Stress, trauma and fatigue can be commonplace in the lives of deputies and jail inmates, but one Utah County Sheriff’s Office lieutenant is helping teach ways to deal with the hardships of life and feel at peace.
Lt. Jeffery Jones is using mindfulness techniques in his work with coworkers, inmates, suspects and his personal life.
Jones describes mindfulness as being totally present in everything we do. He first got into learning about mindfulness and meditation because of trauma that he had experienced in his job as a deputy, a job that he has worked at for 22 years.
About 10 years ago, he started focusing on gratitude and reading books about mindfulness.
“The more I got into it, the more I realized this is something I could do,” he said.
Meditation, which he describes as finding a stillness and a peace and paying attention to breathing, is tied to mindfulness. It is something he now does daily for at least 20 minutes.
“Everyone should do it every day at least once or twice,” he said. “Even doing it for two minutes, you’re still going to be ahead.”
As he experienced the benefits in his own life, he began sharing what he had learned with coworkers.
“Sometimes individuals come to me and ask for help,” Jones said.
Helping fellow deputies
During October, Jones will be heading up a new mindfulness group for deputies, teaching them de-escalation tactics. Law enforcement officers use de-escalation techniques daily. Breathing, remaining calm, listening, asking questions, paraphrasing, nonverbal communication and demonstrating empathy can make a difference between a violent or calm ending to a situation with a suspect. Mindfulness goes hand-in-hand with de-escalation tactics and deputies will have the opportunity to be trained in meditation as part of the group.
Chief Deputy Matt Higley is one who has found help from the techniques that Jones teaches.
“He came to me once. He knew I was struggling,” Higley said.
Jones taught Higley some exercises and breathing techniques and gave him books to read.
“That stuff really works,” Higley said.
At first, Higley thought some of the exercises were strange, like when Jones instructed him to buy a package of M&M’s candies and told him to choose five of them. Then, he put one in his mouth at a time and let it sit there, feeling the way it changed as it melted.
“He told me to focus on that,” Higley said. “I thought, ‘Man, you’ve lost your mind.’ But, it taught me to focus on something good and not always on the bad.”
As part of the hostage negotiation team, Jones uses the strategies he teaches when the team is called out.
“We respond with the SWAT team in case we are needed,” he said. They have been needed, in cases of barricaded individuals and in some cases, when hostages are involved.
Jones has also taught techniques to the crisis intervention team, of which he has been a member for about eight years. The team gets called out to situations involving those dealing with mental illness.
“A portion of this is self-awareness,” he said. “We have experienced some of the same traumas as those with mental illnesses.
“When we go into a room where everybody is having a crisis, we don’t want to bring our own crises with us. When we yell, we are actually giving them more strength because it causes them to put on an armor. We teach to respond, rather than react. When you practice mindfulness, you can take away some of the emotion.”
Mindfulness and meditation with inmates
Higley, who oversees the Utah County Jail, said Jones helps inmates in more than one way when he teaches them about meditating.
“He wants to share what he does with other people and with those who have made mistakes and are trying to get help,” Higley said.
In addition to helping the inmates be able to focus less on the negative parts of their lives, the work that Jones does with them allows them to see a different side of those who wear the badge. Law enforcement officers have struggles in their lives, just like the inmates do.
“This humanizes law enforcement,” Higley said.
“I have taught hundreds of male and female inmates meditation,” Jones said. “It’s the first time many of them have taken time to just be still. They live a high stress life just like we do, always looking behind them for police.”
Jones said that through meditation, many of the inmates feel like they are human or are treated like humans for the first time.
“When I get a roomful of SWAT cops meditating, there’s a peace that you can’t find anywhere else,” Jones said. “The same happens with the inmates.”