The next few weeks continued as I had described. Everyone had a roommate and we lived in a small room similar to that of a college dorm. In the rooms there were two twin beds with one small pine wood nightstand between them. Each room had two wall lockers, which was sort of a closet/dresser with couple drawers inside that was built into the wall. There was a small sink and mirror between the wall lockers. On the other side of the room were two desks. We woke up everyday at 5:15 am to get a head start at making the "racks" or the beds. They had to be made military style, as tight as possible with the hospital corners at a perfect 45 degree angle. The clothes hanging in the wall lockers had to be facing a certain direction, hung up in a certain order, and organized to mirror the wall locker of your roommate. All the buttons had to be buttoned and zippers zipped. The drawers inside the wall locker which were sort of a tiny dresser also had to be organized a certain way. The top drawer was for toiletries, everything was organized neatly, smallest item to largest item with the labels facing up. The other drawers were for your clothes. They also needed to be organized a certain way and all of your clothes had to be neatly rolled in the drawer. Not only did roommates need to make sure that their things were perfectly identical, but the entire class had to have everything organized identically. If you were changing, the blinds had to be put down...if you were not or if you ever left the room, the blinds had to be exactly half way up and the door had to be open. The rooms had to be perfectly clean, meaning no dust anywhere, no pieces of lint on the carpet, no water spots in the sink...perfect!
If anything was not squared away in your rooms, they would be trashed! Everything in the wall lockers would be thrown all over the rooms, beds would be flipped over with sheets and blankets all over the room. One time we came back and our mattresses were in the middle of the room, leaning against one another to make a teepee. I'm sure you're thinking that this doesn't sound too difficult. I was thinking the same thing before experiencing it. Follow instructions and you're good right? You make mistakes because you have no time. Everytime you are changing clothes, making the racks or cleaning, you are trying to do it as quickly as possible. The stress that you are under causes you to miss little details.
Every morning at 6am, we have morning stretch. We form up as a class and march down to the gym, run some laps, do some stretching, and some other light exercises for about 20 minutes just to get the blood flowing. We have class 8 hours a day and have an hour of PT, physical training, everyday as well. After dinner at night, we have to lift weights, study/type notes from the classes you had that day, and then clean the academy until it's time to go to bed.
Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner were no time to let down your guard and take a break. We marched in, you got your tray, (whatever happened to be on the plate was what you took) and sat down at the table. You ate your food as fast as you could. There was no talking and no looking around, no looking at anything other than the food that was sitting in front of you. I'm a slow eater typically so this was challenging for me. I would take a drink after every bite of food I took to help me swallow it faster. One day I timed the amount of time it took us to eat at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. From the time we started eating to the time we were leaving the cafeteria, it averaged out to be a little more than 5 minutes. I don't know why but the academy has some infatuation with peanut butter. I love peanut butter but I've never been anyplace where there is a jar sitting on every table. A lot of times we didn't get enough food or didn't have enough time to eat everything so we just grabbed a scoop of peanut butter out of the jar to help fill you up.
One day at lunch, the instructors were yelling at people while they were eating. "Stop looking around! You're eyes should only be on your plate! Hey You!! What are you looking at!" They singled out two or three different people for looking around. A few minutes later I looked up from my plate to look at the people at my table to see if they were done eating. When we finished eating, we had to wait for everyone at the table to finish eating because we all had to get up at the exact same time. I didn't want to be the one to hold up the table so I was checking to see if everyone was done. BAD IDEA!
"Towers!! Can't you follow directions!? Couldn't you hear me yelling at Rodriguez!?"
I freaked out and an excuse just blurted out of my mouth.
"Sir, I was looking for the peanut butter, Sir." This was not true at all of course but it just came out. As soon as I said it, I realized that the cadet right across from me had the peanut butter in his hands. I freaked out again because I knew the instructor would see that and know that I was lying, which was the #1 wrong thing to do at the academy. I quickly tried to prepare to counter the yelling that was about to take place.
"He's got the peanut butter Towers! Right in front of you!"
I knew he was going to say that and the only thing I could come up with in the seconds that this unfolded was, "Sir, I was looking for the crunchy peanut butter, Sir."
This turned out to be the perfect excuse because the crunchy jar was sitting on the other side of the napkin holder just beyond the direction I was originally looking.
"For God sakes, would somebody get him the peanut butter!" he yelled!
I about shit my pants. I had narrowly avoided a disaster.
The purpose of this environment that is created is to train you to pay to attention to details. It trains your eyes and your brain to notice when the smallest things are out of place. If you are running down the hallway and don't notice the tiny piece of lint on the carpet and pick it up, you wished you would have. This environment trains you for real life on the streets. In the academy, if you miss something or don't pick up on a tiny detail, it's only a button or a dust bunny or a piece of lint. On the street, however, it could be something much more important. What if you miss the subtle signs that the interaction you having with a violator are about to go south? What if you miss that gun or a knife? It's the buttons and lint in the academy now, that will ensure that you go home at the end of your shift when it's real and you're on the street.
