When I was a rookie sergeant the policy at the time was to assign you to supervise the place and shift you were least familiar with. That meant, for me, a big jump from maximum security and booking to medium security. The skills and flow of the two environments are very different. Max is all about taking control and crisis management. Medium is about managing group dynamics and maintaining the generally good status quo.
So i was in a position of learning to be a supervisor AND learning a new way of jailing. Ralph was the crusty old sergeant who took me under his wing. He was old school enough to be hell on wheels in a fight, but smart and old enough to know that talking was better- there is no healing time after talking someone down. They started the experimental psych unit shortly after that and Ralph and I stepped in, and he was a wonder to watch work there. Big, gruff old guy who had been doing the job long enough that he knew the cons and often their fathers and sometimes their grandfathers too.
He had a ritual with new deputies that came to the shift. He would take them aside and sit them down and talk about the job- what they would see and how it would change them. He talked with heartbreaking honesty about mistakes he had made and what he learned from them. Shortly after my arrival, he got me involved, too. It was unofficial and really due to the initiative of one man, but I believe that those quiet little sessions in the conference room were some of the most valuable training ever provided in any agency.
I've seen him angry and sad and surprised. Cleaned up after he survived a close-range ambush. Went for lunch after he had his knee surgery. I always listened when he talked, always watched him when he was talking with or watching the inmates. He was my first real teacher after I became a sergeant.
Yesterday I watched this crippled up old man on his last full day at work- pitching in, helping the escorts, dealing with problems. Except for a radio call, "243, for the last time, radio check," it was just another day. A good, hard working day.
In a little over an hour, Ralph retires. He was one of the good guys. I'll miss him.
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