“Stepping Onto the Stage”

Jim Lezala shares an emotional story of working one on one with an adolescent in a residential treatment facility who had experienced a lot of trauma and was in a distressed state. Lezala walks us through his own thoughtful journey as he mentally prepared to work with this individual. Lezala’s extensive training in Trauma Informed Care, POSC, and as a Vistelar Certified Instructor came together instinctually to produce an amazing outcome. His experience shows just how vital extensive training is in empowering employees to intuitively operate from the most positive mindset. This episode is a must listen for anyone who works closely with individuals dealing with trauma.

Host: Al Oelschlaeger

Guest: Jim Lezala

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Al:                         Well, good evening, Jim. How are you doing?

Jim:                       Good evening, Al, I’m not doing too bad.

Al:                         Good. Thanks for being on the episode this evening.

Jim:                       My pleasure.

Al:                         We were talking just before this and I didn’t realize that you, Gary Klugiewicz, which is one of our founders, I’ve mentioned him before in the podcast, but you first met this guy 14 years ago. I had no idea.

Jim:                       Yeah, I’ve known him for quite a while. I first heard his name and he’s kind of a local legend I guess. Had known some police officers and worked with some law enforcement and they mentioned his name and just the reverence they gave him I said, “Wow, who is this Klugiewicz guy?” Years passed and didn’t think too much of it. I was working at an adolescent treatment center. It’s for teenage boys who had been court ordered there due to a variety of offenses or issues. We took in department of corrections clients. We contracted to transport Department of Corrections juvenile, sometimes from detention, from a County detention center to our state juvenile prisons.

Al:                         Was it training that you saw Gary or just meet him in some another kind of an event?

Jim:                       Some of the training we had to go through was called PoSC. So like the correctional … at the time it was Principals of subject control, it was like the correctional version of the police defense and arrest tactics. So we had an opening for a PoSC instructor and talked to my supervisor and said, this is something I’d really like to do. I think I’d be good at it. They said, well get the information and we’ll look at it. So I researched everything and signed up. I had no idea that he would be the instructor. So I got to meet the man, the myth, the legend. I could do a whole podcast on that week. The stories, things I went through, but definitely a very intense, interesting individual.

Al:                         I think you know, and I don’t know if I told this story yet. Yeah. Back in the early ’80s and we know all these guys that were involved, but in the early ’80s, Wisconsin was unique in that a bunch of law enforcement people got together and said we need a standardized way to train people in the state. We need every law enforcement, every officer, every patrol officer, every corrections officer, all to go through similar training. Gary Klugiewicz was one of the guys putting that together. Randy Reveling who works with us is part of that. Bob Willis was part of that group. There’s a handful maybe of people. Wisconsin’s kind of the only state in the country, I think. Maybe, I think I heard of one other state, that has a common training program that everybody goes through.

Al:                         The posse you mentioned means it’s principles of subject control is, was the facility-focused training. Then DAT, which was defense and arrest tactics was more on the street police officer training. And so, wow. Yeah. So that would have been like what some … like in the ’90s sometime. Like what is that? Mid ’90s.

Jim:                       Yep.

Al:                         Yep, yep. I don’t know if you know, although we started this far in 2009 I met Gary in 2002. Oh no, no, you would have been in more the 2000 timeframe. I have a whole nother decade there.

Jim:                       Yeah. I’d already heard his name in the late ’90s and then finally got to meet him in the early 2000s.

Al:                         There we go. So we probably met him about the same time.

Jim:                       Yep.

Al:                         Yeah. We actually put together a program right after 9/11. I knew a martial arts school owner in town and we put together a program to train flight attendants on how to deal with terrorists because the flight attendants were, I don’t know if you remember that time, but they were scared to death to get back on an airplane and they’re just crying for training. We put together a program, we ended up presenting down at the United Airlines and Northwest Airlines, Midwest.

Al:                         Then if you remember all the airlines went bankrupt and they had no money and the idea of spending money on training just disappeared. So that never went anywhere. But it was fun to work with Gary. I still remember sitting in front of a committee at United Airlines in their training room. They had a whole fuselage of a plane in this training room where they could practice getting on and off the plane and whatever. We had a probably an hour presentation. Midway through the presentation, Gary stopped and put on his red man suit, which you’re familiar with. Probably a lot of the audience wouldn’t know what a red man suit is, but we’ll deal with that at another time.

Al:                         Yeah. So anyway, so, well that’s great. I didn’t know it’s been that long. So, you’ve known about Vistelar material like for a long time and your experience has primarily been in residential treatment?

