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Gaining From Loss I: Shelley Klingerman #138

Warwick Fairfax

November 3, 2022

We kick off our fall series GAINING FROM LOSS with Shelley Klingerman’s story of grit in the face of grief after her brother, Greg, a 30-year veteran law enforcement officer, was shot to death in an ambush while leaving a government building – a senseless and evil act.

From that tortuous crucible, Klingerman has dedicated herself to celebrating the essence of Greg and helping his fellow officers via the nonprofit she founded not long after his killing: Project Never Broken. Her organization extends hope and healing through stressing resiliency to other law enforcement officers and their families struggling through the aftermath of trauma. Through every step, she is committed to no longer accepting the things she cannot change, but changing the things she cannot accept. 

Highlights

  • Shelley’s “All-American” upbringing (2:25)
  • The differences between her and her brother, Greg (6:51)
  • Pursuing her passions (8:41)
  • The moment that took her brother’s life and forever changes hers (12:26)
  • Starting her nonprofit in Greg’s memory (14:38) 
  • How she’s gained from loss (21:18)
  • Why she created Project Never Broken (26:19)
  • Offering help to guide officers through their on-the-job traumas (33:48)
  • How she turned her anger into hope (45:21)

Transcript

Warwick Fairfax:

Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

 

Shelley Klingerman:

I will not let this take more than one life, and I have a family and I did find myself… My family did suffer early on until I was just able… Those waves come further. But make no mistake, my kids walked in on me just crying and I’m like, I can’t do this. If I do this and I’m not here for them, then again, more than one life is lost. And if I go, then how does that affect my kids? And I just was not willing to make that an option.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Not willing to give up, to give into the pain, to give into the loss. Shelley Klingerman determined early on after her brother was slain that those options were not on the table, not just to protect her family, but to honor the life and legacy of the loved one she lost.

Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, co-host of the show. This week, Warwick and I kick off our fall series Gaining From Loss with Klingerman’s story of grit in the face of grief after her brother Greg, a 30-year veteran law enforcement officer, was shot to death in an ambush, a senseless and evil act. From that torturous crucible, Klingerman has dedicated herself to celebrating the essence of Greg and helping his fellow officers via the nonprofit she founded not long after his killing – Project Never Broken. Her organization extends hope and healing through stressing resiliency to other law enforcement officers and their families struggling through the aftermath of trauma. Through every step, she is committed to no longer accepting the things she cannot change, but changing the things she cannot accept.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, Shelley, again, thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate it. Before we get to I guess the event that changed your life and your family’s life, I’d love to hear a little bit about the backstory of you and your brother and growing up and just a little bit of the kind of backstory of you, your family, your journey before kind of the main event that we’ll talk about.

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Yeah. Well, thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be here and share my story, which I will be very honest with you, I have not done much since it happened. So I promise you there will be weak moments as I tell you, just because it’s new for me, and I will get through it.

But to answer your question, I was brought up in a very traditional, what I will say is an all American family. I equated us to the Cleavers. My mom was a teacher. My dad was a fireman, and it was just Greg and I, and they were incredibly present parents. We were very middle class, never wanted for anything and just absolutely knew that we were the center of our parents’ world without being completely self-absorbed about it. But I had an amazing upbringing. There’s nothing that I could say that was traumatic in my childhood.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Do you ever look back and obviously you know a lot of other people now and think in some sense we were privileged, not in terms of money but unconditional love, a brother and a sister that love each other, parents that loved you? You probably have friends that go, “Shelley, that wasn’t my upbringing.” I mean, you don’t know what you don’t know when you were a kid. As you look back, you think, gosh, we were pretty blessed growing up.

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Oh absolutely. My dad especially, I didn’t know that everybody’s dad didn’t start their car in the winter and have their windshields cleared off and had the car warm. I honestly just thought that’s what dads did. So very much so, I had grown to greatly appreciate the solid loving background and upbringing that I had.

And you talk about Greg and I, we were very different. Greg was quiet. He was introverted. He was incredibly smart. We weren’t close where we really hung out, but the way that we were brought up there was absolutely a loyalty and a dedication to family. So again, just to put a point on that, I also didn’t know that it wasn’t normal for my dad to go visit his uncle who had never had kids or been married, and he would go sit with him every evening at the nursing home. And again, I just thought that’s what you did. I thought that’s how every parent treated their… It was his uncle.

