law enforcement to serve in Iraq.
In the military, I led a ten-man United States Army team in Iraq. We trained 772 Iraqi infantrymen and fought in Fallujah with the 1st Marine Division for ten months. We had many deaths.
When he returned from duty and went back to work in law enforcement, Randall was quick to anger and quick to exhibit emotions related to the trauma he had experienced. He tried to self-manage his problems, and he didn’t get help right away. But with the urging of his family, he received counseling. It helped him deal with this trauma—and it helps him today as he supports the corrections staff and inmates in his current role as the commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections.
I have a bit of a trauma history with 36 years of law enforcement, and there’s a combat component from my service in Iraq. Because of this, I think I’ve always had an interest in assisting other officers. In corrections and law enforcement, there are a lot of military veterans that bring that trauma with them. So, as warden, I try to ensure that my peers and subordinates keep an eye on each other and that we take care of each other emotionally as it relates to our profession.
Through peer support and the prison’s employee veteran’s group, staff members have opportunities to talk about the mental health issues they might be facing. Randall says that he often has meetings with groups or individuals where staff can discuss their personal challenges and larger issues facing the prison. What’s more, he says that his door is always open for one-on-one discussions with his peers and subordinates.
I often rely on my own experience to help people I work with. I share my story. I think one of the most effective ways to help is to be empathetic, to let people know that you’ve traveled the journey they’re traveling, and they’re not alone.