An Interview with Former Chief of Police about Trauma and Mental Health - Dr Scott Silverii
TW: Trauma and Mental Health// Murder//Mental Illness//Abuse//Law Enforcement// Minority Abuse (There are some very shocking stories in this episode - please beware)
In this episode of What We're Not Talking About, I sit down with Scott Silverii and talk about trauma and mental health and how it affects the police force. In this open and honest conversation, we speak on the race war and what he experienced as Chief of Police. Scott has dedicated his life to helping men overcome the trauma and mental health issues he has witnessed in his commanding officers. He talks about his organization and what he has done to help normalize trauma and mental health in the police force.
Real Talk: This episode is honestly the most challenging episode I have ever recorded. There are some stories in this episode that made me feel like I was going to vomit. Listen with care.
TODAY'S GUEST: SCOTT SILVERII
> Dr. Scott's story about how he grows up and what led him to start his career in law enforcement (04:40)
> Dr. Scott shares his opinion of what's the purpose of law enforcement (14:10)
> Do police officers have access to mental health support services? (21:44)
> What was the most disturbing case that Dr.Scott came across during his work as a Chief of Police? (24:35)
> Dr.Scott shares his goals and how he tried to make a difference in changing the culture during his career (32:10)
> How he decided to leave the police force, and what led him to make this decision? (37:43)
> Dr.Scott shares the abusive experience he had from his teacher when he was 12 years old (44:00)
> How you can learn to act from a place of love and forgiveness. Why is forgiveness important to your overall mental health? (50:45)
E037: An Interview with Former Chief of Police about Trauma and Mental Health with Dr. Scott Silverii
Trauma and mental health are something that everyone experiences. Even law enforcement. Sometimes it leads them down paths they never expected.
Wow. This episode was so powerful, so intense, and honestly, it blew my mind in a good way, but also in a bad way.
I am very, very, very, very rarely rattled. And there are elements of this interview where I just have no idea how to respond or how to give love to our guest for sharing what he has.
This episode is with a former chief of police, a PhD in cultural anthropology, and a current pastor of a ministry.
There are a few spots which I need to warn you, are very big trigger warnings. I would argue that most of this interview is a trigger for many people. But there are two specific incidences or aspects of the conversation which I want to give you a heads up about right now.
There are talks of a serial killer in this. That’s not actually the trigger. What comes after Dr. Scott talking about his experience catching a serial killer is what I want to warn you about.
It’s very graphic and includes children. It lasts for about 3-4 minutes, so if it;s something that you feel as though it’s not possible for you to listen through, I encourage you to skip ahead.
This is at roughly the 30 minute mark. There is also a section about sexual assault that comes up around the 45 minute mark.
What my guest shares in this interview is astonishing.
He really picks apart the trauma and mental health that he experienced and how that shaped his choice to become a law enforcement officer. We also also include a lot of his critique of the system.
Now, my original plan was to talk about the element of race, and, honestly, we really didn’t get there because of the way the conversation flowed. However, I promise that this interview is probably the most, to this day, insightful episode I’ve ever recorded. I will remember this interview on my deathbed.
Amy: [00:03:10] Welcome back to this episode of What We're Not Talking About. Today, I have Dr. Scott Silverii, who is a retired police chief, author, and founding pastor of Five Stones Church Online. Welcome to the show.
Dr. Silverii: [00:03:28] Thank you. I appreciate the invitation.
Amy: [00:03:30] I’m really excited to chat with you. I was initially drawn to you and your story because of the work that you do now to help men through trauma and to become who they truly are. Due to your past and current experience, I bet you have quite a lot to share. So, I'm really excited to get into the meat of this conversation.
I actually asked my Instagram followers if they had any questions to ask you as well, because of your vast experience. And we're going to talk a lot about your, I don't want to say your entire life, but a large part of it. So, I'm very happy that you're open for this conversation, and we're going to focus on two parts.
We're going to talk about your history and your career and the police force.
Then we'll transition into your transition out of that career and into your current one. Sound good?
Dr. Silverii: [00:04:30] Sounds. Perfect. Thank you.
Amy: [00:04:31] Okay. Perfect. So, do you prefer for me to call you Dr. Scott or Scott?
Dr. Silverii: [00:04:36] Just Scott. That's fine. I appreciate it.
Amy: [00:04:37] Cool. Okay. You're welcome.
So, Scott, I'd love to know a little bit about what your history is, what your childhood was like, and what your young adulthood was like as well.
Dr. Silverii: [00:04:52] Sure. Trauma and mental health were something I was used to.
Well, I grew up in a very dysfunctional home. There were seven kids. We lived in South Louisiana, and our home was dominated by my dad, as a lot of the homes are. His weapon that he used against us was silence, and we were not allowed to speak. I mean, whether we were hurt, whether we were happy. We would never, ever be allowed to express emotions and he absolutely dominated the entirety of our family, including my mom.
And I didn't realize it at the time. You know the love for your dad. And I just figured, “Well, he's the strong, silent type, but he does love me.”
It wasn't until I was in my fifties, that I came to realize the level of traumatic dysfunction that it had created through the duration of my life.
Which also had led to, I know we'll talk about it in a little bit about leaving the police force and helping men and what I do now.
So, I guess maybe as a child, it was ignorant bliss. You only know what you know, but that was what I knew for the duration of my childhood throughout my entire adult life was chaos and violence and dysfunction.
Amy: [00:06:01] Yeah. I really like what you said about the aftermath of you looking back on your childhood and really rationalizing his silence as a form of love. That's something that is a survival tactic among so many who grew up in that dysfunctional family life.