My mom’s mom lived across the street from us because her dad passed away shortly after he retired. So my grandma moved in across the street, and I didn’t know that everyone’s grandma didn’t come over for dinner every night or you went across the street to their house at five o’clock every evening for dinner. So yeah, just to bring it back around, I’m very grateful and absolutely do now see what an amazing upbringing I had. And I would say that my mom, dad, Greg and I were like a tent. We were the four poles in a tent. So when we talk about what happened recently, when you pull one of those four poles out that you make up that tent, it collapses, and that’s kind of what happened.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Just before we get to that, so you grow up, go to college and obviously you went one direction. I mean every person has their own direction, career, life. So just talk about what you did after college and before the event, which we’ll get to in a second. What were you pursuing career-wise and purpose-wise? What was your direction in life, if you will?

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Yeah. Again, I said that Greg and I were different. So Greg went in law enforcement. Again, he took a path of public service like my mom, teacher, dad, fireman. I kind of went in a different direction because as I said, we were opposite. So I was more extrovert. I was very social. I was very involved. My career path took me… I started working. My first job out of school was a corporate job in a Fortune 500 company. And while I was there, many of my experiences are what brought me to write the book that I wrote based on a lot of the actual things that happened to me. But I also was an entrepreneur at heart and I really didn’t know what that meant. I really didn’t know what an entrepreneur was. To be honest, back in the, I’ll date myself, early ’90s, that wasn’t so much a thing, and I remember getting on-

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Oh, Shark Tank. It’s before Shark Tank so nobody knew.

 

Shelley Klingerman:

I remember getting a magazine called Entrepreneur Magazine. I don’t know how I got on the subscription, but it would show up on my desk and I’m like, “What is an entrepreneur? How is it that you could literally be your own boss?” Because I was so just all I had been exposed to was a corporate environment. But what I do know now is that burning desire to do something that was mine and I was willing for it to be my success or my failure. But I always had that and I just didn’t know what it was, and it was that entrepreneurial flame and fire. And I ended up doing some things entrepreneurial while I was still at Sony. So if we were to look at my past, I did multiple things while I was working full time and that was me I think pursuing that entrepreneurial thread that I had.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So you work your way up the corporate ladder and you wrote this fascinating book, Vigilance: The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Personal Safety, Self-Protection Measures and Countermeasures. I love the name of your company, the Stiletto Agency. I mean, maybe it’s kind of obvious I guess, but why the Stiletto Agency? Because you could pick a hundred different names.

 

Shelley Klingerman:

I wanted something to be bold. I wanted it to be somewhat feminine. And if you look at the logo and you look pretty closely, it was a play on words of a stiletto heel, and then the heel is actually a knife. It’s not a true stiletto knife, but it’s a form. So it was kind of like bold, edgy. It had to do with the empowerment, the safety. So that’s where that came from.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Yeah. I get that. One last question on this before we get to the main event. Why the sort of passion around helping women learn safety and empowerment and protection, what led you to going down that track?

 

Shelley Klingerman:

As I had touched on before, it was my personal experience traveling young as a young professional in the early ’90s. And I really quite frankly wasn’t prepared, and I found myself in some situations that I should have recognized to avoid altogether. Once I was in what I would call cringey situations, I didn’t necessarily know how to get myself out of them. Potentially, sometimes I would go to close business because I had a quota that I had to meet and the person on the other side of the table was more interested in asking me what I was doing after my day was over rather than talking about the business at hand. And I just really was left with not knowing what to do and had to kind of think on my feet in some situations. And there’s again, I found myself in a few that I shouldn’t have been in because I should have recognized how to avoid them, which is what led me to write the book.