Jim:                       That was the bulk of it, yeah. Yeah. When I had signed up for it, I saw that it was a two week training and the instructors, the previous instructors that I talked to said well wow, “why is it two weeks?” I said, “Well, I don’t know.” You know, and I get there and I find out that there’s a whole other week long portion to becoming, you know, basically verbal interventions instructor. Which again was early Vistelar material, kind of the foundation. I brought that back to the facility cause they thought they were sending me out … They sent me out a boy, I came back a man. They thought just coming back with the physical stuff and I said, “Hey, we have to up the number of hours, this verbal stuff is great. This is gold. Let me tell you, we’re going to reduce our seclusions, our restraints, physical intervention.” You know, a lot of the guys who’d been there for awhile, kind of, you know. “Okay, yeah sure.”

Jim:                       But once we went through it and I ran all the classes through, I said I need to retrain everybody that we have here now and went through and retrained the whole facility. You know, we get together to do a full class verbal, full class physical. It’s all got to be meshed together and everybody loved it, and sure enough restraints went down and everybody just had a better approach with the clients. It helped relationships, it decreased injuries. In my opinion, it changed the change the whole agency. I mean it changed the future to be honest.

Al:                         Well as you know we hear that all the time and it’s interesting for me because my background is more in business and I saw this stuff when I first met Gary and I just said, you know, this is just brilliant stuff that more people need to see it because it had primarily been, the training had been primarily in corrections, residential treatment and in police. What we’ve done is now it’s we’re in healthcare and mental health and transit and still in public safety and residential treatment. But just it seems like conflict is not isolated to just a few professions. It kind of is out there. We just did some work with SC Johnson, a manufacturing facility that makes Raid and whatever. And they have security folks there and they wanted them to go through our training. You walk in the door and one of the first questions I ask is, is anybody having any conflict here? You know, the hands go boom. Yep. Yep. No shortage of conflict.

Al:                         So you mentioned you had a little story to tell it that highlights kind of one of the things that Vistelar teaches, so sure. Let you take us through that.

Jim:                       Well, let me go back back in the past to even when, after I go on through the past instructor and the verbal interventions then because I was doing that training. Sent me to do what they call trauma informed care training as well and became a trauma informed care instructor. Trauma informed care is, I mean it’s basically trying to help professionals recognize trauma symptoms and the role of the trauma plays in people’s lives and try to keep them from being re-traumatized or helping them rebuild a sense of control and empowerment in their lives.

Jim:                       So my supervisors would always ask, is this PoSC training, is all this training you’re doing, is that trauma sensitive? Is that trauma informed? I had always assured them that it was and I fully believed it was. And totally connected the two. And they said, well, if you could just try to really focus on that.

Jim:                       And so part of my story has to do with just how the training relates to trauma informed care as well. So the agency that I worked for, I was a supervisor there, and we had five, six residential units and we also had two group homes. Now the group homes were about a quarter mile away from the residential units and they were actually, they’d been staff housing. And if you had clients who were getting older and possibly going to end up on their own or trying to transition back into the community, they could work their way down there, is a least less restrictive environment and they could learn independent living skills, maybe get a job off grounds.

Jim:                       So at our peak we had like 72 clients or residents at the whole facility.

Al:                         Jim, I think it might mentioned it, but what’s the age range was what?

Jim:                       It was 12 to 17. You occasionally get someone who’d get an extension to 19. 18 or 19, but I’d say 14 to 18.

Jim:                       So as a supervisor you were assigned different shifts where you were in charge of the whole shift and the staff and the operations. So I ended up with a, I shouldn’t say ended up with a somewhat, I don’t know, volunteer for second shift on Sunday nights. A second shift on Sunday nights was the hardest. Again, my opinion, the hardest shift to work as a shift supervisor because it was the only shift out of the seven days that week excluding third shift that you didn’t have a backup supervisor. I was the only one there. Every other shift had at least two supervisors on. So if something happened, something went down, you had somebody else who could help run the place. And I liked Sunday nights because I got off at three on Thursday and I didn’t have to come back til three o’clock on Sunday.

Jim:                       So I kind of got an extended weekend. So you know it paid off a little bit, but you also had a lot of call ins on the weekends and just really added to Sunday nights being stressful and kind of a rough night.