I did too. My father was not silent, he was quite the opposite. So, that really resonates with me.
So, that relationship with your father and the way that that impacted your family, how did that transition you through to young adulthood and starting to look for a career path?
Dr. Silverii: [00:06:48] Yeah. Well, you know, it was very chaotic. And I will tell you where I grew up in South Louisiana, it's an alcohol-centric culture, it’s mardi gras. Like, I know we celebrate Mardi Gras throughout the early part of each year. But in that culture, it's because alcohol is pervasive and promiscuity... and it is just a year round celebration.
The irony is that it's not celebration, it's very dysfunctional when that's your lifestyle.
But, because of the dysfunction at home, I had no roots, I had no grounding. I had seven siblings. There was absolute chaos amongst everyone. There was never any family unity. Even to this day, there are seven of us and I only have a relationship with one. That’s what happened with our trauma and mental health.
And you trace that back to those father wounds, that was kind of that curse that was placed upon us. I think I didn't know it now, Amy. I'm sorry. But I realized having the introspection now, I believe that's what led me into law enforcement. Because I hated being a victim and I hated being afraid.
I hated being fearful every day, every night. And I believe that led me into law enforcement to where I didn't want anyone else to ever be victimized. I didn't want anyone else to be afraid like I was. And I believe that it launched me on that maybe on a journey to try to remedy for others what I couldn't remedy for myself.
Amy: [00:08:15] Absolutely.
Your story of trauma and mental health really resonates with me.
I took a very different approach, but based on the same ethos where I felt so out of control and like I had the ability to help other people, but for me, it was so hard to help myself. And I really just dove deep into focusing on how to make someone else's life better, because it was so much easier to put that emphasis on outward instead of inward.
Dr. Silverii: [00:08:49] Right. Right. And you know, for me, it really was very confusing. Because I got to the point where I realized, “I've spent my entire career helping everybody else, but when it mattered most I couldn't help myself.”
That created just all types of complex emotional situations. Not understanding why I didn't have the wherewithal. Although I had the will, I just didn't have the way. Like I said, that was a big part of my leaving law enforcement and just kind of launching my own journey for healing.
Amy: [00:09:21] Absolutely. Now I have to talk about your time in the police force, especially..
It's 2020. It's been crazy. And I cannot let this opportunity pass me by.
So, now I would love to know, what was your experience there?How did you find fitting in with the police system? Also, what did you find was quite a struggle for you while adjusting to that institution?
Dr. Silverii: [00:09:55] I'm very happy that you asked that because actually my doctoral studies are cultural anthropology and my doctoral dissertation was written on police culture. So, your question is very, very personal and it's very specific because that's exactly what I studied and how it contributed to my trauma and mental health.
The reason I studied it was because of the effect that I saw that it had. You said, the word institution and that's perfect, because it is an institutionalization that law enforcement requires. And you asked about fitting in, and that's really what the whole thesis of my dissertation was. It was about cultural occupation, cultural assimilation.
So, that'll sound like, “long-haired, freaky people need not apply.” And that's law enforcement. I mean, you can come in any way you want with any idea you want. You could be a helper, you could be a bully, you could be anything you want.
When you walk into the academy day one, all that's out the window. Homogeny is the key. Everybody's got to look the same, walk the same, talk the same, act the same.
I understand the purpose of that, the benefit from an organizational structure point of view. But when it comes down to serving the public, when we begin to separate ourselves from the public, there's a saying that we say, “us versus them.”
And that begins in the academy.
It's the cadets versus the drill instructors. You don't want to get punished. It's usually physical punishment, exercise discipline. So you start to develop this comradery with the other cadets that it's us against the authority, the drill instructors.
Then once you graduate from the academy, you understand the script's been flipped. It's not us versus them, it's us versus society. And I thought, “well, it must be us versus the criminals.” Which would be common sense.
But the reality is that for law enforcement, the culture, not official policy, but it's to maintain that separation, almost this sacred canopy that the culture is placed upon itself.
And it really wasn't instilled, say Ferguson. And I forget the year. But that's when the media really started to press in beyond that veil of law enforcement and kind of take a peek behind the curtain. To be honest, law enforcement didn't know what to do about it.
It was like, “How dare civilians look at what we're doing? How dare you question what we're up to?”
And I really think that law enforcement is still struggling with that. You know, the idea of public accountability. And how they handle trauma and mental health.
Amy: [00:12:34] Yes.
As a civilian, it’s a little terrifying, that when faced with having to be accountable, it feels like the fabric of the organization is being pulled apart.
Dr. Silverii: [00:12:49] Yeah.
I think one of the, one of the detriments is law enforcement's always been allowed to say, “No comment.”
Look, there are times where there's just no comment. I mean, the confidentiality for the victim, the integrity of the investigation. There's a lot of official constraints that have to be exercised.
But I think over decades, law enforcement has gotten away with just being able to say “no comment,” and for a big part the media would accept that. They would wait to be spoon fed on the press release.
But, now in the information age on social media and people are asking questions like, “Well, why can't you comment?”
And the answer, “Well, I have no comment,” that doesn't suffice. We have to own up that we cause some trauma and mental health difficulties.
When I was a chief of police, my agency, we were set at the tip of the spear as far as social media. I was lucky because I had a great mentor for 21 years before I became a chief of police.
And I've worked at a large nationally accredited law enforcement agency that was very transparent, but I can say that that was the exception, not the rule.
Amy: [00:13:56] Yes. And I think that's something that is almost hard to hear.
I find a lot of people are so willing to accept a binary view of the police force, where they are bad or they are good.