I have three kids, two girls, and I quite frankly wanted them to be more prepared to go out into the world than I was. My company was an awesome company, but they did nothing to teach me how to travel on my own, again, as a young professional. So I started when I was 23. I wasn’t even old enough to rent a car yet, so they would have to sign waivers. So I was certainly not necessarily prepared to know how to handle some of these professional situations.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

I’ll jump in and say one thing about the book, or two things about the book. One, it was featured in the New York Times, which is kind of awesome so that your insights into how women can be vigilant and protect themselves was featured in there. But also Shelley, after you and I worked together for a little bit, I still can’t be on an airplane and overhear a conversation where a young woman is talking to a young man and it’s probably innocuous, I don’t know. And she talks about, “Well yeah, I live here.” And I remember one time, the first time that happened after I had read your book, I texted you after I got off the plane going, “You wouldn’t believe what just happened on this…” I mean truly, it makes all of your radar go up, not in a bad way where you see bad people around every corner, but to keep you vigilant, to keep you aware of your surroundings and aware of how you’re interacted. So I wholeheartedly endorse your book for that reason.

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Thank you.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So let’s talk about kind of the event that changed your life, because listeners are probably wondering, “I wonder what that was.” So just talk a bit about that event that day and-

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Yeah. So Greg was a 30-year law enforcement FBI task force officer, and he was just exiting his office one day and walking to his car and was ambushed and murdered. It was not a targeted event. The suspect was really there, I believe, to kill everybody in the building, but it was Greg’s heroic actions in his last moments that alerted them to what was going on, and they were able to come out and engage. So he fought to the last seconds.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

That obviously changed your life, your family’s life, parents. He had, from what I’ve read, two kids, didn’t he? A son and a daughter.

 

Shelley Klingerman:

He did. He had twins that were 18.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So talk about just the… You’ve obviously set up some things since, but just talk about those days, weeks, months. Just you mentioned before that event changed your whole life, the four tent poles, one was gone. Just talk about, I know it’s an obvious question but forgive me, but just talk about how that changed your life and your family’s life, that event.

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Yeah. So I mean I can kind of go down a couple paths. I noticed early on that the emotions that I was experiencing were absolutely of course deep sadness and just strong anger, and anger is a very effective emotion that comes with a lot of energy. I, again, recognized early because I know myself and that energy needed to go to something that was productive and not destructive. I and my family had committed that this act would not be left where it was.

So just a story. As we were talking about the services for Greg, my mom, we grew up Catholic. My dad went to a Catholic school. My kids go to a Catholic school. We were raised Catholic. She still goes to church, God-loving. And before when we sat down to talk about the services with the priest, my mom just stopped and it’s kind of out of her character, and she said, “Before I talk about anything, I need to know why. Why would God let this happen?” And our priest said very matter of factly, my mom’s name is Dottie, he said, “Dottie, make no mistake, God had nothing to do with this. This was an act of pure evil. The way God responds is he will give the strength to make something good come of this.”

And it was honestly in those moments of hearing that where I committed that I would do something. I didn’t really know what at the time, but I was determined to make something good come of this evil, and it would not end at that evil act and evil would not win. And that is really where my conviction came. The nonprofit came a little bit after. I mean that conversation happened within two days. So that was the first thing, that conviction, and then the noticing of these emotions and the energy that comes with that. And it just kind of naturally came that I would… Again, I didn’t do this alone. My family was part of it, but we committed to honoring, memorializing Greg’s life and legacy because Greg was one of the good guys. Greg was actually making a difference on this earth, and we cannot glorify evil and not raise the stories and the lives and the legacies of those who truly are doing good. So that’s really what the mission.

I called Mary Siller, who is with the Tunnels to Towers Foundation, just out of the blue, and I reached out to them just through their website and ended up getting on the phone with her and I said, “I think I’m getting ready to embark on something real similar to what you did to memorialize your brother in the sacrifice he made on 9/11. What do I need to know? What are the avoidable things as I start out?” And she gave me the most sound advice that I have gone back to over and over. And she just said, “Whatever you do, make sure his essence is seen in what you do. Just whatever he would still be doing if he were here, let that drive your organization.” And that’s absolutely what we have gone back to. What would he want, what would he do? He was very much a mentor. He was very much a trainer, a leader. So that’s where the hope, help and healing comes from. He would not want any of his brothers to be sad or to be struggling at his loss.

