Our stories: My family strong

After a corrections officer is shot by an estranged spouse, her corrections family steps up as guardian angels

During my 11 plus years in corrections, I have met and come to know hundreds of corrections officers across this country. I am still a “short-timer” among my peers and know I have a huge learning curve in front of me to attain “veteran” officer status.

When speaking and communicating with each other though, I find we have similar, yet extremely unique and highly personal stories from our time behind the walls. While being so very different, we are still very much the same. Some tales are nightmares that are with us forever. Others are experiences that friends and family find unbelievable and at times laughable. 

I have had numerous officers ask me to put their stories on paper because they cannot. They can explain their world of chaos but cannot put it to paper. Others I feel must have their story told because they are unable to finish the tale themselves and we must not forget. 

I have had numerous officers ask me to put their stories on paper because they cannot.
I have had numerous officers ask me to put their stories on paper because they cannot. (Pixabay)

These stories are real. Officers were hurt, killed, scarred, or amused by the antics of their charges, and each officer can fully appreciate the gravity of another’s story and tale. 

Our collective stories as officers are my story as well. 

My family strong

One never knows who will be there when a true call is made by one in need. I found that I had more family than I knew when life took an ugly turn.

August 2019 I woke up to a handgun barrel in my face from an estranged spouse I believed cared for me. In that groggy awakening, my instinct was to grab and force the barrel away from my head and in doing so bought me spare seconds in the struggle for life. I had not the time to reach my own firearm beside the bed. The fight was on.

I knew not why he felt the need to threaten, but I knew deeply that this was real and not a bluff. I always knew that while on the jail floor I was in harm’s way each day and felt that was the likely location any physical assaults would ever come from. Not from my own estranged spouse.

I pulled him to the floor and sprinted for the bedroom door with him scrambling to get to his feet and follow me with evil in his eyes. As I headed down the hall, the dogs jumped to their feet and delayed his assault even further. I heard the discharge and the whine of one of the dogs. My heart leaped with fear in this life-saving scramble for the door as I knew one of my four-leggeds was hurt.

I opened the front door and headed outside. That is when I heard again the report of the gun and fell to the ground at the bottom of the steps thinking I’d slipped and jammed my hip. I stood back up and ran for the neighbor’s door, my right foot not working as it should. I pounded and pounded, yelling in fear, but no one came. I heard him come out the door yelling for me to come back, screaming my name in rage. I hid in the bushes as he turned to go back into the house when again I heard another handgun blast.

With him in the house, I ran across the street to another house and again pounded on the door asking for help. The homeowner opened the door and asked me what was happening. He looked at my ashen face and saw the blood on my hands and back and brought me into safety.  

Law enforcement and rescue personnel were called, and I was moved to the area hospital.

I was told I was shot in the lower back, that the bullet was lodged in my spine and that they would do all they could to fix me and keep me safe. I was rolled into the ER, speaking the whole way and reflecting to an officer what had occurred. Before I went into surgery, I heard the officer’s radio report my assailant was on the run and had not been found. I asked not to be put under as I feared falling asleep and not waking.  I fully believed he would come to the hospital and finish his quest. My request was not honored.

I woke in my hospital recovery room. Through my foggy eyes and the screen alongside my bed, I saw my closest friend at my side and a man standing outside my door at attention. I asked who that was, and my friend said, it is the AD, he’s been there since 3:00 am. The word had gone out that I’d been shot, and my correction brothers and sisters spread the word like wildfire. Prayers, calls to my cell phone’s voicemail and continuous texts coming in by the minute. It was five hours post-shooting and my assailant had not been found. The AD took it upon himself to stand guard outside my room in case the shooter or his brother attempted to complete his plan.

Hospital security informed all potential visitors that none were allowed and would not relay my location to anyone. That sole duty was with the officer at my door. My boss, my friend, my protector. He turned all away that came and only allowed my father in to see me in my fragile state. He did not depart until relieved, around 14:00, knowing I was in safe hands.

For the next several weeks, as I recovered, there were continuous reminders of “my” corrections family in visitors to my door, meals in my kitchen, and continuous calls and messages on my phone. They all wanted me to know I was not alone in this fight and in this trauma.

When my assailant was eventually found – my fellow officers were consummate professionals during the shooter’s booking process into custody – in our facility. They were also extremely relieved to hear that the shooter would be housed in a neighboring county. The shooter was not worthy of their protection yet they held their tongues and actions in check until the transfer occurred.

The first weeks of recovery were relaxing as I knew my shooter was in custody and behind bars.

Once the shooter bonded out, my anxiety levels went through the roof. Again, my corrections family came to the rescue. Administrators and officers changed facility entry and exit protocols and monitored my arrival and departure to ensure the shooter was not present and my exit was secure. They even allowed my use of the sallyport for parking while on duty. It was not a required protocol transition but it was enacted for me immediately and highly appreciated.

To date, the legal case has not come to a closure. Each day “my” corrections sisters and brothers keep a watchful eye on my back and on my psyche. I still bear the bullet in my spine. Its initial trauma and effect on my body are almost gone. The scar is a daily reminder of the family who watches over me each day, closer maybe even than my family of blood.

There is no greater feeling than knowing I survived, and that 85 other officers, staffers and contractors have my “six.” They are my safety net and guardian angels. I am strong because “my” family is stronger than I and is ever-present. Because of them, my tomorrow will be bright and numerous.

Note: The attacker has been sentenced to 15-30 years in the state penitentiary for his assault and attempt on the officer's life.

NEXT: Our stories: She wouldn't wait

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