I understand the strength in that binary perception, but I think it really does a disservice to breaking down like the good and the bad. Because we do need a level of law enforcement. Does it need to operate how it has been? Absolutely not. But there needs to be that level of safety and protection because so many people require that from the state.
Dr. Silverii: [00:14:36] Right. That's so great. I'm saying that's perfect. And I totally appreciate that.
You know, one of the observations when people are calling for police reform is, we always would tell our agents about “know your role.” Right? Don't overextend, don't operate outside your area of capability. If you do, you have to deal with trauma and mental health.
And I'll be honest, law enforcement over decades has been pressed into roles way beyond their initial capabilities. One of the things that I try to explain is that law enforcement is the arm of force for the state.
I know that initially that sounds like, “They’re the arm of force?! Yeah. They're hurting people.” No. Use of force from law enforcement comes in a lot of different forms. It's called the use of force continuum. And just really...
The arm of force comes in a lot of different ways.
Say your neighbors are playing loud music and you just yell out the window, “If you don't turn it down, I'm calling the cops.” That's a level of force because now they've been warned I'm going to call the police. So, they turn it down.
That's a very minimal level of force. And I still do it. If I'm driving and I'm driving too fast, and I see a cop car on the side of the road, I slow down. That's a level of force. It's a level of influence, let's say.
So, what happens is, if the state legislature did not enact a law, then law enforcement has no reason to enforce that action, right? Say like around the country with legalism in America anyway, legalization of marijuana. Whether you agree with it or you don't, once it's been legalized, then that’s outside of law enforcement's hands. Right?
So the whole purpose of law enforcement is not to be society's moral entrepreneur. That causes trauma and mental health problems. It's not law enforcement's job to decide who gets to keep the baby in custody visits and who...
I mean, law enforcement we've been pressed to be, I hate to say it, but almost society's babysitters, priests, counselors, marriage counselors, financial counselors, and we don't have the skillset to deal with that.
No one's got the skill set to be so well versed in everything from child custody to delivering babies.
But by nature of the visibility of the position, you're pushed into those areas. And to be honest, we've really been shelved too deep into too many different areas that we really have no business being in.
If you had a lumberjack and you asked them to do brain surgery, he's going to mess it up. I mean, that's not his skillset, right? Then, all of a sudden, you know... “Well, defund lumberjacks!” No, don't have a lumberjack... I don't know why I'm using a lumberjack... But don't have a lumberjack doing brain surgery.
Same thing with law enforcement, especially in areas it can cause trauma and mental health problems.
Don't shove us into these areas where we're not trained, where we're not skilled, and, honestly, where we don't belong. That's one of the biggest parts of police reform that I see. And, if you let cops do what they've been authorized to do, and that is to only uphold those laws passed by the legislature, then they're going to do a good job at it.
But when they start dealing with issues outside their ability, their capability, and their training, no they're going to, they're going to be terrible.
Amy: [00:18:01] Absolutely. And I think you really hit the nail on the head when you said like they're wearing so many hats and. To add to that, it's also like you wear all these hats and then you also have to manage your own nervous system and your own life.
So, you also have to be able to show up for yourself. And when you're extended too much, you're in a constant state of stress, as I imagine most people that are working for the police force are.
It doesn't surprise me the way in which many officers end up, exasperated, stressed, and burnt out. And when that happens, you mess up. It causes trauma and mental health problems.
Dr. Silverii: [00:18:43] Yeah. That's exactly right.
One of the things with PTSD... When you're part of the organization, behavior associated with PTSD is normalized. Throughout my career, I worked 12 years undercover. Most of those years, about half of them, were with the DEA.
I worked 16 years as a SWAT commander. Now, you're not going to tell me that that's not going to have a level of stress or on somebody, it's not going to have a major effect.
And I suffered with PTSD so extreme almost to the point of, well, not almost, but suicide ideation was almost my daily diet.
And then when I became chief of police, I really had to keep it together, the public image. When I was on the job, it’s like a switch was flipped. I was Johnny on the spot. But when I went home, it was all I could do to keep it together, because of my trauma and mental health.
But when you're the chief and you have your behavior is indicative of suffering, struggling, depression, PTSD, you can normalize that. Because, “Hey, I'm the top guy, this is the way we all behave.” And, I'll tell you, that's the way the culture is. It's so wrapped up because of the stress, because of the fear, because of the danger.
I mean, marriages. That was one of the big reasons that when I retired, my wife and I started a ministry. It's called Blue Marriage. It's a marriage ministry for law enforcement because so many law enforcement marriages are suffering because of the danger of the stress and everything with the job.
So, how can you fight with your spouse? I mean, you're battling back and forth over whatever. Then be expected to step out in uniform for the next 12 hours and be and be a shining example of a public service.
I mean, those effects that they don't stop when you go 10-8 on the radio.
Amy: [00:20:38] Exactly. And I think a lot of us want that to be the case. We want to believe that it's something as simple as you just turn the switch off and you're good.
But, for the people that are thinking about this in a critical sense, they understand it's just impossible. No human being who is coping in a healthy way is able to do that. It causes trauma and mental health problems.
Dr. Silverii: [00:21:00] You're exactly right.
Amy: [00:21:02] Or very few.
Dr. Silverii: [00:21:05] Yeah. It's an unrealistic expectation.
I used to take pride on stress. And I was like, “Man, I thrive on pressure. I thrive on danger, on stress.” Which, you know, the reality is, it's gonna manifest itself in some way in your life.
Amy: [00:21:19] Yes it's so... We do have that culture as well, as the grinding culture, if you will. So, that does reverberate through areas that some people don't necessarily think it would, like the police force. But it's almost like a badge of honor to be burnt out and at your wit's end these days.
