Things I Learned from Bad People

By January 2, 2009 No Comments

What do I know about trouble and bad people? I’ve been a soldier, worked on armoured cars and as a prisoner escort for prisons and jails. I’ve also done investigations and surveillance. I’ve learned a lot. Like anyone who has learned a lot about any particular subject, there is much I don’t know… but I know more than most people

When I started grade school in the 1970s, my mother told me to avoid trouble and be good. Unfortunately, in a schoolyard, being good can put bullies on you. Still, losing a number of schoolyard confrontations gave a good foundation for dealing with trouble in coming years.

Even back in the schoolyard, I learned that getting in an altercation is never a good idea. So whenever I saw any trouble makers heading my direction, I would go if I could. This is still the best advice whenever it can be applied.

Sometimes you can’t leave. The second lesson I learned early was that being calm was the key to any situation. This lets you spot opportunities to work the situation to your advantage.

The third lesson results from staying calm no matter how intimidating someone can be. By looking calm with a neutral expressionless face that gives nothing away, you become calm. This takes some work, and one useful exercise is to develop and practice a calm expression (while alone with a mirror). Know what your calm face looks like, and put it on when necessary.

By allowing anyone to keep you engaged on their terms, they also determine the outcome. This is why criminals and bullies are aggressive, while con-men and pedophiles are manipulative. The fourth lesson is that you can be a victim if you are not cautious, especially if you are naive or have a hard time saying “no”. Learn to say no, learn to disengage.

You can spend your whole life learning the fifth lesson, but facial expressions and body language are often ignored by many people. It pays to study non-verbal communications and to always read them. People can lie with words, but they seldom do with their body language; stance, eye contact and tenseness give away so much.

This was especially true when escorting prisoners from Federal and Provincial facilities or for Immigration. You could sometimes know trouble was coming when guards and inmates started looking longer than usual at you; it meant they were wondering if you could cope with a killer or rapist. One prisoner’s body language particularly put my defences up and I didn’t take my eyes off him during the whole trip. I later learned he had a history of assaulting prison guards.

The sixth lesson is closely related to the fifth: Instinct is one part of your brain telling another about signals your conscious mind is missing. If you have an instinctive feeling about something or somebody bet that your instincts are right.

Instinct covers more than non-verbal communications with people or animals. If your instincts suggest an uphill curve in your path might shelter a police speed trap, it’s probably there. Veteran soldiers and cops trust their instincts… it is how they got to be veterans.

The seventh lesson also relates to the fifth and sixth: Always look for things that don’t fit. Develop the habit of observing what is around you, learning what is ‘normal’ and then looking at what isn’t. It becomes a fun after a while, and you see so much more even on familiar streets. It also saved me and my partner from a robbery when working on armoured cars. Dozens of people weren’t focused on us, three youths were. Dozens of people were walking in their ordinary relaxed fashions, these three were tense. Sure enough, when we made our delivery they moved toward us, but were deterred by our wariness and aggressive body language and veered away.

The eighth lesson is that your appearance can help you avoid trouble, small things make a difference. This was especially true in the armoured cars and on prisoner escort. You can’t easily change first impressions and troublemakers assume a sloppy appearance means opportunities to exploit. Keeping everything just-so in my appearance was a deterrent. Having a partner who was unshaven, with food-stains on his shirt and undone buttons was always a problem. I bloused my pants over my boots like I did in the army, creased my pants and kept my hair short. This gave the impression I was a disciplined hard-case and saved me a lot of trouble.

The ninth lesson was that patience reveals all. Everyone lets their guard down eventually, and you can see through façade and pretense in time. Inept managers, cowardly gang-member or cheating husbands (I did surveillance work for a while too)… Watch long enough and you’ll always learn what you need to know.

The tenth lesson is the hardest one to accept. Everyone has to learn the nine for themselves and few people do. Time and time again, I’ve seen experience and common sense seem valueless to people who should know better. I’ve seen people over-ride their instincts, dismiss caution and fail to learn… which is why crime remains common and security is elusive.