Thoughts on Survival - 20 Years After Workplace Violence
Interview with Maria Jordan
June 2019 marks 20 years since Psychiatric Hospital Administrator, Maria Jordan, and a fellow colleague were taken hostage by a former employee. The two women were held at gunpoint for 46-hours during which Maria was shot six times.
In this interview, Maria shares her reflections and positive lessons after surviving the horrific attack that forever changed her life.
"One of the most valuable lessons I learned is that I do not always need to know what time it is."
HubPages Author, Marcoujor, Maria Jordan
Your Thoughts While Being Held at Gunpoint?
"From start to finish, the incident lasted 46 hours. This translates to 2,760 minutes and I was counting. Today, as I relish an afternoon nap whenever possible, I cannot imagine how I remained awake for this entire time.
"I remained focused during the daylight hours when I worried most about spontaneous action from the perpetrator - triggered usually by the actions of the State Police.
"Both nights, when Carol and the perpetrator were able to sleep, my internal dialogue consisted of anything and everything. Some of my endless thoughts were:
- Would I survive to ever hug Geoff, Mom and Alvin again?
- Was my impatient but loving family holding it together?
- Would Carol, my patients and my staff be okay?
"I didn't speak throughout this time. My mind, however, was going 'a mile a minute,' as Mom would have said. I thought about many strong women in my life, both alive and dead. I imagined their words of empowerment, support and love. This helped me endure as I was not willing to let my "Strength Team" down.
"Lastly, I prayed - almost constantly. As my body weakened, I worked hard to keep my mind and thought processes strong."
No matter how tough one's bravado, we all need to accept our vulnerabilities - being patient, first and foremost, with ourselves when the unimaginable happens."— Maria Jordan
What Is It Like to be Shot and Not Get Medical Attention for Two Days?
"In game show speak, this stretch of time felt like Double Jeopardy.
"Being shot six times was physically agonizing - the worst, ongoing pain of my life to date. Simultaneously experiencing 46 hours of gross mishandling by the Chief of the PA State Police gave me a range of feelings: anger, frustration, fear, helplessness and others, which would not be polite to detail.
"When rescued by the SWAT Team and the Penn Star paramedics, I felt a surge of hope, gratitude and more relief than I dreamt was possible."
Who or What Gave You Strength During Your Long Recovery?
"I drew strength from my family and close friends who knew intuitively of my need to initially regroup after coming home from my longest shift ever - from June 16th to July 3rd (when I was discharged from the hospital) to be exact.
"I am 'furrever' indebted to my two beautiful Labrador retrievers who nursed me through my toughest years - Alvin and Aunt Baby. These gentle giants reminded me that vulnerability is necessary in the healing process.
"The toughest part of my recovery was dealing with my limitations gracefully. This included accepting help from my husband, Mom and my sister, all of whom showed unconditional love, acceptance and patience along my road to recovery."
My Source of Strength
Keep fighting! Don't give up! Even when the end is (seems) near, imagine the best, imagine life, imagine embracing the sun."
What Are Signs That Something is Not Right with a Coworker?
"There is not a common thread with all perpetrators of workplace violence. Far from inclusive, the following is a list of red flags to watch for in coworkers and/or potential employees:
- history of / active substance abuse issues
- history of instability / mental illness
- work history including jobs of short duration / time intervals between positions
- preoccupation / fascination with violence (including the news, history, etc.)
- difficulty getting along with peers / supervisors
- explosive outbursts / poor impulse control
- blames others for his / her problems / behaviors
- poor work performance / in progressive discipline / recently terminated."
There is not a common thread with all perpetrators of workplace violence."— Maria Jordan
What Advice Do You Have for Others About Recognizing Signs of Unbalanced Workers?
"Safety for you and your coworkers is paramount to provide safe, competent care, and service to your patients or customers.
- When all is said and done, listen to your gut; your instincts.
- Don't be confrontational with a subordinate or a coworker showing signs of erratic behavior. Get away from the scene - quietly and matter-of-factly, if possible.
- If your path is blocked, be silent and as outwardly calm / flat as possible.
- Always be aware of your surroundings / the environment."
What is Your Best Advice on What to Do About Workplace Concerns?
"Employers are legally and morally bound to assure a workplace that has a zero-tolerance policy for threats / acts of workplace violence.
"Employers must fully investigate / act upon as necessary any / every report of behaviors viewed by the employee as threatening in any way.
"Practically speaking, if you find yourself in a workplace setting that does not value the safety of all employees / customers, it's time to start looking for another job immediately. Your safety is priority. This includes your life.
"If I were interviewing for a job today, I would want to hear about how safety ties into the agency's mission, philosophy and policy."