I do think that the pandemic helped us understand on a larger scale that that's actually not true. But it's so fascinating to me.
Now I have a question. Is there much psychological or mental health support for officers out there?
Dr. Silverii: [00:21:59] I would say over the last 10 years there has been, that's really trying to break these barriers.
Number one, it's not mandated across the board. Okay? So, the agency that I've worked at for when I first began my career. If you were involved in a critical incident, maybe you shot someone, you were shot, or you lost an officer in the line of duty. Or maybe a child died on duty.
You just sucked it up. I mean, you just sucked it up. You went, you drank some beers, and you went back to work the next day. You would shove back the trauma and mental health problems. Over the last, I would say, 10 years, it's become more available. A lot of agencies have anonymous EAP employee assistance programs. Which that's like a 1-800 number that you call.
But in law enforcement, like maybe a lot of careers, admitting that you're hurt, you're wounded, you're weak, you need help... That's the kiss of death. So, even if you're all from a 1-800 number, cops are very cynical. I mean, they're not gonna call because they don't know who's on the other line.
“Who's on the other side of this 1-800 call? And what if they want to tell somebody? What if I lose my career? What if this, what if that?”
So, it's not uniform, it's not mandated. It's more available than it used to be. And just the stigma attached to getting help is still there. So law enforcement with trauma and mental health problems aren’t seeking it.
So, I really believe that was another big part of me leaving. I'd try to work from the inside, and even as a chief of police, my ability to affect influence was very limited. I just felt that, “You know what? Maybe I need to try to affect change from the outside.”
On the inside, to answer the question, it's more like you said. A perfect world is a badge of honor, to be struggling, to be burned out. I'm living on the jagged edge. I don't know if you remember the old, oh my gosh, with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover
Amy: [00:23:59] Oh, yeah. I don't know what it's called, but yeah. Lethal weapon?
Dr. Silverii: [00:24:02] Lethal weapon. That's right.
I really believe that that Mel Gibson character was such a perfect cultural portrait of law enforcement and the way that they either are or see themselves. They really identify more with the Mel Gibson guy than the squared away family guy of Danny Glover.
Amy: [00:24:21] I forgot about that movie until right now.
Dr. Silverii: [00:24:24] I don't know why I thought about it.
Amy: [00:24:27] That's funny.
So, I have a question from a Instagram follower that they wanted me to ask. And it's kind of out of the blue, but we're going to transition shortly to talk about what you're doing now and how you're helping men process and overcome trauma.
So, what was the most disturbing case you ever came across? Like something that gave you chills while working.
Dr. Silverii: [00:24:54] You know, I've seen a lot. I've always been involved in special operations, and one example is actually, when I was running the detective bureau, we investigated, we had a serial killer. When we identified and arrested him, it was a guy that I was friends with.
I grew up with him my entire life. We graduated high school together, and he’s probably one of the most notorious serial killers in the United States. But no one knows his name. That was just the irony of that. I thought, here's a notorious serial killer and here's the chief of police. We grew up together as friends, graduated high school, and just took different paths, obviously. But I'll tell you that, to me, that's interesting.
The other, the hardest thing, and I still struggle with it… It gave me so much trauma and mental health problems. In 2011, it was my first year as chief of police. And we got a radio call. There was a, spare the graphic details, but that was a seven year old boy bound to a wheelchair and his dad sawed his head off while he was still alive. Then took his head and he throwed threw it out by the side of the road.
Because when his mom came back home, he wanted the boy's mother to feel stupid. And those were his words. Then he wound up taking the rest of the child's body and dismembering it, putting it in garbage bags, and threw it out by the side of the road.
No one is supposed to do that, experience that, or witness that.
And you know, the first responders, the first person to see a skull on the side of the road was a firefighter. To this day, he continues to struggle. The first police officer that showed up on scene, he wound up having to be retired because of a medical, psychological. He just couldn't get over it.
That was years ago. And there's been two officers who have tried to commit suicide because they worked that scene just in the last couple of years. Myself, I didn't realize it, but my wife knows my cycles, my behavioral changes. About a week or two before that event, I don't look at the calendar anymore.
To say, “Hey, this was the day that the little boy was murdered,” but my body knows that. It remembers the trauma and my mental health starts having problems. It starts changing. My speech patterns change, my behavior. Then on that day or close to it, I just start falling apart. And my wife's learned over the years that that's what's going, that's what's happening.
If she doesn't call it to my attention, then I really fall into a state of despair. That's just the power of the body and the mind to continue to try to process those horrific events. But that by far was the most... and is still. It still just tears me apart to think about it.
And you know, I have a… He’s 14 now, but at the time he was a young boy and he has down syndrome. So, I have a special needs son, and to see what someone did to their child, special needs or not, it's horrible.
But it was just another level of relation that I had to that case.
That by far stands out. That's the outlier. But I've seen so many more horrific things that cause trauma and mental health issues. And it's almost like, what kind of proper healthy defense mechanisms are there to deal with this type of stuff on a regular basis?
Amy: [00:28:22] Yeah. Wow. In my head was, trying to guess, “Oh, what's he going to say? What's he going to say?” And that was not even... this is all a hundred million times worse than anything I could have thought of in my head.
Dr. Silverii: [00:28:32] I apologize for that.
Amy: [00:28:34] It’s okay.
Dr. Silverii: [00:28:32] And I do, I realize that, because everyone expects, “Oh, yeah. We had a shootout, we arrested this drug dealer, and blah, blah, blah.” When I tell this story, and I tell it very rarely, it's absolutely horrifying and shocking. Actually I was, I don't know if the show is still running, but on the Dr. Drew show, they had reached out because it was...
