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In Memory of 3X322

Over the past few months, I’ve had conversations with a number of our nation’s sheriffs and jail commanders. I’ve been thinking about all the challenges they face. Navigating the global COVID-19 pandemic is a huge concern. Staff shortages…without a doubt. Treating those affected by opioid addiction, of course. It wasn’t until Sunday that a common theme emerged, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. On Sunday, I lost a colleague to suicide.

It was an “Ah ha” moment, one that still hurts as I write this. It occurred to me that a constant theme of my conversations these last few months has been the health and wellness of those serving in many different capacities in law enforcement.

Our nation’s law enforcement professionals and all who work in corrections continue to grapple with invisible internal elements. According to a Washington Post article posted August 9, 2021, 89 law enforcement officers in the United States have died by suicide so far this year. Are we doing enough to support those who serve?

There are several initiatives in the field from the major law enforcement and correctional health care associations to support those dealing with these terrible inner demons. I am especially proud of our partners from the American Jail Association pledging to focus their efforts on finding solid and innovative solutions to managing correctional staff stress. AJA will be hosting a health and wellness summit specifically for jail professionals in October 2021.

The National Sheriffs’ Association has also recently lent its platform to help educate the field about police suicide. Their website tells of a former deputy who lost two of his partners to suicide, who rode from Detroit to Washington, DC, to raise money and awareness about mental health issues that impact police officers.

So why did this happen to my colleague 3X322? We may never know, but I know the impact his life made on his team members and how his death will leave a hole in their hearts. Of course, after a tragedy like this, friends, family members, and coworkers take to social media to leave their fondest memories and express their sadness. Many are sharing the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number. It is (800) 273-8255 in case you or someone you love needs it.

Many are talking about his infectious smile and his big heart. Many, if not all, are sharing how they wished he knew that he could have called them any day, at any time, for whatever reason. All wish that they would have known. Knowing…that’s the struggle. That is what we will continue to ponder as the healing process begins.

I’ve seen too much suicide in my life. I’ve seen it in family. I’ve seen it in friends. I’ve seen in online postings about people I never knew. It’s never easy. I think the tendency is to just bury it down somewhere so you don’t have to deal with it again. But in many ways this is how it starts. People, colleagues, loved ones…they bury their burdens until such a time that it emerges and feels there is no other escape. My wish for 3X322 is that he could see a way out. Someone else. Anything else.

In 2019, NCCHC partnered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to publish the Suicide Prevention Resource Guide, a national response plan for suicide prevention in corrections. We wrote that suicide is a profoundly solitary act, but the response to it must not be! While the main focus was to help develop an effective suicide prevention plan for the incarcerated, I believe it could also be used as a guide to taking care of your staff team as well.

So, what is at the forefront of our sheriffs’ minds? All of it. But for today, because of the hole left in me by the suicide of my friend and colleague 3X322, honoring our staff by taking care of our staff tops the list. My call to action for you all: take care of each other. Talk. Ask the hard questions and don’t dance around the topic. Ask the question. Do you feel suicidal? You may be surprised by the answer.

Matt, we will remember all the good you brought to this earthly world. I am sorry that when you needed someone the most, you didn’t feel like you could reach out. We never know the reason why, but in your death, our hearts are sad and we will remember. To all who need that person to talk to, I hope you find them. Take care of each other.

Sept. 5-11 is National Suicide Prevention Week. Download the Suicide Prevention Resource Guide here.

Jim Martin, MPSA, CCHP, is NCCHC’s vice president of program development. He previously served for many years with a sheriff’s office in Southern Indiana.

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