Theresa Ortega expected to “just have a little fun” when she opened an envelope from another university containing handwriting samples.
A certified handwriting analyst, Ortega, an administrative assistant in ISU’s Student Recreation Center, offered to help a colleague in the other university’s recreational sports department. The two would compare her analysis of newly hired staff members’ writing with results of personality assessment tests the other university performed on its employees.
But one of the samples wasn’t fun at all. It so disturbed Ortega that she forwarded it to a friend at the FBI who confirmed her suspicion that hiring the man to work closely with others might be dangerous.
“His writing really bothered me. He just looked very cunning, manipulative and sexually aggressive – a guy that, if you didn’t act the way he wanted, he might get physical,” Ortega said.
Joseph Zarek, a handwriting analyst who’s also a Court Qualified Forensic Document Examiner and Ortega’s FBI friend, confirmed her assessment.
“This person had many of the traits that are found in serial killers,” Zarek said. “Certain people will be a threat to women. It’s important to identify that in the hiring process because you don’t want to put your staff, students and customers in any bad circumstances.”
Ortega alerted the other university so that it could take appropriate steps to monitor the individual and his interactions with his new colleagues.
Zarek, who recently left the FBI to work in the private sector, found the handwriting so striking that he included it in his new book “Naughty or Nice: Whose List Are You On?” The book describes 10 red flag behaviors found in handwriting.
Ortega, who regularly lectures on the topic, said handwriting analysis should never be the sole criteria in hiring but it is a valuable tool that can help assess a prospective employee’s compatibility with others and reveal potential issues in personal relationships.
“The slant, the direction handwriting leans, tells us so much about a person: their emotionality, how they relate to people, how they express their emotions, whether they are able to connect with people,” she said. “Typically, the harder to the right it slants the more they are able to do that. Once it slants too far to the right, though, they are overly expressive and can be neurotic.”
When handwriting is very muddled or has “an uneasy look,” the writer’s mind is disorganized and confused, she said.
Analyzing ISU leaders
Four ISU leaders agreed to subject their writing to Ortega’s scrutiny for this article. She analyzed the samples without knowing the identity of the authors, who each wrote the same two sentences: “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’s back,” the old typing exercise that offers at least one example of every letter, and “Indiana State University is an awesome place to work!”
For starters, she found no red flags that warranted a consultation with the FBI.
Her analysis found that President Dan Bradley and head football Coach Trent Miles share many qualities. Both are open minded, look to the future, are talkative and direct when dealing with people.
She found that Bradley also has a lot of physical energy and enthusiasm, has a positive self-image, easily relates to other people’s problems and is direct when dealing with people. She also found that he likes to be surrounded by comfortable things and might even be a collector. As it turns out, Bradley has an extensive collection of anvils.
Miles, according to Ortega’s analysis, is very focused yet flexible and is intuitive, with “strong gut feelings about things happening to (him) and to people around them.” She said Miles also exhibits diplomacy and can relate to others emotionally but also has very strong personal boundaries.
Randy Stevens, M.D., medical director for the College of Nursing, Health, and Human Services’ new physician’s assistant studies program, and a practicing family physician, is open-minded and likes to see the big picture, Ortega found. He also has good physical energy and likes to be cooperative but often won’t tell people what he is thinking. While she found Stevens’ writing had an “hurried” appearance, it was still quite legible, flying in the face of the popular notion of a doctor’s “bad” writing.
Ortega found that Jennifer Sicking, associate director of media relations and editor of Indiana State University magazine, is optimistic and is “mostly head-ruled: while the heart can influence, the head will always rule.”
Sicking is direct when dealing with people, yet is flexible and likes to be around people, yet needs alone time as well. She keeps a lot of emotions to herself and doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve.
Much to Sicking’s surprise, Ortega found evidence in her writing of pain or injury in the lower part of her body. Days before providing the writing sample, Sicking suffered a broken ankle and that injury showed up in the lower part of her writing.
“If you have suffered a previous injury, the neurological imprint is left behind,” Ortega said. “It will show up in handwriting as what we call a “pain dot” - extra ink that seems to have pooled in a spot or the ink will be less in a certain spot, so it looks like the ink has faded or been washed away.”
Ortega found that Bradley, Miles, Stevens and Sicking each writes their “k’s” in a way which reflects a notable defiant streak that says, when told they can’t do something, “To heck with you, I’m gonna do it anyway.”
They have a knack for finding work-around solutions to rules and regulations they don’t agree with; they are “hardwired” to look for a better way to do something,” she said.
That trait is evidence when the buckle on the letter “k” is much larger than the rest of the middle zone of the person’s writing, Ortega explained. She was quick to point out that other factors, such as diplomacy or a left-leaning slant to writing, can put a damper on that streak of defiance.
Calling herself a handwriting “sensei,” the Japanese word for “teacher,” Ortega goes beyond analysis and helps people address issues that are identified in handwriting.
She has been involved in martial arts for nearly 20 years and holds a black belt in Tai Kwon Do. She owns and operates a store in downtown Terre Haute called “Kamikaze Karate,” which sells martial arts supplies.
She started the business about 15 years ago because she found it “disconcerting” that some instructors marked up martial arts supplies by as much as 500 percent when they sold them to their students.