It just shocked the world, to be honest with you. We had to set up a separate email account. I mean, literally thousands and thousands of people were emailing every day just to share, to vent, to give support for the agency, and to express anger towards the dad who did that.
It really was so horrific and so shocking to the conscience. It still reverberates effects for anyone who witnessed it, had to participate in, and it's just a tragedy.
But, that's what law enforcement does. It's a big part of what we do.
It's a big part of what people don't see, the trauma and mental health problems they face. You know, it's easy to see the guy and get mad at him, man or woman, a male or female officer, because they wrote a ticket or because they pushed somebody. It's easy to get mad at that.
But when you really dig deep and you look at the reality of what they face it's amazing. I'll be honest with you. It's amazing that anyone does that job at all. I tell people close to me, “Look, I got out. I didn't get out unharmed or unwounded, but I got out.” I'm very thankful that I did, but I am also very aware of the scars that I carry because of it.
Amy: [00:30:15] Yeah. I thank you for sharing that because even though it is horrendous and it's an outlier, as you said, it's still something that happened and it's impacting dozens of people's lives still. I think it's very telling of the trauma that officers and even people that, maybe dispatch or something like that, have to deal with.
As you said, it's not talked about, it's not really thought of when you initially think of the bad things that you guys have to deal with.
Dr. Silverii: [00:30:52] Yeah.
I'm glad you said the dispatchers, because that is.
You have those kinds of concentric circles of being affected, from the firefighter to the ambulance driver to the people at the funeral home who came to pick up the body. And I mean, everyone that had anything to do with that case, and in all cases, everybody has an effect. We all deal with trauma and mental health because of it.
Like you said, then you exponentially increase it because they may go home to their spouse or their kids or their parents or their friends. Some share stories, and I think that compounds. And some just sit in silence and that causes trauma in and of itself. It’s really just a very chaotic cycle of trauma begating trauma.
Amy: [00:31:38] Absolutely.
Whoa, Whoa. Okay. So I'm having a moment, but like a good one. This is a good thing.
Well, anyways, if you could sum up your experience for your entire career in law enforcement, in 10 words or less, what would that be?
Dr. Silverii: [00:31:59] I wanted to make a difference. I'm not sure I did.
Amy: [00:32:04] Interesting.
Now, I'd love to ask you a little bit more about that. And this probably goes in very well with why you decided to transition out of this career. But what is making you question? If you made a difference?
Dr. Silverii: [00:32:20] Well, my goal when I realized the strength, the power of the culture... I'll give you an example. So, before I started, I was a Christian; I still am. See, I was teaching Sunday school, carrying my Bible. I wasn't a Bible Thumper, but it just gave me comfort.
I brought it to the academy. I'd bring it on duty and it didn't take long until your peers, people you respected, started making fun of you, hazing. Let's say that. I guess that's more of an adult word than you’re being made fun of. They began hazing, so I quit carrying my Bible.
I would leave it on my desk or I'd leave it in the drawer. Little by little, the light grew dim. Then little by little, it became very dark. What I realized, I felt I had a fairly solid constitution about myself and I'm like, “What happened? What happened to me?”
Then I became very interested when I got into graduate school and discovered the world of cultural anthropology. I was like, “Oh, now I've got an opportunity to examine from an academic lens the power of that culture.”
That's what I really did. I started studying it. And then I wanted to change that culture. Because it's good for, you know, “Hey, we're brothers, thin blue line,” and all that stuff, the comradery, but it's very thin. And all the shared trauma and mental health problems as well.
When I retired, before I retired, I literally had hundreds and hundreds of people that catered to anything that I wanted.
I mean, anything, because I was the chief of police, because I could do something for them. When I retired, nobody would answer my call. I had no one. All these brothers that, “I'll die for you. I'll die.” Nobody was there. No one to share the trauma and mental health problems with.
And it's not just my experience. I connect with a lot of cops who've retired and the exact same experience of why it's such a club. When you leave, you're gone. You're out. And they would just soon forget who you were. So what my goal was, was to change the culture, to make it more open, more transparent, more vulnerable, and really try to establish true relationships.
And I thought, as I was a commander in a big agency, I thought, “I'm going to set the example.” Right? Of course, nobody really wanted to follow the example because they liked the way it was. So, then you try to implement policy to effect change. And that was only as effective as when I was there beating the drum.
Then I became a chief of police and I'm like, “I am the top guy at this agency, I'm going to affect some positive, personal, and cultural change.” And, again, the only change that you see is as long as somebody is there holding other people accountable for it. So, in what I left, it went back to that same good ol’ boy kind of fraternal organization that it was before I got there.
Do I believe that there'll be change? I do.
It's not going to be policy, it's not going to be rules and regulations. It's going to be new leaders with a new vision, recruiting new people. Stop recruiting the highest, you know, the old high school football player, the bully, you know? Stop recruiting people that you know. I mean, I think better job doing background checks.
Along with that, you're going to have to better define the scope of the job. I mean, if you want white collar people, you want more tech skills type people, and higher education then start demanding college education or special skills training. And a better job getting help for trauma and mental health.
But that's what I said. I mean, my crew was very successful, obviously personal and what I achieved made a lot of good cases. I guess my goal of wanting to protect people so they wouldn't be the victim that I was in cases, I know that I helped.
But my big goal, maybe overly idealistic, was to change the culture. But, maybe we're in a revolution of change right now. I would like to think maybe I had a little part to play in sparking that revolution.