A little side note though is that the community that I’m from, Terre Haute, is a community about the size of 60,000. Our police force is about 130. We have lost three officers in the line of duty in the last 10 years. There are officers that are serving that have lost three of their brothers in the last 10 years. Then to ask them to put the uniform on the day after they’ve lost one of their own knowing that right now, and you mentioned it earlier, this environment is not necessarily an easy environment to operate in. They feel it. They see it. Then you add on that their wives are concerned every time they walk out the door. Their kids see what’s going on. So they have all of that to contend with. This organization exists through him to make sure that his brothers have the resources, the backing, the support that they need to continue to do their job because that’s what he would want.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

I want to talk a bit about the organization, but just before we get there, there’re going to be listeners hearing this who’ve been through loss. They’ve lost a loved one or they’ve gone through some tragedy. And one of the things we say at Beyond The Crucible is when you go through a crucible experience, you have a choice. You can’t undo what happened, whether it was a mistake you made or something horrific that was done to you, which is this case. And obviously you know this unfortunately too well, there’s one path that leads to anger, bitterness, proverbially hide under the covers and say, “I’m going to be angry, bitter and sad for the next 30, 40, 50 years,” and eventually life ends and the pain stops. Some obviously cut that short by sadly taking their own life. They just cannot take the grief, the anger, the whatever.

And another path is one that you’ve taken, which is, this was wrong, this is awful, but how do I get beyond this? How do I not just be a pool of grief for the next 50 years? I mean, how did you make that choice? Because not everybody makes the choice that you did who’s been through your circumstances. And I’m not here to judge. I’m just saying one maybe is hopeful and leaves a legacy perhaps, and one is not very helpful. So how did you make that choice to go the direction that you did?

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Well, I think I’m a bit stubborn. I’m a bit feisty and-

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Really?

 

Shelley Klingerman:

I know. And to be quite honest, it’s kind of what I said before, evil will not win. So if I gave up and my family gave up, we would’ve lost more than one life out of this family because to your point, you stop living and that was not an option because then evil would win. So I truly believe that we are being given God’s strength to just look evil in the face dead on and be, we will be way bigger. This act will not end the way you hoped. We will outshine it, and we will take your evil act and we will compound it a hundred times for good. So it is just an attitude and a mindset and just a grit and a fight mentality.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

I know he’s going to ask you about the foundation in particular, but I want to ask you, because you’re the first guest we’ve had on this series and we’ve wrestled a bit, believe it or not, with what we were going to call this. It occurred to me earlier in the week, we’re going to record Shelley at the end of the week and we don’t have a name. And so we started kicking around names, and there was concern on our parts that what we ended up calling it Gaining From Loss might be misinterpreted, right? The idea that how can anything good come out of loss. But what you’ve just described, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but would you say that you have indeed, as much as you lost and it was great, you have gained something through that process as well that you are putting toward memorializing and carrying forth Greg’s legacy? Is that a fair statement?

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Yeah, I think so. Yeah, I think so. And I think that at the end of the day, more people will know who he was and the good that he did maybe than otherwise. I mean, he was an incredibly humble person. So we are learning things about him that we didn’t even know. I mean important work that he was doing that was truly making a difference for local and honestly at a bigger level national security just because of the jobs that he was working on. So yeah, I think it would be fair to say that I’ve gained.

What I’m talking about today, this organization was not on my radar 16 months ago. I mean I, to your point earlier, was kind of doing my own thing. You deal with the cards you’re dealt and we were dealt this card, and I’ve had people say, “Well, is this the way that he was supposed to go out?” And at first I was like, “Absolutely not.” This was again evil, pure evil that appeared on this earth. But I will say that he was a badass, to be honest. He was a warrior and more people know that now because of this. And I truly think that people have been inspired by his story, and the good guys, which he was, do make a difference. It’s a kind of long roundabout way to answer, but it is the circumstance you’re given, so you find the good. And yes, I’ve gained. I have gained so many friends that I would’ve never met through this loss. And Gary, we worked together on a conference for law enforcement and at the end of that conference what I have surmised is that we lost one, we will help many.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

There’s something that you said to us before in preparation for this, something that you wrote to us, which I found very profound. You said that you should basically do something that makes you feel like you’re affecting the situation. And you mentioned the saying, “I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I’m changing the things I cannot accept.” I mean that’s a profound thought you had. Just tell us a bit about what you meant by that.

