Jun 05

The leadership philosophies and quotable quotes of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden will live on.

The leadership philosophies and quotable quotes of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden will live on.

The focus and fanfare surrounding the NBA finals was interrupted this weekend when news of the death of former UCLA coach John Wooden hit the headlines. Wooden passed away at the age of 99, and even though it had been 35 years since his retirement from college basketball coaching, Wooden’s admirers have been speaking about his impact on the sport as if Wooden had just led a team to a championship victory last week. Such is the omnipresence of truly legendary leaders.

Pat Williams, the co-founder of the Orlando Magic, was a big John Wooden fan. In general, Williams is a fan of any person in a leadership position who makes a meaningful impact on a team. In particular, Williams chose Wooden as the subject for the seventh book in his “How to Be Like” series of books not because Wooden led so many winning basketball teams to so many basketball victories, but because of the person that Wooden chose to be whether he was winning basketball games or not.

Wooden showed the sports world that a big-time coach of a big-time team can teach his players to value ethics, integrity, and character more than a win-loss record. And even though winning was a secondary consideration to a Wooden-led basketball team, they still managed to do a lot of it. Wooden, and his 10 NCAA championship teams proved that good guys can, indeed, finish first.

The praise for Wooden in the days after his passing are effusive and plentiful, coming from basketball superstars and sports personalities that are larger and more famous than Wooden ever would have wanted to be. One of the best tributes, however, comes from the first chapter of Williams’ book, “How to Be Like Coach Wooden: Life Lessons from Basketball’s Greatest Leader.”

This one simple story from early in Wooden’s career explains why this year’s NBA finals are rightfully sharing the spotlight with this true basketball legend. This story also explains why John Wooden is known and admired by people all over the world who don’t really care much about the really tall people who work so hard to get the orange ball through the metal hoop.

A Tribute to Coach John Wooden from Pat Williams in “How to Be Like Coach Wooden”: Continue reading »

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Mar 11

A woman recently sentenced to 15 years in prison is the first person known to be convicted in Florida of a DUI manslaughter while under the influence of the drug Ambien. The Florida woman, Della Foss, had a combination of Ambien, Xanax, cocaine and Lorata in her system when her car ran off the road and killed a 49 year-old man who was walking to work. Foss said she was in a blackout when the accident occurred and didn’t mean to do harm to anyone. The jury sentenced her to 15 years in prison for the killing.

A jury in Norman, OK was not as lenient, however, when another defendant, Billy Davis, claimed he had been in an alcoholic blackout when he shot and killed three women. Despite his claim that he could not have had a clear intent to commit murder while in a blackout state, the jury convicted him of first-degree murder. Davis’ jury even recommended that he receive the death penalty.

Although they sound like the fabricated plots from TV crime drama shows, claims of drug and alcohol-induced blackouts are becoming more common in true crime stories. When the “blackout defense” enters the courtroom, juries are left to determine whether it is just a legal maneuver or if drugs and alcohol affected the brain to such an extent that a blackout state was a real phenomenon. In some cases defendants may receive a lighter sentence or even an acquittal if it is believed that drugs or alcohol caused them to be “out of their minds” at the time of a crime.

While many prosecutors and jury members are suspicious of a fabricated blackout defense, Richard Broom is one ex-con who knows firsthand that alcohol-induced blackouts are all too real. On July 5, 1982, Broom woke up and was told by a friend that he had shot two men in a bar the night before. Broom had no recollection of the shooting, and therefore had no details of his own to refute any of the testimony of the witnesses at his trial. The eleven years that Broom ended up spending in jail after his July 4th drinking binge blackout was a relatively light sentence, considering that he had shot two men, and killed one of them that night.

In his book “Cocked and Loaded,” Broom tells the story of the 24 years of substance abuse that led up to the night when he ended a man’s life in an alcoholic stupor. In his own true crime story, Broom had experienced three to four blackouts a week for the eighteen months prior to the shooting incident. Alcohol blackouts were a normal part of his every day life.

“The only time I stopped drinking was when I was passed out,’ Broom recalls about that period of his life in his book. “I didn’t wake up any more, I just came to. Typically, I would be unconscious for three of four hours until I needed a beer again.”

In “Cocked and Loaded” Broom also recalls the many times when he didn’t believe the stories that other people told him about how he had behaved during those blackout periods. Broom found it hard to believe that he could have chased people down, beat people up, attacked his ex-wife, or driven eight hours in a car without remembering any of it. Sometime during his eleven years behind bars Broom came to the realization that all those blackout stories he had heard about himself were probably true.

