“Breaking the Code Of Silence: Former Officer Pens Book to Help Others Heal”
By: Mykaela Moore
Social issues like police misconduct and brutality have spread nationwide over the course of time, especially the last few decades. There has always been a one-sided perspective on how the police treat individuals in various communities; very rarely would one find an in-depth synopsis about some of the underlying reasons as to why some police officers act as they do.
Recently, author Kareem Puranda, a Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist and owner of Self-Talk Counseling & Consulting, PLLC in Charlotte, NC took on the opportunity to give perspective and insight about the topic in a way that readers can not only heal from but also gain clarity through the experiences that he depicts in his book Breaking the Code of Silence A Cop’s Journey to Triumph and Truth.
For those who want to understand the life of a police officer, a civilian and a therapist who helps police officers and the community, this book provides insight about implicit biases, how “silence” is associated with burnout, subconscious conditioning and undiagnosed mental health disorders that affect all communities. Breaking the Code of Silence helps the general public understand law enforcement culture, training, issues that police officers deal with on the job and how certain behaviors affect police officers.
I had the astute pleasure of gaining greater insight by interviewing the author, Kareem Puranda. He shares that it was very important to highlight the writing process, experiences and development behind unveiling how childhood trauma unconsciously carries into adulthood and how it can play into the everyday lives of law enforcement.
Let’s take deeper look into the inner writings behind Breaking the Code of Silence: A Cop’s Journey to Triumph and Truth.
I see that the book is entitled, Breaking the Code of Silence: A Cop’s Journey to Triumph and Truth, what led you to emphasize triumph and truth in the title?
The reason I emphasize triumph and truth in the title is because I lost everything with a lie. I was an underdog who knew how to appear as the expected winner. I used learned behaviors, accolades and achievements to create the facade of having it all together in my personal and professional life. In truth, I was a mixture of brokenness and low self-worth that used titles and accomplishments to create value in my life that I didn’t know how to create for myself.
Truth be told, every accomplishment I had ever achieved was unfulfilling and led me back to the realty of emptiness where no matter how much I won or gained, it always felt like a loss. The pain of being fatherless, experiencing events that led to undiagnosed PTSD and perhaps a host of personality disorders during my youth was a journey that led to me to living the lie that cost me my career as a police officer and learning from my past is what commits me to my truth and inevitable triumph.
Have you had any personal encounters with law enforcement that moved you to write on this topic?
My initial feeling towards this breaking of silence was to use my life as a case study to help others make sense out of what I deemed at one point unexplainable. I was a police officer for eight years. My career educated me on a multitude of things. I learned about the politics within a hierarchical government. I understood how easy it is to have two personalities behind one badge.
I recognize how the standard of the law dictates the art of articulation and guile of being legally justified yet morally questionable during use of force encounters. As well as how the public becomes the victim of an officer’s untreated mental illness and burnout. This book was a therapeutic process that allowed me to be honest about the most uncomfortable and undesirable parts of myself while in and out of the uniform. These undesirable parts cost me my career and my goal behind this book and advocacy for mental health is to incorporate law enforcement training worldwide, so that other officers won’t have to suffer in silence like I did.
What was one of the main challenges you faced in writing on such a complex topic?
I battled my own demons, fears, and shame. These emotions were paralyzing at various moments during my healing process. They say the truth will set you free and I was interested in freedom, but I was also witnessing how painful the truth was. I came to the realization that the only people who deny the truth are the ones who prefer to believe the lie. My lie was complex and easy to mask behind a uniform that most people considered honorable, courageous and well respected.
When I wore the uniform, I adopted the perception of adequacy to conceal the inadequacies created by my childhood insecurities. The perception of adequacy and confidence in the uniform forced me to act according to a standard that I wasn’t able to portray authentically. Anytime I felt threatened physically, socially, or emotionally, I experienced the fight, flight, freeze response that inevitable led to a use of force that could have been easily avoided if I had the social and emotional intelligence to address it.
However, I used these triggering moments as opportunities to use force that I could easily articulate as a necessity based upon the suspect’s level of resistance or non-compliant behavior. I had prepared myself to face physical fears all my life. I was able to bench 405 pounds during my law enforcement career, I always finished in top five for physical agility and firearm training. I knew how to win a fight with one punch from street fighting experience and martial arts. However, I wasn’t equipped emotionally or socially on how to resolve conflict. When I felt disrespected, I went into fight, flight, freeze mode and while in this state, it is not possible to rationally think. I typically fight and justified the force with narratives that accommodated the outcome.
Morally questionable but legally justified. Much of this is connected with undiagnosed personality disorders that were formed during traumatic childhood experiences. I’ve witnessed people take their last breath on several occasions during my teenage years. Seeing trauma at a young age made me numb to violence and caused me to shift my mentality from a loving and innocent child to one who only focused on survival. I was living this same mentality everywhere I went, including during my time as a police officer. The only difference as a cop was that I didn’t think it was a problem because I blended into a profession that included the same experiences hence any issue, I did have went unnoticed.
What would be your advice for individuals in communities who experience overpowering policing?
The community that doesn’t know how to police itself becomes easy to police by law enforcement agencies. The dynamic can easily evolve into a predator vs. prey in an underserved community that normalizes impoverished thinking. Research equates poverty to high crime. If this is the case, then these communities become the location where law enforcement will spend most of their efforts. It just so happens that most of the members of underserved communities are Black and Brown individuals who are attempting to figure out how to survive day to day.