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Yeah. And again, I have to say those are not my words. I’ve seen that quote, but I have adopted that. And yeah, doing something has been the most transforming thing that I could possibly do because again, if I did nothing, if we did nothing, evil would win, and it is not going to win. So by doing something, you’re processing grief, you’re taking action, that is the most therapeutic thing that I have found that has worked for me. To your point, completely respect that’s not how everybody processes grief. Sometimes they need to go and be secluded and be quiet. That’s just not how I’m made up. I mean I am more of an extrovert. So by me feeling like I am doing something and taking action is how I am working through this grief.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

I go back to what you said at the very start of our conversation when you said, “And then I got subscribed to Entrepreneur Magazine and I had no idea how that happened.” I think as you’ve told this story and we see the arc of your life, I think we have an idea why that happened because that entrepreneurial spirit that was birthed in you helped you birth this organization, Project Never Broken.

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Yeah. No, I would agree. And again, truly, I did not register. So to your point, maybe somebody knew something more than I did at a time and I was meant to have that magazine because I didn’t subscribe to it because I didn’t even know what it was.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, I want to ask about Project Never Broken, but just before we do, let me make a comment that obviously we’re all wired differently. Some are extroverts, introverts, artistic, mathematical. So how we process grief is different, but yet I think there are some lessons for all of us that however you’re wired, to your point, to me, evil wins if you are just never get out of bed and are angry, bitter, and if you let evil defeat you, then evil does win. So no matter how you are wired, there are some lessons for everybody. And your attitude is evil won’t win, I’m going to turn this evil for good. So that might mean different things for different people, but I feel like there’s some overarching lessons from your response that’s true for everybody. Is that fair?

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Oh, I hope so. I hope so. Yes, evil should never have the last say.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So let’s talk about Project Never Broken because you could have supported the legacy of your brother in many ways. Why this way? I mean tell us about Project Never Broken and what led you to set up this nonprofit and just honor him and his legacy this particular way.

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Again, I think it’s that essence. He was very much a trainer. Everyone wanted to be mentored by him. He always stepped up. He would have wanted people to move on in a productive way. So this hope, help and healing represented what he would still be doing if he were here. The honoring resiliency is the second part of that and it’s kind of what we’re talking about here. How do you come back? You need to recognize people who do get back up on their feet. I heard something recently, fall seven, stand eight. No matter how many times you get knocked down, you got to get back up, and that’s the resiliency and we need to honor that because that’s what we’re asking everybody to be in this day and age.

As far as the name of the organization, that’s actually got a deep meaning too. My dad was in Vietnam and he was in infantry, and the logo or the motto on his uniform, which I actually have his patch. I’m going to grab it right here. This was his patch that he wore on his uniform, and it says Nunquam Fractum, which translates directly to “never broken”. So that’s where the name of the organization came from. My dad fought in Vietnam and it didn’t break him. Greg fought to the bitter last moment, it didn’t break him. And so this will not break me, my family or my community. So Nunquam Fractum translates directly to “never broken”. If you look at the logo, if you go and search it, you’ll see three stitches that connect Nunquam and Fractum, and that represents the hope, help and healing. Then there’s a little flag on the logo that’s 129. That was Greg’s badge number. And then the logo appears worn, and that represents the 30 years of service. So there’s deep meaning behind the name of the organization and it’s very intentional as to why it’s called that.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So what’s your vision for your organization? I mean, what is your hope that this will do?

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Never Broken, so that we will provide those resources to our law enforcement and first responder community. Mental health is a big factor for them. There’s compound trauma and stress that sometimes doesn’t get recognized because they are who we look to for help, but who’s helping them? And Greg absolutely would want his brothers and sisters to be supported. So that’s what the mission of the organization is doing.

And we’re having a little fun too, again, pulling in his personality. So for the one year anniversary date of the loss, we collaborated with a local brewery and we brewed a custom brew. They called it Nunquam Fractum, and it released on July 7th. And so we intentionally did not want that day to be heavy. We didn’t want it to be sad. He would not have wanted that. So we had a kind of, if you would say, a party at the brewery and everyone came and toasted Nunquam Fractum. And I would say that be the person, live the life that hundreds of people come back to honor and memorialize you, and that’s exactly what happened. That speaks a lot when that many people will come back and celebrate you.