The person experiencing an alcohol or drug blackout is not the only one who is not aware that a blackout is occurring while it is occurring. People in blackouts can walk, talk, carry on conversations, have sex, and even drive a car, as Broom found out when he once woke up in a seedy motel room in Charleston, SC without any conscious memory of having driven across three state lines to get there.

A blackout is not the same as passing out from intoxication. Rather, a blackout is a period of time when the brain is so anesthetized that it creates a temporary amnesia. During these times of extreme intoxication, not only will people not be able to recall what they said or did, they will often behave in ways that are atypical, irrational, and often violent.

Alcohol abuse does not necessarily cause aggression, but it increases the likelihood that aggressive behavior will occur because intoxication impairs the normal restraint of emotions. Judgment, decision-making and impulse-control are also impaired, which can lead to violent outbursts and actions.

In fact, in a study released in February, 2010 by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, it was concluded that alcohol and drugs were involved in 78% of all violent crimes. The study also found that alcohol by itself is connected to the crimes of more than half of all inmates incarcerated in America.

The CASA study also estimates that 65% of prison inmates can be defined as substance addicts, but only 11% of those inmates receive any kind of addiction treatment or assistance while they are incarcerated. While it might be assumed that prison is a place where inmates are forced to dry out and clean up because of the lack of access to drugs and alcohol, that assumption is far from the addictive substance reality in most prison environments.

This past week six inmates were caught in a Kissimmee, FL corrections facility with alcohol that they had made themselves using fruit that they hoarded, fermented, and stashed in the interior of their cell walls. Richard Broom had access to this type of home-brewed prison hooch as well when he was in prison. In his book Broom admits that it wasn’t until after his first alcohol blackout from prison punch that he finally admitted to himself that alcohol was a problem in his life. You’d think that the alcohol blackout murder that put him in prison would have sobered him up, but apparently Broom needed a little more convincing even after that. Apparently prison is not the “bottom” that most non-addicted people think it would be.

The CASA report says that the substance abuse statistics in today’s prison population point to the need for a different strategy. Treating addicts as criminals who need to be punished instead of recognizing that addicts are people with a disease that needs to be treated is to perpetuate a cycle of repeat offending that is “inane and inhuman” according to Joseph Califano, Jr., CASA’s chairman and president.

Richard Broom agrees that the need for recovery programs in prison is vital. When the sponsor of the prison Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program retired and the twelve-step program was suspended in his Dade county correctional facility, Broom launched a one-person letter writing campaign until the twelve-step program was reinstated. He succeeded fairly quickly by ruffling some prison administration feathers. “I didn’t care,” Broom wrote in “Cocked and Loaded.” “Having the program back was all that mattered.”

Broom was released from prison in 1993, and because of the alcohol addiction rehab work he had been able to do in prison, he has been a sober and productive member of society ever since. “While I can say that prison saved my life, the Twelve-Step program saved my soul,” Broom says in his book. “Before I got sober, I didn’t want to live but was afraid to die. Today I want to live, but I’m not afraid to die.”

Ironically, Broom is now an addiction therapist who specializes in the treatment of police, corrections, parole and probation officers. From a clean and sober perspective, Broom sees his work today as more than just poetic justice. He sees his ability to help others because of where he’s been in his life as just part of the plan of “the big boss of the universe.”

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Jan 11

January 11, 2010 – Even at the one-year anniversary, it’s difficult for many Miracle on the Hudson passengers to understand why strange coincidences led them to be seated on a plane that plunged into the middle of the Hudson River. But it seems very clear to Dr. Ray Basri why a series of coincidences led him to be the only attending physician in a ferry terminal full of plane crash survivors that day one year ago.

“It was give back,” Dr. Basri says without hesitation. After being an early responder to the 9/11 attacks, and a first-week volunteer for Hurricane Katrina, Basri figures that his participation with the Miracle on the Hudson survivors was a gift from the universe. “Divine presence was saying, ‘Here you are, have a good experience. Here’s a good one for you.’”

When a commercial aircraft lands in the middle of a river, there’s nobody you’d like to have on hand more than Dr. Ray Basri, who is a medical examiner for the Federal Aviation Administration, a volunteer firefighter, a physician, and a member of the World Trade Center medical monitoring team. Basri would be at the top of any disaster assistance personnel list. Unfortunately, though, Basri’s Middletown medical office is more than 60 miles from the West 38th Street ferry terminal where most of the crash survivors were being taken.