They live by a different set of norms that may play into the hands of laws that police enforce. If someone lives day to day in survival mode, they only focus on making it through the night and sometimes that comes at the expense of others. I think impoverished and underserved communities need advocates to help them address their needs. We can’t fix a drug and crime problem without the collaboration of the community, law enforcement and other community resources. It is a multidimensional problem that requires the willingness of each participant. However, the best advice I have for community members who feel they have been treated unfairly by the police consists of several steps:
Step 1. File a complaint with the police department the officer works for.
Step 2. Contact the city’s human resource department about your complaint.
Step 3. Bring the complaint before the city council.
Step 4. Take the complaint to the local news and radio stations.
Step 5. Hire a civil rights attorney to seek payment for damages or violations of civil liberties.
Step 6. Contact a social justice activist to advocate on behalf of the community’s needs.
Do you feel that the perception of law enforcement can be changed within communities?
Yes. Many police officers are attempting to rewrite the narrative by participating in more civic engagements. For me, community trust begins with officer self-awareness, along with improvement in social and emotional intelligence. I think that if counseling were mandatory in law enforcement training, it will help incoming police officers develop better knowledge about themselves and the community they serve. Most police officers enter the field with a heavy emphasis of surviving the fight. They are physically strong, fast, in shape, and proficient with the firearm. They become somewhat robotic by the training which focuses on muscle memory during a fight, flight, or freeze situation. Police officers are expected to be capable of handling almost anything that average citizens can’t.
Because of this expectation they lose their human qualities and are expected to be the superhero that perfectly solves all problems. Officers are only trained according to the minimum standards yet are being held to a higher standard. This is inconsistent with being human, yet many officers attempt to live up to these standards at the expense of their wellness. They are often judged fairly or unfairly by others who like or dislike the uniform. Right now, law enforcement and the community are learning about each other from social media and the news. Some music genres perpetuate narratives that glorify villainy and illegal activity.
Everything in the media is a program that conditions everyone who watches and listens, to assume that some truth exists within that portrayal. This becomes a point of reference on the rules of engagement for what will keep each side safe while in these communities. Your only option is to be the predator or the prey. It is hard to change the narrative when counter-productive narratives maintain the division and dysfunction.
What would be your professional recommendation for dealing with adolescent trauma in your adult years?
Owning/accepting/reframing what has happened to you. Many people only want to show the perfect aspects of their lives as if the negative and darkness doesn’t exist. When I speak about darkness I am speaking about pain, fear, hurt, anger, or depression. Denial is like keeping a secret from yourself. It keeps you stuck and unable to receive help. Owning the negatives as well as the positives are the keys to emotional and intellectual growth.
We typically stop growing socially and emotionally whenever we experience a trauma. This causes a developmental delay. Many people are operating in a developmental delay where they may be 30+ years old but still behave socially and emotionally like a teenager. That is because, at the point of trauma, life became about survival and not social or emotional development. This is why some people are quick to anger or anxiety because they have been traumatized socially or emotionally during their childhood. A byproduct of this trauma is anger. Anger is a secondary emotion to hurt. It helps people regain power in a powerless situation. We only become angry because of a pre-existing condition that a current situation triggers.
Remember what I said earlier about fight, flight, freeze… people who get angry easily or like to fight feel unsafe socially and emotionally. This often leads to impulsive actions during the state of hypervigilance that desires to eliminate the threat. It’s the same trauma induced process officers go through during their training. It becomes easy to kill what makes them feel unsafe. When undiagnosed PTSD and other disorders are triggered, the impulsive response is to eliminate the threat.
Again, these threats are triggers toward the trauma that threaten the social, physical, or emotional wellness of the person. In most underserved communities, disrespect is a social threat that triggers the fight response to eliminate the threat. Trauma is a multilayered issue but in order to address it, I encourage victims of trauma to first be able to accept that the trauma happened. Visit with a counselor, a counselor can help the person reframe their belief about the trauma in a positive way. The more we practice positive thinking, the easier it become to live accordingly.
From reading, Breaking the Code of Silence: A Cop’s Journey to Triumph and Truth, what is the main takeaway you want your readers to grasp?
The main takeaway I hope readers receive is an education about both sides of the law. The community and police officers are more alike than they are different. You can finish better than you started. Everything that happens in your life is to prepare you for a time to come. We may not understand why we go through things during the storm because we focus on wanting the storm to be over but when we outlast the pain, the storm equips us with a resilience and fortitude that make the storm necessary. Be encouraged by your truth.
Will you continue writing books on the mental stability and perceptions of the average police officer to change the narrative?
I am not a natural writer. Writing is actually a chore to me. However, there are a ton of benefits to writing more books and eventually I think I will. Right now, I prefer to speak and communicate with audiences face to face. I prefer working with law enforcement agencies and the community directly through workshops and trainings around my advocacy.
I can help people on both sides of the law, develop the self-awareness needed to manage their lives effectively. Specifically, I can help agencies identify ways to improve officer relations with the community. In addition, I provide trainings to police departments on how to support officers who are suffering in silence so that use of force incidents are handled with proper discretion.
MM: I would like to thank Mr. Kareem Puranda for taking the time out to interview with me. I hope that your fight for advocacy within law enforcement and underrepresented communities will continue to persist. I wish you nothing but success in your further endeavors; social justice is a footstool for many other conversations like this.