Amy: [00:36:38] I imagine. I am a true believer that every little ripple can create a massive effect. And maybe in that moment or in that period of time in which you were the chief of police, it didn't have the impact that you wanted it to. But down the road, especially with the pressure that's being put on...
I'm with you. I am very hopeful.
Now, granted, there's people that say, “Oh, you're an idealist, you just want the best for people.” Which I am, and I do. But if we lose that hope, what do we have?
Dr. Silverii: [00:37:13] I absolutely appreciate that. And you know, my wife, she says I always look for the best in people and she's like, “You're a cop your whole life. How are you always so optimistic?” And I just laugh. I'm like, “Because I do.” Even through the trauma and mental health pain.
I'm like you, Amy, I want to see the best in people. I want to see the best for people and I want to see people at their best.
So I'm like you, and I appreciate you saying that, you know, because right. If we don't at least hope, if we don't have a level of expectation that then you're right, then what do we have?
Amy: [00:37:48] Exactly. Yeah, exactly. So, what was the straw that broke the camel's back? What was the moment in which you were like, “I'm out. I can't do this anymore”?
Dr. Silverii: [00:37:58] You know, I was 50 years old.
I had just received a new four year contract as a chief of police. And that meant I was going to retire with a 30 year pension.
In our system, 30 years would be calculated on your highest three years, and that's a hundred percent. So, I would be getting a hundred percent pension of my highest years.
My health insurance would be paid for the rest of my life. I mean, It's a pretty sweet deal. if you can make it 30 years. So, I was teaching college at night, I was traveling the country as a contractor for the federal government. I had it made, to be honest with you. I was living the life that I felt I'd worked for, I earned, and I deserved. So, I felt that since I had dealt with trauma and mental health problems from it, I deserved it.
And then God told me to retire. And I just kind of balked, you know? I'm like, “No, you know, you don't understand pension. I have four years left. Give me these four years, and then I'll do what you want me to do. And, God was very clear. He's like, “No, I've got other work for you to do.”
For about two weeks I struggled and I prayed about it. Then I woke up one morning and I told my wife, “I don't want to go to work.” And Amy, I'll tell you, in almost 26 years, I've had a violent, violent career. I've lost eight dear close personal friends in the line of duty, natural disasters, Hurricane Katrina, if you remember that. 2015, that hit my parish in deep, deep South Louisiana.
I've been involved with my SWAT team in an active shooting event.
Where a middle school kid died and took his own life. He was the shooter. And, so I mean a violent career. And no matter how injured, wounded, hurt, sick, or tired I was, I never did not want to go back to work.
But that morning, I woke up and I told my wife, “I don't want to go to work.” And I realize that God had taken that desire out of my heart. That was the only way that I was going to move into the next phase of my life. Then when He began to share that, “Hey, I've got other work for you. I want you to help people, but in a different capacity.”
And I'll tell you, Amy, it made the difference when it was very clear, the word that God put on my heart. He said, “You spent your life locking men up. Now, I want you to live your life setting them free.” That was the light that changed everything in my life.
I walked into my mayor's office two weeks later and I retired. And I walked away from law enforcement, but not my trauma and mental health.
Amy: [00:40:34] Wow. I think that's so beautiful that you were able to follow that voice. I'm a big Ron Dass fan and I was reading his book earlier today.
And there's a quote from, for anyone who doesn't know he has a guru, and it said “Money and truth have no business dealing with one another.”
Dr. Silverii: [00:40:54] Yeah, well, that's the truth.
Amy: [00:40:55] And that is something that a lot of people just can't comprehend. As you said, I was listening to you describe your pension. I was like, “Holy moly. That's a lot of pension. That's a great pension. I didn't know they still had those.”
But being able to walk away from that in a way where you were so strong in your conviction of leaving is something that... God must've really spoken to you.
Dr. Silverii: [00:41:25] It was... I absolutely respect everyone's degree of faith walk. Sometimes I'm stubborn and a lot of times I'm hard headed. They talk about the gentle whisper. No, He's got to hit me in the head. But when He speaks, it’s very clear, and that was one of the cases. But I tell ya, I thought I misunderstood, you know?
I guess with divinity, there's always that level of humanity. And I thought, “Wow, he's calling me out to retire. He must have something very important for me to do.” Because in my own mind, I was so important in my professional life. I'm like, “Man, if God wants me to join his team, there must be a really great package.” I guessed it was since I had already been through trauma and mental health problems.
I would like to tell you that idealistically, I wish I could say it was a very self sacrificial move.
Just follow God's word.
I think at the time it was a little selfish thinking I was trading up. I tell you what happened was I moved into a season of obscurity and a wilderness season. Over the course of a year, I sat there after retirement waiting to enjoy my golden years.
For three months, nothing happened. Nobody called. I realized I was all those brothers and blue or were no longer there. After about a year, the depression had set in so deep, not just from the trauma and mental health either. My identity was so grounded in what I did that I had no idea who I was.
I know that's true for a lot of men, and I think for a lot of women. A lot of people, but particularly men, we see ourselves by what we do. by what we earned, by what we drive.
I'll tell ya over that year, God took everything away from me. I mean, everything everything. I got to the point where it was just absolute despair. And I went to my wife and I told her, “Leah.” I really did. I felt like God had abandoned me. I was like, “You called me away from the only job I've ever had. And I was good at it. Then you just leave me out here to languish?”
And I was really angry. It didn't during that time. I went to my wife and I said, “Leah, not if, but when I kill myself, I'm not going to leave a mess for you and the kids to find.”
I really thought I was doing something noble, you know?