And then we had a concert. Greg was in a band in high school. It was called Overland. We put together a concert called Overland Over Time. That was something that I was always joking with he and some of his band mates that they should do a reunion concert. And then I had been just joking that for a few years, and when this happened, we made it happen. We did a kind of tribute concert called Overland Over Time, and they had hand-drawn their logo, was literally hand-drawn and then they filled it in with markers really. They were just fabric markers. So we took that and we digitized because we had the original… One of the band guys had his original. They literally hand drew it. And we digitized it and we produced shirts that said Overland, just like 1985 when they played.

Another fun thing we did is when Greg would go visit somebody and they weren’t in their office, he would leave drawings and we turned all of the drawings that we had into T-shirts. So again, the essence that Mary had suggested, when anybody would see those shirts he drew himself the same way every time, it just makes you smile because that’s him. And it was always him in some kind of a battle and he was always winning. It was either a shark eating a little small swimmer or it was like he was blowing up a little person. So we’ve had fun with it too. But again, that’s his essence and that’s just who he was. I said he was really humble, and I always define that by he didn’t think less about himself, he just thought about himself less. He was always about the person he was with.

And then Greg did some undercover work in his early years. He was on a drug task force and did undercover work and he was really, really good at it because he could blend in. He could blend in to any crowd that he was in. Unlike me, I stand out because I talk loud and I’m very social. He could stand back and observe and be a bit of a chameleon and a wallflower. He’s really, really good at his craft.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So talk about how, maybe it’s again obvious that they might always feel supported because they’re thinking of others, but you are here to try and think of them more, right?

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Yeah, absolutely.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Talk a bit about that.

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Yeah. And to that point, we literally just partnered with a national organization called The Wounded Blue last week and Project Never Broken and another non-profit organization that was created for much of the same reason that Project Never Broken was it’s called Peacemaker Project 703. That family’s officer was responding to a domestic violence call and was shot and killed within seven seconds of being on scene.

To your point, they’re doing the job that we ask them to do and that we call them to do and they do it very selflessly. They literally put their life on the line for complete strangers. So they have to know in order to continue to do that job that somebody has their back because we are making their operating environment very difficult with all the things that are at play right now that we don’t have to run through. We know what the environment looks like. I want them to know, Project Never Broken wants them to know that we have your six, that we are here for you and we know that you are human and we cannot expect you to do these things that we are asking you to do without having some kind of consequence because it’s a consequence of the job. They still will sign up to do it. They don’t really ask for anything, but we just need to offer it. And they need to know that there is help and resources there.

I’ve had one traumatic event. I’ve had one big T trauma that it knocked me on my butt. I cannot imagine day in, day out having what is called small t trauma, which adds up and compounds to even bigger effects and not having some way to ask for help. So we are here to be on scene to offer that help and let them know if you need to go talk to someone and you want to do it in a very confidential way, we will help make that happen, and we will also be very public in our support as well.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

And that event that you spoke about that you had, which is last week when we’re taping this, it’s in October for those who were listening to this, was called the Law Enforcement Survival Summit. I’ll thank you publicly. I was honored that you asked me to come down and capture some of the stories of the folks, the speakers who were there and some of the attendees who were there. But one of the things that really struck me about that, that goes to the point that you just made, that in that event, one of the really strongest aspects of that event was the peer teams. Right? Those people, those officers who had gone through sometimes small t trauma, sometimes large T trauma, but they were there to watch the attendees, not in a creepy way, but to watch people who were listening to the speakers to see if they were triggered by anything, see if something made them sort of feel bad under assault again in some way, and they were there to talk them through that. That’s part of the mission of what this summit was about, right?

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Correct. And it’s interesting, I’ve never sat at a table with so many individuals, so many humans who have been physically shot. I mean it was nothing for me to be the only person at the table that had not been shot. And it was interesting to me that I heard stories all through the week, probably much like you did, Gary, but it’s interesting that officers that were involved in some of those shootings and they were not the ones to be shot, they literally would have preferred to have been physically wounded as opposed to the emotional wounds that they were healing from because people cannot see those emotional wounds, and we know how that happens with trauma, and we know that’s kind of what the mental injuries are. They would prefer to be physically shot because they can see that heal. Everyone knows that they were hurt. And so they expect certain behaviors.

