Skip to main content

Christopher Freeze: From FBI Special Agent to hope-centered and ACEs science informed leadership advocate


An FBI Special Agent for 23 years, the last three as the Special Agent in Charge of all operations and activities in the State of Mississippi, Christopher Freeze was well acquainted with the pervasive and generational effects of ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences.

But during most of his tenure with the FBI, Freeze says, “ACEs was not on my radar at all.” Freeze’s Southern accent belies his roots in Manchester, Tennessee, a small town 50 miles outside of Nashville, where he milked cows and roofed houses as the eldest of three children and later, at Lipscomb University in Nashville, where he followed his father’s footsteps and got a bachelor’s in accounting.

Of course, the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study wasn’t published until 1998, and Freeze had started working with the FBI before that, in 1996.

“Outside of seeing the effects of trauma in the families we investigated as well as their victims, I just did my job and accepted what was presented,” he explains.

But the special agent, recruited to the FBI because of his expertise in uncovering white-collar crime, such as contract fraud and employee theft, says he recognized the trauma: “It was generational trauma you came across, the result of the effects of poverty, substance abuse, environmental issues…even if it was a white-collar case.”

“You do have some type of empathy or concern,” he continues. “You know that there’s something there. Most people in law enforcement say it does concern them. I noticed that and many of my colleagues noticed that, but we weren’t able to articulate that [the science of ACEs].”

In 2016, he was promoted to special agent in charge, stationed in Jackson, Mississippi, and responsible for all FBI actions in the state. One day, he picked up the local paper, the Jackson Free Press, and read an article on local gun violence perpetrated by and on juveniles. The article had been written by the paper’s editor, who made a reference to ACEs. That was the first time Freeze encountered the term.

The ACEs Awakening

But it wasn’t until 2017, when he visited an inner-city high school to talk with 10 young men who had been “making poor decisions,” that the consequences of ACEs became a reality for him.

The high school was in “a community visually plagued by poverty,” he recalls. “There was a big fence around the school. The front doors were all dented. You had to walk through a magnetometer to check for weapons and a school security officer was there. I was overwhelmed; this was not my experience growing up in a country school.”

What made a big impact on the FBI veteran was what the students told him. “One young man said, ‘You know, I’ve been suspended from school longer than I’ve been in school.’

“A second said, ‘I’m tired of disappointing my mother.’”

“Another said, “I haven’t seen my father for a while. He’s been in prison.’”

Freeze recounts, “I left that meeting impacted by those young men more than I had had an impact on them.”

It was after this experience that “everything came together, and I decided I was going to learn more about ACEs and use that understanding to inform others and to inform myself,” he says.

As a result of his deeper knowledge of the science underlying ACEs, “It helped me personally better engage and connect with people regardless of their background.” He started including ACEs in his speeches and trainings, in which he pointed out the correlation between ACEs and crime. Dr. Bruce Perry came to the state, where he also spoke about the connection between ACEs and crime.

During his last two years at the FBI, until 2019, Freeze promoted ACEs in speeches, trainings, and conversations. “When I explained ACEs to people, in many cases, you saw a light bulb moment,” he says.

For six months, at the end of his term, Phil Bryant, then governor of Mississippi, appointed Freeze executive director of the Department of Human Services, where he was able to see and ameliorate trauma from a different perspective.

Discovering the Science of Hope

In 2021, Freeze discovered Dr. Chan Hellman’s “science of hope,” a strategy for increasing the well-being of people affected by trauma and adversity by setting goals, identifying pathways, and increasing willpower.

Freeze recognized the importance of hope in developing trust by recognizing ACEs and creating positive, intentional experiences and strategies through a hopeful mindset. Hellman, professor of social work at the University of Oklahoma at Tulsa, spoke in a Jackson training session with 1,300 counselors, social workers, law enforcement officers, judges, and lawyers, about the science of hope. Freeze was there as part of the newly formed, now renamed Hope Rising Mississippi.

Hellman invited Freeze to study in Tulsa, and Freeze took him up on the offer. He’s just completed his first semester toward a Ph.D. in organizational and community leadership at the University of Oklahoma, Tulsa. He plans to write a dissertation on the effect of trauma and hope on trust for organizational leaders. Freeze feels that hope is the missing link for rebuilding those affected by ACEs.

“Initially, when I learned about ACEs, it explained a lot,” says Freeze, “but I felt something was missing. I wasn’t sure how helping someone learning about trauma automatically increased their well-being.

“Then I heard about the science of hope. Hundreds of research studies have shown that hope is one of the best predictors of well-being. Now I have a framework for developing strategies to inform not only about trauma but also help rebuild the person through hope and developing positive experiences.”

PACEs science—the science of positive and adverse childhood experiences—shows how adversity and positive experiences intertwine throughout the lifetime, and how it’s important to embrace both types of experiences to achieve mental health.


Through his consulting practice, which offers training and webinars, Freeze has been helping people overcome barriers to motivation and willpower using the science of ACEs and the science of hope to achieve greater levels of leadership, performance, well-being, and resiliency. He says the experience has been life-changing.

“I’ve enjoyed it and have decided that this was more important, more satisfying” than the conventional retired- agent work path, he says.

To learn more, check out or contact


Images (1)
  • AFreeze2

Add Comment

Comments (0)

Copyright © 2023, PACEsConnection. All rights reserved.
Link copied to your clipboard.