We lost our second guy by week 3. He was on crutches for most of the week from running we did the week before. I'm not too sure of the details, but basically he was told he'd be on crutches for a while. The academy determined that it would cause him to miss out on too much, so he was sent home. Going into week 4 we were down to 20 people.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
I apologize for the lack of entries in the past 7 weeks. To put it simply, there has been absolutely no time to do anything not related to the academy. We just finished week 7 of the 18 week long police academy, so we're not quite half way. I have tried to make notes of things I have experienced along the way. I will do my best to walk you through the first few weeks of the academy.
I arrived on the first morning at 0630, we were to report by 0700, so I was plenty early. My car was loaded with everything we were required to bring. I had a suitcase and a duffel bag full of enough underwear and pairs of socks for a week, a swimsuit, a robe, white t-shirts, sweatshirt, sweatpants, shower shoes, wrestling shoes, running shoes, boots, toiletries and shoe cleaning supplies, and my labtop in a labtop bag. I carried 6 hangers - 3 uniform shirts and 3 uniform pants. I also had my duty belt, my gun, and almost 3,000 rounds of ammunition in the trunk of my car which I chose to leave there for the time being. I walked into the lobby of the academy with Michelle and Scott, the other two that I was hired with in South Place who would be going through the academy with me. Scott and I are both 22 but Michelle is a few years older than us at 26.
There were several people already waiting in the lobby. We would begin with a class of 22. It was pretty quiet because everyone was so nervous for what was to come. Inside the lobby there was a set of glass doors that led to another hallway. On the other side of that hallway we could see the troopers walking back in forth in their stetsons, they would look through the doors at us and walk away, as if they were just waiting to pounce on us. At exactly 0700, 3 troopers came busting through the doors screaming and yelling, "Pick up your trash and lets go! Hurry Up! Pick up your trash! You're taking to long! Get your trash off the deck!" I frantically hurried to try to round up all my stuff. They led us down several dark hallways and back outside to the parking lot. We walked so fast it was almost a jog, which was extremely difficult while trying to carry the suitcase, duffel bag, labtop bag, and uniforms. The screaming and yelling continued. By the time we got to the parking lot my legs were burning and I was already dripping in sweat. We stopped in front of the entrance where we had gone in which made no sense because we literally just did a big circle around the building and came right back out to where we had started. Two of the academy staff Sergeants introduced themselves. "Get your trash off the deck!" they yelled. Everyone had set down their bags on the pavement because they were tired from carrying them for so long. We all struggled to pick up all of our crap. Just as we got our bags hung on our arms, a Sgt. yelled again, "Get the trash out of your gun hand! Carry everything in your left hand! How are you supposed to reach for your weapon if you have trash in your gun hand! We never carry anything in our gun hand!"
After introductions by the academy staff, we followed them around to the barracks where we would put our belongings. It was a long way to carry everything in just one arm. I was soaked in sweat and every muscle in my body was burning. When I got to my room I just dropped everything. The next few days would consist of endless amounts of yelling! We had a time limit for everything we did. You got "x" amount of minutes to put your trash away and so on. The stress level was through the roof and I don't recall a time in the first week where I wasn't drenched in sweat. I later described the feeling to one of my buddies the best way I knew how. You know when you wake up in the morning and realize, Oh crap! I'm late! You run around the house on an adrenaline rush grabbing all of your things. Well, that is how things are at the academy pretty much all of the time unless you are sleeping. The stress causes you to lose fine motor skills. I vividly remember trying to put my uniform on with instructors screaming at us from the hallway to hurry up! I couldn't button buttons, put on socks, and couldn't even get my belt through the belt loops. I was shaking because I was trying to work quickly and couldn't manage to do anything with my hands.
We lost our first guy on the second night. We were practicing marching in formation in the gym. We had been marching for probably an hour and a half. Despite being yelled at for everything throughout the duration of this, it really wasn't that hard and was a nice break, at least I thought so. As it was called out for us to "column left", one guy "columned right" and went right out the gym door. The Sgt. screamed from across the gym, "Where are you going!!" "Oh shit, I thought, What just happened?" Everyone was confused. The Sgt. ran out after him and didn't come back so we just kept marching for at least another 30 minutes by ourselves in the gym until he came back in and told us that we would now be a class of 21. You truly had to be there to appreciate the humor in the events because the guy who quit literally marched out! He pivoted and marched off to the right, in step and everything...right out the door.