Legal and Ethical Standards
in the workplace. It is the law that you cannot harass or physically harm someone. A company ethical standard goes beyond the law, and it states how allegations of harassment will be handled, investigated and of how disciplinary actions will be taken.
What Physical and Mental Effects Plague You These Years Later?
"The physical and emotional residue of the incident has greatly diminished over the years.
Physical reminders include:
- pain in my right wrist after 15-20 minutes of repetitive movement - as in typing, crafting, etc.
- acknowledging and communicating that my mammograms will always show bullet fragments
- the inability to have an MRI test due to the presence of metal in my body. Metal detectors also take issue with me.
Emotional triggers / reminders include:
- the sound of fire crackers
- movies, television with heavy themes of violence, guns, etc.
- the general (thankfully, temporary) feeling of being blindsided
- my split-second transition to protectress with students - especially in the unpredictable environment of a psychiatric unit."
My greatest blessing is to be alive, kicking and making even a small difference with my life."
How Has This Experience Strengthened Your Faith, Your Life, Your Relationships?
"This experience has made ME stronger. My faith, life and relationships with others have likewise become stronger on every level.
"By all counts, I should have died twenty years ago. My greatest blessing is to be alive, kicking and making even a small difference with my life - both personally and professionally.
"I cherish life and everyone who has (had) a place in my heart. I don't take people, experiences and time for granted. I know first-hand that tomorrow is not promised. I am ever grateful for today."
Tomorrow is not promised. I am ever grateful for today."
What Was the Legal Process Like After this Experience?
"I experienced the best and the worst in the legal and law enforcement arenas.
"The incident was grossly mishandled by the PA State Police Captain. However, the SWAT Team was heaven-sent in their efficiency, competence and protectiveness. They even visited me in the hospital as I recuperated, sharing their impatience at the handling and timing of Administrative decisions.
"The District Attorney's office in Montgomery County and Judge William Tressler (now retired) were amazingly competent - treating Carol's family, my family and me with great respect, dedication and advocacy.
"My court appearance occurred three years later, in 2002. I was emotionally strong enough to craft and deliver a powerful Victim Impact statement - including honoring Carol's memory. Even more difficult than looking the perpetrator in the eyes was the lack of eye contact or acknowledgement from the PA State Police Captain, who sat in the same row as me."
Was the Justice System Effective in Punishing this Offender?
"Yes, to me. Sadly, I cannot speak for Carol.
"The perpetrator was convicted of first degree murder and attempted murder. He was sentenced to life plus 42 - 85 years in prison."
I am grateful my role is not that of God or a judge."
What Are Your Feelings Toward Him After 20 Years?
"I am thankful beyond belief that I will never see or speak to him again. I am proud that some days he / the incident does not even cross my mind. My feelings towards him have been objectified after much work on my part.
"This man gave up his life (freedom, career, family) and took the life of another because of out of control, drug-induced behavior. This was not (never will be) acceptable behavior - regardless of the reason. In this case, I am grateful my role is not that of God or a judge."
The Show Must Go On
What Else Would You Like People to Know About What You Went Through?
"I did not have an opportunity to study or prepare for this curve ball in my life. If I realized what I would have to endure, I may likely have crumbled in resolve / my will to survive. So as much as I HATE being blindsided, in this case, it sobered me into a sustaining 'fight or flight' mode.
"Music has always been my passion. During my time of recovery, music began to serve an additional healing role for me. Just like people, every song tells a story - albeit different for all of us as listeners and interpreters of the lyrics and melodies. . . Songs speak to me about my journey from 1999 until today, twenty years later . . . I believe my life lessons are universal on some level to us all.
"No matter how amazing this Queen song is, The Show WILL Go On - with or without you. Know and remember your priorities in life.
"No matter how tough one's bravado, we all need to accept our vulnerabilities - being patient, first and foremost, with ourselves when the unimaginable happens.
None of us know how strong we are until tested - in many ways, perhaps many times, throughout life. True heroes survive day to day life. I am blessed to be surrounded by many heroes who remind me to "Rise Up" - including my mentor Mariah. This was her song - a reminder to me of the blessing that she was in my healing process.”
A Note of Appreciation
My heartfelt thanks to my dear friend, Maria Jordan, aka Marcoujor, who kindly revisited this horrific event in her life on its twenty-year anniversary providing answers to my probing and often difficult questions. Her resilience, enthusiasm, kindness, positive attitude and joy for life is inspirational.
More of her thoughts can be found in her writings: "A Toolbox For Novice Nurses," "The Rain and Everything," "Kylie's Blossoms," and her many other works.
Her story has been featured on the TV shows "I Survived," on the BIO Channel, and in "Obsession: Dark Desires, A Dangerous Mind, Season 3, Episode 3," on the ID Channel.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Peg Cole