When you can’t see their wounds, and it’s much like some of the illnesses that people have that are not outward facing, those are the harder ones for them to get over, and it’s mental for them. If they were shot, they could see that wound healing and they kind of healed along with it. When you don’t have something to heal, how do you know that you’re getting better? It was very interesting. Again, this was all new to me. I mean I’ve only been in this space for 16 months, but what I am learning is shocking.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

What you’re saying, Shelley, is so profound that if you’re not in law enforcement, which I’m not certainly, it’s tough to understand, but you have to make, same in probably Afghanistan, Iraq, or Vietnam at times, you have to make split second decisions and you hope that your training allows you to make the right one. I’m sure in the vast majority of ones, you do. But even if you make the right one and you’re told, as they say on the police shows, it was a good shoot, right? They analyze. You did everything right. You followed the book. There’s still this, I’m sure, sense of trauma. Could I have done something different? Could I have deescalated it without shooting? Even when every expert says, “Nope, you followed the book, you did everything right,” it’s just traumatic. So maybe 30, 40 years ago, people I guess were probably told, “Suck it up. Be tough,” which is a common thing, especially to say to men.

But now hopefully we’re in a different place where people realize it’s tough. It’s not weakness to seek strength. I think a strong person says, “I can’t do it all. I need counseling. I need help. I need somebody to help heal me, and it takes time.” So do you feel like we’re in a place where a lot of the officers you know are willing to say, “You know what? It’s not weak to ask for help. It’s just smart. And if I don’t seek help, it’s going to affect my family and those I love?” Because you know what they say hurt people hurt people, and you don’t want to hurt the people you love, but you will unless you seek help. So talk a bit about, because I’m sure that’s probably part of what you do at Project Never Broken, do you feel like the message is getting out that officers in the line of duty are realizing they have to seek help, it’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of courage?

 

Shelley Klingerman:

I do. And I think the program that was put on last week was a great example of that because these officers who have been in lots of different situations, when they tell their story, the officers in the audience, you would just see heads nodding. They’re not ever situations that I’ve been in because I’m not even brave enough to do the job, I’ll be honest. I am not wired that way to run to danger. They all are. And when these presenters who had been through horrific situations would tell their story, it’s kind of like military likes to talk to military peers, law enforcement likes to talk to law enforcement. So you would see heads nodding, yes. I think that there’s a long way to go because that culture is just kind of that brave, strong culture. However, I do think that by talking about it and putting people up there who are brave enough to share their stories and be vulnerable have more impact than we could ever know.

So to answer your question, yes, we will continue to do that. We do that on those conference fields. And then we do kind of mini workshops where I’ve already in conversations to bring a couple of those speakers who were on stage to come back and do a more intimate workshop with a smaller group of people because that’s where the conversation happens. But yes, by those who have been through situations, they’re willing to be vulnerable and share it. You can absolutely see heads start to nod, and I think you just have to keep doing it and doing it and doing it until more understand than don’t, that what you just said, being weak is actually a sign of strength.

And to that fact, if these things didn’t bother these guys and women, that wouldn’t be human. They’re humans, and they absolutely respond to calls of child abuse, of child fatalities. And if they have a child, I’ve heard this in separate occasions more than 10 times, when they respond, they see their child’s face on that child who didn’t survive. So if that ever gets to not affecting them, that’s where we need to be concerned. They’re human, and they have human emotions. And for so long, I think there was just this perception and this culture that they cannot be bothered by that, and we do not want that. As officers on the street, we don’t want them feeling like that’s how they have to behave. We want them to be able to process this.

Just like I said, working on this nonprofit is processing grief for me. They need to be able to talk about what they’ve seen so that they can process it, work through it, and it does not carry with them as they go back out on the street. And again, it’s a very different environment for them now. So they need to go out there present in the moment, not carrying a lot of this with them as they clock in. It’s safer for them and it’s safer for the community.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

That is a good time for the captain to turn on the fasten seat belt sign indicating that we will begin our descent into closing up our conversation. Before we do that, couple things. One, I just want to amplify what you said. My father was a cop as you know. That’s the reason you asked me to come out there. I wanted to come out there to honor him. And he died last year at 93. I didn’t know much about… He’s one of those guys from that era in the ’50s and ’60s who just didn’t talk about those things that happened. I’m his youngest son. I didn’t hear any of those stories of things that happened. I know that he went to his grave not telling many people that.