“I thought, you know, there has to be a better way to do this so a friend, and I decided to start a retail store, which is kind of an anomaly in the industry,” she said.
“I’ve always wanted to promote martial arts and the martial arts lifestyle. I think it’s very good for kids because it helps them concentrate and stay focused. It’s extremely good for girls because women have very little self-esteem,” she said, citing a survey by the maker of Dove soap that found 70 percent of girls 8 to 17 had low self-esteem.
But martial arts isn’t the only way Ortega tries to help others. She also uses handwriting.
“Handwriting is brainwriting,” Ortega said, “and I can show women how to improve their self-esteem. I work with graphology, which involves changing parts of your handwriting that have to do with certain traits that you like or don’t like in order to improve your success.”
Placement of the crossbar on the cursive letter “t” is a measure of self-esteem, she explained. The higher the bar lies on the stem of the letter, the higher the writer’s self-esteem. By concentrating on that single letter it is possible for people to boost their feelings of self-worth.
Handwriting analysis can be the most efficient way to identify personality issues so that a treatment plan can be developed to address any issues of concern, Zarek said.
“If you go to a psychologist, it can take 12 weeks before the psychologist can arrive at a best fit treatment plan,” he said. “A handwriting analysis gives you on a platter the emotional, mental and physical stresses and issues that people have experienced and encountered and that allows you to give a best fit treatment plan right away. The value and benefit is you’re able to facilitate having better relationships.”
Red flags in handwriting aren’t inherently bad, Zarek said.
“In Gavin de Becker’s book, ‘The Gift of Fear,’ he prefaced it that people don’t trust their instincts because they ignore them and then they get into harmful and dangerous, life-threatening circumstances,” he said. “Qualifying red flags lets you move on. It gives you peace of mind. If someone has a more challenging personality, you just have to have more wiggle room when you are working with them.”
A handwriting analyst such as Ortega can help employers – and individuals – make better decisions when placing people in teams or forming personal partnerships, Zarek said.
“If you get somebody who is slow and methodical but they need to be in a high-speed office environment, they’re not going to be a good fit. If you’re going to marry somebody but there are going to be issues down the road that you had blinders on initially because you were enthralled or in love with the person, it is better to know the issues up front,” he said.
Cross cultural communication
Ortega has conducted handwriting analysis not only in English but also in Spanish and German. She can analyze writing in any Romance-style language written from left to right and is not character-based. But her language work doesn’t stop there. She is also certified to teach conversational Spanish to law enforcement personnel.
Born in Terre Haute to an American mother and a Venezuelan father who met while both attended Indiana State, she grew up in Venezuela and learned both Spanish and English.
When her parents divorced she returned to Terre Haute with her mom and found herself teaching English as a second language to Cuban refugees who were part of the Cuban Special Placement Program, managed by Catholic Charities in the 1980s. The program helped repatriate Cubans who were in the U.S. under the Mariel Flotilla.
“Many were illiterate in their own language and it was very difficult to teach them English in the standard fashion,” she recalled. “I developed my own curriculum that I called ‘guerilla English’ and ended up recording cassettes for them of phrases they would use every day, such as ‘How do I get to the store?’ or ‘What is the price?’”
Ortega also did translation in local, state and federal courts and has taught conversational Spanish at Indiana State and Ivy Tech Community College’s Wabash Valley campus.
In 2010, she taught Spanish to law enforcement personnel after a caller to Vigo County Central Dispatch spoke only Spanish and was no longer on line by the time University Police tracked her down for assistance.
Bill Mercier, ISU’s director of public safety, asked Ortega to teach the class after learning that officers would otherwise have to drive to Indianapolis for such training,
Ortega earned certification in a class developed by Public Safety Language Training. The course is endorsed by the National Latino Peace Officers Association, National Association of Hispanic Firefighters and the Chicano Correctional Workers Association.
“Theresa is our only non-law enforcement certified instructor,” said Alejandra Gomez of the Morgan Hill, Calif.-based training firm. “It takes a lot of courage and the right personality to stand in front of a room full of police officers. She has great communication skills, she’s warm, caring and very knowledgeable in the field of teaching languages; she conducts herself in a very professional way and thoroughly prepares her classes. We feel very lucky to have her as one of our instructors.”
Barely one month after completing the class, ISU police officer Tamara Watts put her new language skills to work and helped Terre Haute Police bring an off-campus domestic dispute involving a couple who spoke little, if any, English to a safe end.
“I overheard the victim and suspect arguing and heard them mention a knife. I interrupted the conversation, which was all in Spanish, and inquired about the location of the knife. The knife was located and the suspect was taken to jail,” Watts said. “I don’t believe that we would have located the knife or been able to figure out who was the aggressor had I not taken Spanish for Law Enforcement with Theresa.”
Whether helping police officers learn to communicate with a growing demographic, selling martial arts supplies for less than the prices charged by some instructors, or as a handwriting “sensei,” those who work with her say Ortega is also about helping people.
“Theresa’s eye and her gut instinct are amazing and that’s why I am very impressed with her,” said Zarek. “She has great insight. She has an amazing ability to look at the handwriting and get to the heart of the matter quickly and then, where she has questions, she is able to confer to get second and third opinions to support her findings.”
Dave Taylor is the director of media relations.