And I'll tell you, my wife was so gracious. She watched me struggle, she supported me. She'd been there and she said, “Scott, we're going to get your help. We're going to get through this.” We started seeing a counselor and over the course of a year the realization of what we started not with trauma and mental health problems from my law enforcement career, but with the dysfunction from my childhood
I'd mistakenly, like you said, thought that was a defense mechanism, right? You know, “Oh yeah, just my dad was the strong, silent type.” He was strong and he was silent, but there was no love in that.
What I also came to understand was at 12 years old was the first time that I was sexually abused by a teacher. What I came to understand was that she was a serial sexual predator. Every year she would pick a new student and she would groom them throughout the course of their school career. That started for me at 12 years old, and it didn't end until I left for college, the physical relationship with her.
B0ut the damage that it did throughout my entire life was horrible. When I look back during this season of healing, you know, when God had finally stripped all the material things. He made me realize, “I don’t need a chief of police in the kingdom, I don't need a PhD. I need you.”
And I didn't know who I was. God started to show me.
This is why I was the way I was. Even that sexual abuse has set me on a path. Because coming from a dysfunctional home, I never heard, “I love you. I like you. Hey, you're a decent person.” So, we all have that desire for affirmation, for love, security, significance, and purpose.
I didn't have that. I didn't get it at home, but I found that as a 12 year old boy, but from an adult female teacher. What that showed me, what that taught me about love and relationships, intimacy, was that it was secret. Right? It was taboo, but it was to be protected because, I mean, I'm a 12 year old boy.
You would think, “Oh, I hate when I see these cases where these teachers, female teachers, are having sex with these high school and junior high boys.” And everyone's like, “Oh, that dude, that's the luckiest guy in the world.” It's like, you don't have a clue what that does. Your mind, your body, you are not capable of engaging in that kind of relationship as a child.
And it did it continue to affect me until after my fifties, when God literally revealed to me through that counseling that you're dealing with a lot of past pain. I began to learn how to forgive and cut those soul ties. And really start moving towards the light of forgiveness and just working towards my own restoration and renewal.
And that's when I really began to be able to work through it and the trauma and mental health from my law enforcement career.
God was kind of like, “Okay, now you lead other guys through what you just went through.” And that's what I've been doing for the last five years.
Amy: [00:47:09] Wow, thank you for sharing that. I didn't know that you were going to share that and I appreciate it. Because I think that's a topic that, again, is not really talked about when it's a female that is abusing a power dynamic in the sexual assault arena. Plus, the impact that that has. Because as you said, it's very viewed as, “Oh, look at that guy. He's so lucky. She wants him!” There are so much complex trauma that happens from that on so many different levels. It causes trauma and mental health problems.
Dr. Silverii: [00:47:45] Right. Yeah. I'm sorry.
Amy: [00:47:48] Nope. Go for it.
Dr. Silverii: [00:47:50] It was just what you said is that it's just that culture that, “Oh, he's lucky. He's a stud, he's this, he's that.” When I look back, I think of any girl that I ever dated through college, through high school, in my career, whatever. No relationship ever stood a chance of being healthy. I mean, it would obviously not, because none of them ever grew into the fruition of marriage or long-term relationship.
But it was absolutely directly thanks to this one person. And you think of the exponential effect, the detrimental dysfunctional effects, that one person can have in another person's life when they victimize them.
And so you're right. It is not,” Oh, he's so lucky, he's this and that.” It's very destructive.
And look, I didn't realize, but that was the origin point of, say, the sexual addiction, this need for physical gratification. But it should. I guess it's one of those cultural bores that as soon as it gets broken and we get past it, it kind of drops the macho facade. Their trauma and mental health show.
I look, I do. People say, “Bro, you gotta go home. I mean, you were like a cop. You're like an alpha male dude. I was, I am. And it's like, “And you're talking about this stuff?” And I'm like, “Yeah, that's because part of being strong is being vulnerable.”
Amy, I have, I can't tell you how many men, I mean, in the thousands and thousands over these last couple of years that I communicate with online, face-to-face, through church, through workshops. And you share that story and they come to you in tears, just tears because they've had similar experiences.
Amy: [00:49:41] I just, I want to honor you and your bravery to do that. Because exactly what you said, the machismo or the macho persona, it's so persistent. Still to this day, we are doing much better at breaking it down.
Sexuality and fluidity becomes more fluid and we take on, you know, traditionally opposite characteristics that are normally associated with the opposite sex. I'm trying to be very politically correct right now.
But yeah, it would be...
I've been saying this a lot this week. I have been at a loss for words with a lot of people and not because I am shocked, but I’m so in awe of what people are sharing, what people are communicating, and how they're showing up for themselves.
But also by doing that, they're able to give voice and de-stigmatize very strongly held beliefs that men can't be sexually assaulted or weak or demonstrate straight some traditionally viewed feministic characteristics.
Dr. Silverii: [00:50:58] Mm. I tell you the one thing that really helped me was a friend of mine. He said, “Listen, do not judge little Scott by today Scott.” And I think a lot of people do that, particularly men. The idea of having been victimized as a child, and you look at yourself. Like, you're looking obviously from your adult viewpoint like, “Oh, I would kick that person's tail. I would do this. I would fight back.” Because that’s judging yourself for your trauma and mental health.
Yeah. That's you looking at you from an adult lens, but don't judge yourself, little you, based on big use ability or capability, because it's not fair. That's why I do believe that a lot of guys especially... nobody wants to admit to having been victimized. I mean, I hated it when I realized that I was a victim. Because it does, right?
