Retired CO, jail superintendent writes 'Freedom's Guardians'
The book is about Richard Van Wickler's life experiences and includes tips on de-escalating aggression
By Jamie Browder
The Keene Sentinel, N.H.
KEENE, N.H. — Former Cheshire County jail Superintendent Richard Van Wickler has recently self-published his book titled "Freedom's Guardians."
Wickler, 62, is a veteran and motorcycle enthusiast who also runs his own consulting business that helps organizations manage aggressive behavior.
After retiring in 2020, Van Wickler said many people urged him to write a book, which he completed in September, after the many experiences he's had in his life. As the cover of his book says, he's a "biker, soldier, chief law enforcement officer, hedonistic activist." The title, "Freedom's Guardians," comes from the patch he wears on his back as a biker.
"That was the planted seed," Van Wickler said. "After retirement and in the pandemic, consulting came to a screeching halt, [so] I came down to my basement home office and started to write."
It was a process that Van Wickler said was not easy, but he invites readers to consider the need for changing the tides of our confused and aggressive culture. He said some people have disagreed with his points of view, to which he invites them to consider his point responsibly and with a fairly open mind.
"The book can be personally enlightening for everybody. But I also feel it can be utilized as a series of case studies for the curriculum of sociology, psychology, criminal justice studies and human resource professionals because it draws from all of those disciplines," Van Wickler said.
The book addresses stereotypes in racial disparity, our culture and how the brain processes information to react to aggression.
"The other thing that was kind of controversial, in my own mind, was I pushed my way into religion and politics," Van Wickler said. "I share my views on those issues and how they influence our behavior in my opinion."
Van Wickler said he drew from situations within his own life to help the reader understand the points he was trying to make. He includes his support of the legalization of marijuana, abolition of the death penalty and input he's given to the government on how to better manage aggression.
It also includes his love of motorcycles and a snapshot into the life of a motorcyclist, which he said he did in order to highlight his points about stereotypes.
He praises the exercise of meditation and how it's helped him. He describes it as something that "has been a wonderful practice with measurable results in my life."
Van Wickler said his tips about how people are triggered into aggression isn't something people can find in other books.
In criminal justice, when the behaviors of people escalate and peak, corrections officers are taught they're supposed to respond with force to control the situation, according to Van Wickler. However, he says people will naturally deescalate without the need of force. The process involves taking a look at how people act and whether they are using facts or emotions, and how they are using that information to control or manage a situation.
"It becomes kind of a reference guide for anybody that wants to be a better human relations practitioner," Van Wickler said. "This applies not only to law enforcement corrections, but it works with your spouse, children and family because aggression is everywhere."
In the book, Wickler explains that under stressful circumstances, the prefrontal cortex of the brain shuts down when faced with stress or trauma. Van Wickler said the only response left is fight, flight or freeze, and it's hard to control unless someone practices training.
Van Wickler said these are all things he learned from becoming a corrections officer and leaning into studying books on non-violence crisis intervention.
"Even though I was a young, physically fit, previously aggressive male, I was still very intimidated and oftentimes frightened by the work that I had to confront each day," Van Wickler said.
He wanted to find more peaceful day-to-day ways to keep situations peaceful — both in his role as a government employee and as a human being living his daily life.
Van Wickler said he was able to use his daily experience and observations with the information he learned in the books.
Before he was recruited to take over the Cheshire County jail in 1993, it was facing a significant number of federal lawsuits for civil rights violations. He had previously worked for the Merrimack County Department of Corrections, where he rose to first training officer. He said it was intimidating to then suddenly be telling others who were older than him what to do.
He held that position for four years until he became the superintendent of the Merrimack County Department of Corrections.
Van Wickler said he never stopped using his observations and went on to develop a curriculum to teach how to peacefully manage aggression. He was advocating non-violence, which eventually led him to develop his own consulting firm with this information in 2001 and has done presentations from Maine to Connecticut.
Through the challenge of teaching adults and being an adjunct teacher for 14 years at Keene State, Van Wickler said he learned a lot about how to effectively teach in constructive ways, which he said is also described in the book.
Van Wickler said in the coming months he is hoping to visit local New Hampshire bookstores to sign and share his books. His book can be bought on outlets such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Jamie Browder can be reached at 352-1234 ext. 1427 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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