Jim:                       So I’m working, it’s a Sunday night, three to 11 and it’s one of those nights you just go nonstop. I was getting calls. There was a crisis in every unit. And you had to coordinate transportation for different things and medication. And I can’t remember if there were restraints. I just know it was one of those nights where I hadn’t eaten all night. I couldn’t tell you if I used the bathroom at all that night. It was just nonstop. And so it’s about 10 to 11, 10 minutes til the end of my shift. I haven’t touched my paperwork yet. I’m just beat, frustrated, tired. I know I’m not getting home until well after midnight and just sit down. Alright, I’m going to start my paperwork and I get a call over the radio.

Jim:                       Now, the last thing I want to do is go to another call or get … everybody should be sleeping, right?

Al:                         Right. Yep.

Jim:                       You get a call, “Hey, shift supervisor, we need some assistance down at …”, it was one of the group homes. One of the group homes? Those should be the best behaved guys and it just happened to be one of the ones that I managed as well. So I was like, Hey, that’s one of my guys, one of my staff that’s working and I thought … I was kind of triggered. “They say, yeah we need some assistance.” We’ll call the young man Darryl. “Darryl just walked out of the house and he’s out in the driveway.” So a little background on Darryl.

Al:                         So you had actually manage that facility. So you narrow knew Darryl before you had to respond here.

Jim:                       Yeah. So I mean, yeah, I mean I knew all the clients because just as a supervisor you went to all the calls and the crisis, reviewed all the paperwork for the whole facility. Regardless of the unit.

Al:                         Oh, okay. So you knew all 72 people at some at some point.

Jim:                       So Darryl was kind of special because we also had a school on grounds. We bring in day students, kids who had been expelled from their own schools in the community and we’d bring them in. That’s where he had first come in at like 12 or 13 years old, just as a day student first. He was kind of a little guy.

Jim:                       And then he whatever committed some offenses in the community and got ordered to come by us and he was on our mental health unit. He was on our intensive supervision unit for a bit for more violent offenders. And we kind of watched him grow up. He got discharged and screwed up again and went to corrections. And then you went from corrections to back to our facility because we knew him and he knew us, the County knew us. And so now about four years later, he’s starting to transition out. He’s 17 years old. He’s bigger than I am. He’s down in the group home that I managed and so I knew him. I knew he had had a lot of issues, lot of troubles in his life, a lot of trauma and should have been assigned, but he wouldn’t just open up to us.

Jim:                       But few weeks prior to this incident, he come out around 10:00 and come out of his bedroom and just sit in the living room and just refuse to go to bed. Wouldn’t talk to anybody. He’d say,”F-you you guys, I’m not going to bed and I’m not doing nothing you tell me.” You tried to talk to him, try to process and you would think somebody that you’ve known that long would open up but just wont to tell us what was wrong. He wasn’t being a danger to anybody. So there wasn’t too much you could do. But after a while, the staff were getting frustrated. They’re getting an irritated if he’d do it close to the end of their shift.

Jim:                       So now here he is, he’s the one that’s causing trouble on my night from hell. So I leave the control center and walk to the my vehicle and I hop in and I’m driving down and I know just what I’m going to say to him. I mean, he’s going to get both barrels. You know, how dare he, he knows better on a night like tonight. I don’t have time for this and I don’t have time to play these games. I’m driving down and it’s about a quarter mile. I probably made a quarter mile at 10 seconds cause I wanted to get out. I wanted to go home and had all these personal thoughts and feelings. I was probably even talking to myself in the car on the way down. You know what? You better get up, get in that house, get to bed. And I mean, all these personal thoughts.

Jim:                       I come flying into the-

Al:                         Jim is talk about it’s, you know, there’s some of the stuff is easy to do when you’ve had a good night rest and you’re all calm and relaxed and everything’s wonderful and you’ve had a great day. But some of this stuff’s really hard to do when you’re having a bad day, like you’re describing.

Jim:                       Well, and that was it. I mean, I was at my breaking point and he was the straw that broke the camel’s back. This was it. So I pulled into the driveway and the headlights show on him. He’s standing in front of the garage, kind of leaning up against the garage door. Put my car into park, take a deep breath, kind of put my shoulders back, look in the mirror, get out of the car, start walking towards him, stop about between 10 and 15 feet away. I kind of have a concerned look at my face and just say, “Hey, what’s going on Darryl? How can I help you?” Total opposite of everything I had prepared to do. It was like a switch went on and it’s like, well here we go. It’s showtime. I mean, literally I walked out of that car and stepped onto the stage and walked up to him and you know, like I said, kept my distance a little bit and he didn’t talk at first and then he sat down on the ground and I walked a little bit closer and he started opening up.