And the great thing about living to be 93 is that you’re around a long time. The bad thing is a lot of your friends and all the people that you shared the front lines with have gone, and he had no one he could share those things with. And I could see that he just avoided it, and I think his life was less rich because of it. When I was at the event, what I came away with, one of the things I came away with was that my dad could have used that, even though he did not as far as I know, he’d never talked about he’d ever shot anybody. Some of those small t traumas were truly small t, but I know he went through some things that he did not feel comfortable talking about.

Before I let Warwick ask you the final question, Shelley, however, I would be remiss if I did not give you the chance to let our listeners know where they can learn more about Project Never Broken.

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Yeah. You can visit projectneverbroken.org or follow us on social on Facebook at Project Never Broken.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, thank you again, Shelley. I mean, probably a lot of questions, but a couple questions occur to me. When you go through a loss like this, it would be normal if anger overwhelmed you. Not that you weren’t angry, of course, you were angry. But sometimes anger and bitterness, at least from my perspective, can be like poison. The people that do the evil typically could care less, which is galling about they often don’t have remorse. They’re just maybe too messed up or evil or what have you. But at least from my perspective, there’s a sense of forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning evil, but I often think if you don’t forgive, it’s like drinking poison.

So I’m assuming that you did, again, not condoning evil, but how did you manage to sort of or did you forgive? If you get kind of what I’m asking, because I’m not saying condoning evil, but how did you manage to avoid anger and bitterness just overwhelming you, so to speak?

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Oh, I don’t know that I can say I’ve forgiven. I just don’t know that I’ve even come to that. This is still an open case. I mean, the trial starts in federal court in May.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Oh my gosh.

 

Shelley Klingerman:

So I’m not sure I’ve just even gotten to that yet. I will just say I redirected and I took control of what I could affect and the change that I could affect, and that’s how I have moved forward. So I don’t have to forget or forgive or anything at this point. I am just not letting you control anything. You are a non-factor, and I am marching forward doing my thing. So I don’t know. That’s a good question. It’s still open, so I don’t know how I will be. I don’t know. Forgive, to me, is a… I don’t know. That’s something I’ll have to really pray about.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

It’s a tough thing. I mean, certainly what I went through is nothing like what you went through. But yeah, for me, losing a family business, it was more forgiving myself, my own mistakes. Again, it’s not even in the same league as what you’re going through. It’s very different. But just as we finish, there are other people that are listening that are going to go through loss or tragedy, some may be similar, some may be extremely different. What would a word of hope you would offer listeners who’ve gone through profound tragedy and loss?

 

Shelley Klingerman:

Again, it’s going to be different, but what worked for me was taking control of the situation. Again, it wasn’t a situation I wanted to be in, but I was not going to let anything other than my own objective and mission drive my action. So I spend my energy being very intentional about the outcomes that I want, and I just do not have time. And again, I will not let this take more than one life. And I have a family and I did find myself… My family did suffer early on until I was just able… Those waves come further.

But make no mistake, my kids walked in on me just crying and I’m like, I can’t do this. If I do this and I’m not here for them, then again, more than one life is lost. And if I go, then how does that affect my kids? And I just was not willing to make that an option. So take control, turn away from whatever that is and do good, affect change, be the change, take action on something you’re no longer willing to accept. Again, that phrase that I borrowed from someone else, but it fit for me.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

And listener, that is a great phrase on which to land the plane – do good. That’s been the focus of what Warwick’s tried to do with Beyond The Crucible since its start, which Facebook told me through its memories function, this podcast started just over three years ago. So look at that. I had hair when it started. Kidding.

But until the next time we are together, listener. We do know that crucible experiences are painful. We’re in this season right now, this series right now where we’re talking about loss, which is a crucible experience, truly devastatingly, traumatically with a capital T, to Shelly’s point, painful. But as we believe just occurred on this show, there is hope in that there is still gains that can come from loss. Do good. Don’t give up hope. Keep moving forward. We’ll see you next week.