By coincidence, however, on January 15, 2009 Basri had driven to Manhattan to pick up some equipment he needed for fire department medical screenings. It’s not an errand that he would normally have time to do himself, but he needed the equipment the next week and there was nobody else to send. “It was unusual,” Basri said about his Manhattan errand, and then added, “It was really freaky.”

After he picked up his medical equipment, Basri got in his car for his trip back to Middletown, and turned on the car radio. He heard news of the crash of US Airways flight 1549, which had just happened minutes before. Basri realized he was a half mile away from the West 38th St. ferry terminal, and without hesitation, he informed his local fire control of his location and headed towards the scene, following behind another emergency vehicle that was speeding that way as well.

The short drive was chaotic, and reminiscent of what Basri had encountered when he made the trip to the World Trade Center on 9/11. “I couldn’t help but think about the last time I was racing down this road, heading to the Twin Towers,” Ray wrote in “Brace For Impact,” a that is being released on the anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson crash. “I oriented myself toward this new potential disaster… blunt trauma, deceleration injuries, near drowning, hypothermia… I was readying myself,” he wrote. In other words, Dr. Basri was braced for impact himself.

Prepared for the worst, Dr. Basri was shocked to find nothing but the best when he arrived at the ferry terminal. The calm, subdued, and rather upbeat vibe in the room was a stark contrast to what he had encountered at the scene of the World Trade Center. “At the Twin Towers I was in a state of shock at how graphically terrible the scene was,” Basri recalls. “There I just wanted to walk around in circles because it was so surreal.”

“It was totally different at the ferry station. The terminal is brand new – shiny glass and chrome. Everything was very well organized. Everyone except one flight attendant had already been triaged green,” Basri recalls. “I remember thinking that this was an amazing thing.”

Although there were plenty of EMT’s at the ferry terminal, Basri realized that he was the only physician. There were no apparent injuries to treat, but he still wanted to be a hands-on physician. Because of his disaster response experience with 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, he knew that non-physical injuries such as post-traumatic stress (PTSD) were a possibility, so he thought he could assist with some emotional healing instead. “I walked around the room to let everyone know that there was a physician available, and asked if they needed any help,” Basri said.

In making his rounds around the room, Basri made two connections that were part of his own miracle on the Hudson. The wife and mother-in-law of one of his practice patients, Diane Higgins and Lucille Palmer, had been flying to Charlotte on flight 1549. At age 85, Palmer, it turns out, was the oldest Hudson crash survivor. The best part of the hands-on doctoring that Basri did on January 15, 2009 was when he did a quick exam of Lucille, took off her wet shoes and socks, and rubbed her feet to warm them up.

Dr. Basri said it was energizing to be involved in a potential disaster that had such a positive outcome. Though his contributions at the scenes of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina were immensely rewarding, they had taken an emotional toll on him. “It was a miracle that I was in the right place at the right time [for the plane crash]. But I don’t think I could have taken another 9/11,” Basri wrote in “Brace For Impact.”

His experience with these extraordinary disasters has given Basri an “expanded sense of contribution.”

“My work with 9-11 opened my eyes. Working on Katrina is where everything got solidified,” Basri says. “I realized that my skill set is unique and I have been spoon fed things along the way to prepare me. That makes me the likely guy to be asked, and therefore I should be the guy who says ‘yes.’”

In contrast to his dramatic involvement with dramatic world events, Dr. Basri’s participation with the Miracle on the Hudson survivors may seem almost mundane and inconsequential. It may seem that way to everyone except for Basri. At the one-year anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson, Basri is clear that it was equally important for him to have been involved in a potential disaster that had a definitively positive outcome.

“Finding a miracle when I expected a tragedy… celebrating life and not facing death… being in the right place at the right time…” These were the miracles on the Hudson for Ray Basri.

When TLC aired a documentary called “Brace for Impact” on January 10, 2010, Dr. Basri was watching. When Flight 1549 survivors gather at the New York ferry terminal to celebrate the anniversary of the Miracle on the Hudson on January 15, 2010, Dr. Basri will be part of the celebration. Basri will also be participating in two book signings for the “Brace for Impact” book staged by the Red Cross this week. Even though he wasn’t a passenger in a life raft or standing on a wing, participating in these Miracle on the Hudson anniversary events is important to him.

“With each anniversary of 9/11 a lot of painful emotions are reinforced,” Basri says. The anniversary of Flight 1549, by contrast, “gives us all a lot to savor as we relive it,” he says.

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