Jim:                       He told me that his dad, who would have been in prison for a few years, and I could see the tears start and go down his face. And he started telling me that his dad was supposed to get out of prison this week, but he found out that it wasn’t going to happen. And so he was upset that, because he was apparently excited to see his dad all week, but to go even further, his dad had sexually assaulted him and his siblings. It was a repeat sex offender and I mean he’s going to be in there for a while. I mean, his dad was hoping to get out and didn’t happen. So when I drove down there, had no idea that that’s what he had on his mind. And I’m sure that’s what he had on his mind, why he had been coming out for you know, weeks prior. I mean the, the emotions he must have had for weeks just of anticipation and fear or anxiety and he had all these thoughts and emotions to deal with.

Jim:                       So he talked to me and ended up processing with me and then I ultimately got him to get up and go to bed. We dealt with it and processed throughout the week. But had I come down and let my personal feelings get in the way. Had I said everything that I personally wanted to say. You know, had he been the brunt of just my own frustration, all the feelings I had built up from the night. I mean, I would have been going home a heck of a lot later than I already was because I could have set him off, re-traumatized him, triggered him and all I ever wanted to really do was go inside and go to bed.

Al:                         And you would’ve gotten home much later, Jim.

Jim:                       Yeah. It could’ve ended up with an emergency room visit, you know, at my part.

Al:                         Exactly. Well, you know, as we talk about in our training is that all that stuff that was going through your head on the drive down, we call that natural language, right? It’s how would you normally respond? What do people normally do in these situations? You know, well I’m angry, bad day, he’s sitting out the parking lot. I better do something about it. You got all that going on and it usually doesn’t work. You got to you got to take that and leave it alone and then get back to the training, which is what you obviously did. And showtime, as you know, is one of our key methods is before you ever go into a situation you make sure your attitude’s right and your facial expression’s right. At the end of the day, this is a performance. You’re walking in and say you’ve got a few minutes with this guy and you need to perform well if you want the thing to go well and not escalate into a mess.

Jim:                       Right. Yeah. From a trauma standpoint, I mean we talk about Vistelar, a supportive atmosphere, as opposed to a defensive atmosphere. Somebody who’s gone through the trauma that he’s gone through in his life. I mean, he had somebody who is a caregiver, an authority figure, his own father. Somebody who was supposed to be there for him. Just shatter his worldview. I mean, I’m sure that affected him at a biological and physiological level even in his brain.

Al:                         You probably got introduced … I bet when you first met with Gary, Gary … trauma informed care is obviously it was well known in residential treatment centers. I think it ended up getting into health care. It’s now very broadly taught in schools. But in the law enforcement world, I think it’s really, really new. I don’t think law enforcement even knew the term 10, 15 years ago. Now it’s becoming a bigger and bigger deal.

Al:                         And as you know, empathy is like a core part of our training and seeing the world through other people’s eyes. At the end of the day, this trauma informed or trauma sensitive, trauma responsive, it’s just empathy, big time. You know, it’s empathy, seeing the world … but understanding what’s going on in that person’s background that more than likely, I mean it could also be in your background, but understand where they’re coming from and that they’ve probably had some life, what’s the term? Adverse childhood experiences, right? Isn’t that the term?

Jim:                       ACE, yeah.

Al:                         That they’ve had that if you just understood where they’re coming from, you’re going to treat them a whole lot differently than if you just react to what you’re feeling on the drive down that night.

Jim:                       Well, I mean that puts it perfectly, you know. If I had known what he was going through, but I mean, let’s just face it, life is traumatic. I’m sure that everybody has got trauma on some level. If we would just treat everybody, I mean we talk about treat everybody with dignity and showing them respect, but if you treated everybody as if they had trauma, which I’m sure they do. I mean, but you don’t know what it is or what the level is. Even people who have experienced the same incident, say a traumatic car accident. You have two people, two brothers grew up in the same family. Both could be affected completely different despite the similar backgrounds and same experience. One could be fine the next day and then the next will deal with it for the next 20 years of his life.

Jim:                       And so we don’t know how people are going to react to us. So it’s an art. It’s an everybody’s benefit. Because if someone’s been traumatized, if they’re triggered, they can just be overcome with just these intolerable feelings that they don’t know how to deal with. And a lot of times they act out. And do you ever see anybody blow up over just something minor? You sit and think, well, what’s wrong with that person? But what you should be thinking is, is what’s happened to this person? What have they gone through that led to this? To blow up over something so minor. If we just thought of it, everybody like that it make things a lot easier. We have have a lot less conflict.