It takes this. The whole power dynamic has shifted. When you learn to look at it in truth, and you look at it with forgiveness and love, then you stop judging yourself. Which means you stop condemning yourself. You stop labeling yourself with shame and guilt.
I'll tell you what my go-to verse is. It comes from first Corinthians 16:13-14, and it says “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith. Be men, but do everything in love.”
And I think if every man could read that and accept and adopt that... Nowhere,even God doesn't say, “Oh, you gotta be this way or that way.” He wants people to be strong and to be firm and to stand guard, but always do everything in love.
I think that's where a lot of the toxic masculinity comes from. We love to be strong. We love to fix things and take things apart, and just be men. What we forget is the part about doing it in love. And I think that's where the toxicity comes from.
I learned number one, forgiveness. It was forgiveness for the people who hurt me, and a lot of people do not understand forgiveness. It's like, “Well, I'm not going to let them off for what they did.”
But forgiveness is not for the person who hurt you. Forgiveness is for you. When you forgive someone, you free yourself from whatever it was they did to you. So learning to forgive is so important. Also, don't forget to forgive yourself, to give yourself a break.
I was mad at little Scott for a long time because he was a victim. I thought little Scott was a failure. You know? I mean, because his dad bullied him. He was scared to get out of bed at night to go to the bathroom because he lived in fear now, because he was sexually victimized and the trauma and mental health problems that came along with that..
I was very angry at that little me for a long time until I stopped judging me by by today's standards.
Amy: [00:53:56] Yes. I really want to talk about... Well, maybe not talk about, because we're nearing the end and I just feel like I could speak to you for hours about this. But what you said about forgiveness and how it's not about the person. Yes, you are forgiving that person, but you don't necessarily need to go out and tell them that you forgive them.
It's something internal. It's allowing yourself to forgive them as well as yourself. And I think that's so beautiful. So many people need to continue to hear this.
The first time I heard it, I remember being like, “Whoever said this is full of crap.” You know, that ego, that armor that's like, “I can do this by myself.” But, for me, when I finally let go, there was one person in particular that I was really holding onto and it set me free from my trauma and mental health problems.
Dr. Silverii: [00:54:52] Yeah, it is. And it's a concept. When you understand it, it's not like you're trying to trick anyone into any kind of psychobabble. That is what forgiveness is. And when I tell men that, their first thing is, “Well, you have no idea what they did to me. I will never forgive them.” You know?
People think that to forgive someone means that I now agree with what you did, right? I condone what you did. That's not the case. And there's two key elements that I always explain. I always share. Number one, forgiving someone.
Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
And it's what you said, Amy, you don't even have to tell that other person “I forgive you.” I mean, some people have passed away. So you would say, your victimizers, you don't want to re-engage them, but that's not even required because you've got to express that and you've got to vocalize it.
You think, “Oh, I just think about it.” No, you've got to verbalize it. Because there's this transformational transaction that happens between what's in your heart, what's in your head, your breath and what comes out of your mouth. There's power in words. The Bible says “Life and death is in the power of the tongue.”
So, when you speak out those words, insert the name of a person, right? I forgive you. You can say it in the shower, you can say it in the closet, you can say it while you're driving around. But you've got to exercise that transformational act of verbalizing “I forgive you.”
And that's the first part of forgiveness. It's like a marionette tethered to strings, right? You can cut those strings to whoever it was that was controlling you.
And the second part is that forgiveness doesn't mean reconciliation. A lot of people are like, “Well, I don't really want to talk to him.” You have the authority. Once you forgive someone for what they did to hurt you. Now, you freed yourself from that person, and possibly the trauma and mental health problems caused.
The level of reconciliation is now up to you.
Let's say in a spousal relationship, there was infidelity and you've forgiven your spouse. Whether or not you reconcile that relationship, you have the authority on that sliding scale, full reconciliation or termination of the relationship. But you can't exercise that control until you release yourself from what hurt you and that comes from forgiveness, trauma, and mental health.
I'll tell you one last thing, or not last thing, but one thing that I like to share also is when people ask, “How do I know if I've really forgiven somebody?” It's when you stop talking about what they did to hurt you. That's the test of whether or not you've truly forgiven someone.
Amy: [00:57:36] Yes. I've never thought of it like that. That's yes. Just yes. That's magical and super empowering because that's so true. I think back on a lot of things and I'm like, “Oh, That makes so much sense now.”
Well, Scott, I've enjoyed conversation immensely. It's been so wonderful to connect with you on so many different topics and so many different levels. And I'm going to go out really spiritual and say so many different levels of consciousness.
For all of the listeners, if you would like to get in contact with Scott, follow along in what he does, if you want to connect with him, whatever, you will be able to do all of that by hitting the link in the description of this podcast. I will have the link to the show notes there so you are able to do that and it will be easy peasy lemon squeezy.
So, Scott, I always ask the guests to leave the listeners with some words of wisdom. I mean, you have left us with so many already and I am so thankful for your transparency.
Now, I'm going to point it a little bit, because I think that it, for the men listeners out there, you are the perfect example to tell, to talk directly to them.
So, for men that are struggling with whatever, be it addiction, abuse, PTSD, whatever it is, and they are really struggling with the decision to actually seek help in whatever form that is. What would you say to them?
Dr. Silverii: [00:59:20] Seeking help does not mean you're weak. It takes a very strong person, a very strong man, to seek help. It's not surrender, it's just healing yourself so you live to fight another day. And when I learned that getting help does not mean that we're weak. It actually means you're very strong and you're very confident in your ability.
And if you want to continue to fight the fight, you're going to have to re-armor. And that only comes from getting the help that you need.