Al:                         You just captured it. I had forgotten that. It’s not what’s wrong with you, it’s what happened to you. I think that’s such a really powerful statement. Not what’s wrong with you, which is, the normal way of thinking about somebody that’s acting out, but what happened to you? What, what in your background is causing you to act this way and how can I make sure that the way I’m treating you is not triggering those past feelings.

Jim:                       Right. That’s a whole other section of our training we could talk about. But that’s where sometimes tactics, like our persuasion sequence might not work because they’re in such a heightened state that they’re not even physically capable of bringing themselves down from. That’s when we kind of have to go to more of a crisis intervention mode. And just because rational thinking and things like explaining reasons why and giving them them options, it doesn’t matter because they’re not functioning on that level at that time. We have to kind of bring them back.

Al:                         The Showtime thing, it’s such a simple concept of just making sure you’re ready, getting your facial expression right, stand up straight. You know, it’s Showtime, stepping on the stage. This is a performance. Just making sure you’re doing your job as well as you can do it in that situation.

Jim:                       It’s a big deal. It took me two or three seconds in the driver’s seat of a car and it helped by relationship with the young man. It was trauma-informed. It was good for me. It was good for him. It was the whole package in three seconds. You know, obviously there’s more to it. But that was, that was a key-

Al:                         Jim I don’t know … have you heard this story? I might’ve told it during one of the classes, but we, Gary and I did some training down in the South for a very large corporation and we were dealing with their senior executives. Very high level people. People had literally thousands of people reporting to them, among all their teams. Guys running manufacturing plants, whatever. It’s about 20 of them. And so we went through the whole program. Showtime was obviously part of what we taught. We got to the end of the day and there was a couple of guys that had to leave just before we were officially ending. And so they said goodbye and we were going around the room doing the little takeaway exercise where we asked people what’s the big takeaway from the day. These two guys on the way out, they’re going, big takeaway for us, is Showtime. And they were there saying, we’re on our way to meet with our boss. We’re going to be doing Showtime all the way over it because we know we’re in trouble because whatever, something had gone wrong that day. They’re going, “We got to get our Showtime mindset all figured out here before we show up in that guy’s office.”

Jim:                       That’s funny. I was just talking to my sister, she had to meet with her boss last week and I didn’t say this is the Showtime tactic. I was just like, “Hey, put your shoulders back, that’ll help your stress. Take some deep breaths, tell yourself you got this.” And yeah, you can use it everywhere.

Al:                         I love it. Yeah. So cool. Well Jim, this has been great. We should do this again because I’d love to dig deeper into this. I’m assuming after how many years were you in residential treatment? I mean it’s a bunch of years.

Jim:                       16 years and then went to child welfare and that’s where I still am now. So after hearing Dan Garris talk about it, it was kind of like, yeah, I know that.

Al:                         So just tell me quick then it’s more of a personal curiosity. So I know that state of Wisconsin that some of the child welfare folks are our County employed, I think. And then some are through agencies. Right?

Jim:                       Yes.

Al:                         You’re not direct with the County, you’re through an agency, is that how you’re doing?

Jim:                       Yeah, that’s a Milwaukee County only issue. There’s a longstanding lawsuit still hasn’t been settled yet and the certain conditions the County has to meet. So the County can handle one end of it. So there’s still a kind of a County portion handling it. But then the case management and certain portions of that are private agencies are contracted with the Department of the Milwaukee Child Protective Services.

Al:                         And I think that varies throughout the country, how that works. If the Child Protective Services, child welfare, whatever the term is used that, they state or County folks? I know children’s hospital, I think does a lot of the child welfare work in the state of Wisconsin.

Jim:                       Yeah, they’re kind of the competitor for where I’m working my agency. Yeah.

Al:                         There we go.

Jim:                       Just the other agency that’s doing it so

Al:                         Well, Jim, we should definitely get back to you. I’m sure you got more than one story here after that many years. Yeah. And obviously applied our methods over the years. You’d not told me that before, that when you first met Gary, I didn’t know it was that long ago and I didn’t realize that you had done both PoSC and verbal at the same time and the impact it had had in terms of restraints and all that. I mean, that’s a big deal.

Jim:                       Meeting Gary back then, this is no exaggeration, I mean, it changed my life, shaped my life. I’m sure that all the training that I … I still have people on Facebook and come up to me now. “You know, that training was, it was the best I ever had.” And you know, I think it’s affected so many lives and affected so many people, and they don’t even realize that it’s from Gary on down, so.

Al:                         Yep. Yep. Big time. Okay, Jim. Well, thank you so much. We’ll do it again.

Jim:                       Definitely, look forward to it.

Al:                         Okay. Take care.