This blog is not FDA approved
I struggled to write this because my writing sweet spot is humor. I do write touching posts when the mood strikes me, but this post was something I wanted to do, mood be damned. It’s long and sort of not what I’d hoped it would be, but I think my writing is easy enough to get through and hopefully, some of you will recognize where I was trying to go with it.
It’s Saturday morning as I’m typing this post. The sun is shining out here in suburbia. My neighbor already has his grill fired up and my own kids are playing with blocks and reading books just off to my right.
The wife is out with our new puppy to see the vet, and other than my daughter feeling a bit under the weather, life is good.
I live in a neighborhood with hundreds of other families. There are kids playing everywhere. The house is nice and the school system is very good. We have a neighborhood pool.
I’m not addicted to drugs. I’ve never done crack or speed or meth or blow or injected heroin into my veins in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. I don’t smoke cigarettes because I could never get used to inhaling the smoke; the smoking vice never clicked with me.
I’m not a closet abuser. I’ve never lifted my hand in anger towards my wife or any woman. I spanked my daughter once when she was three and felt worse about it in my heart than she did on her ass. I’ve never done it to her again because she’s never deserved it and I knew it would only make me sad. She responds well to verbal discipline because she’s a softie like her old man. At 9, she’s the best daughter I could have hoped for.
I may have spanked the two boys a total of three times combined in their lives. It just isn’t necessary with my four-year old. Like his sister, he responds well when you explain that he’s disappointed you. That sounds like hippie talk, but it’s true. He’s another softie. The two-year old doesn’t respond to anything because he’s the devil’s spawn. Spanking him is pointless. We don’t spank as a consistent form of discipline, but I don’t begrudge parents who do, as long as they don’t go overboard. This post isn’t about spanking though. The point is that nobody under my roof is abused.
My kids are all little and for now we have no problems beyond what most typical white, middle class families in the United States have. We struggle to pay the bills from time to time, yet still manage to take vacations at the beach nearly every year.
In other words, we’re doing just fine.
So when Eric asked me if I’d be interested in posting on Black Box Warnings, I was both honored and skeptical.
I was skeptical because, as I’ve just explained, outside of being heavier than I should be and 15 years older than I’d like to be, my life is pretty fantastic. I didn’t want to post something here and feel like a fraud. I’m not a blogger that most of you will want to read beyond this post, assuming you haven’t lost interest yet.
If I had to label it, my blog is a humor blog. It’s where I rant. It isn’t fancy; there are no cool graphics to behold. I don’t tackle tough issues or have a cross to bear about anything in particular. I don’t have an incredible story that will wow you with disbelief or inspire you to reach your goals. No, I normally make fun of stupid people, including myself and my kids. I’m irreverent and snarky and sometimes funny and I drink too much Bud Light Lime. That’s right, I’m a grown man and I enjoy Bud Light Lime. That’s my biggest shame in life right now.
That’s not really Black Box Warning stuff right there, is it?
Why are you here then, Don, wasting my time? I’ve asked myself that same question as I’ve tried for five days to find the right thing to write about. What does Eric want me to talk about? I probably should have just asked him, but I didn’t.
It’s Wednesday night now and I’ve promised to have something to post by Thursday morning. I revisited the invitation from Eric to post here.
That invite came in the context of a comment I made on his Clown on Fire blog.
Here’s my comment to his post below. It’s from his A Clown on Vacation post where he asked if we’d made any friends on this blogosphere.
Enjoy your time away friend. I have made many online friends and I value their opinions and appreciate that some take the time to read my silliness. I like that your followers are generally civil in discussing issues that are very much hot button issues. You and I probably would disagree on more than just poutine were we to ever sit down for a beer (you probably prefer coffee), but I think we can at least agree that disagreeing about some things doesn’t mean we can’t still be pals. I’ve actually become a better person at work by reading your Black Box Warnings. After years and years of seeing people at their worst, it’s easy to become jaded and I was no different. Now, when I deal with a drug addict or a prostitute or someone with an obvious mental condition, I try to go beyond just getting them temporary help or tossing them in jail for the night, assuming they’re receptive, of course. I’d like to read a blog on there one day where a person says they were at rock bottom until a really nice police officer went out of his way to get them some help and show them that others in their situation went on to better things….who knows, it could happen! Au revoir?
I assume the segment I’ve underlined is what he wanted me to touch upon.
You see, when I’m not happily raising my kids in suburban, Midwest, USA, I’m a police officer. I’m not a police officer in suburbia though. I work in St. Louis, MO, the city where I was born and most of my family still lives. The city has sometimes been called the most violent city in the United States. Do I think that’s the case? No. I don’t buy it for one second, but shit does happen here, that’s for sure. Shit happens everyday.
People are shot nearly every night. There were nearly 20 people who were shot just this past week alone, including four who were killed in a murder suicide last Thursday. That’s an unusually large number of shootings in my city, but that seems to be the trend.
Violence is out of control. Not just in St. Louis, and not just in the United States. Everyone gets mad, that’s always been true. But many more folks than ever have access to a firearm nowadays and split second decisions made in anger are ending more tragically than they ever used to. These sudden, violent actions disrupt lives forever. That’s a different topic though and is best left for another post.
I’ve read many of the Black Box Warning stories and have been touched by each one that I’ve read. I’m amazed at the openness, honesty and bravery of these people who’ve been through so much yet seem to be persevering through life pretty well, in spite of their struggles.
I’ve become incredibly aware that everybody has a story. Some are fun to read and some are tragic. Not everybody’s life is smooth sailing and not everybody is gifted enough to be able to share their story in such a way that many bloggers can. As an example, when I used to hear somebody say they had to give their child up for adoption, I never really thought anything of it. This post changed that for me. There’s a story behind any person’s decision to give up a child for adoption. I’d never really considered it, but now I’ll never be able to eat at a Denny’s again without wondering what’s going on at all the tables around me.
So how do I fit in with the Black Box Warning theme?
Many, if not most, drug addicts, prostitutes, alcoholics, abuse victims and people with mental disorders come into contact with police officers at some point in their lives specifically because of the demon they struggle with.
What’s the officer thinking?
I was 25 when I joined the police academy.
In many ways I was naïve to the ways of the world outside of my little life.
In the police academy, we’re taught the rules of the department we work for and the laws of the state and local municipality where we will protect and serve.
The St. Louis Police Department has historically been one of the best in the nation, if not the world, and I’d still put it up there with some of the best in the US as far as training is concerned. For us, aside from the book learning, physical training and role-playing, we were introduced to many people who spoke to our class about experiences they’ve had in their lives. It was a sort of oral Black Box Warning, if you will.
I don’t remember many of the lectures, but I vividly remember one woman named Elizabeth talking about the terror her boyfriend/husband put her through. The mental and physical abuse included everything from name calling to hair pulling to punches in the face, to him finally killing the one thing that meant the most to her, her beloved German Sheppard dog. It was the worst thing that he could have done to her, even worse than had he killed her. I remember her saying that and tearing up as she did so, though several years had passed.
I remember her story now, nearly 15 years later, but honestly, I hadn’t thought of it for quite some time.
While it touched me at the time, like most things, real life made me quickly forget about that woman’s story. When I was in the academy, my concern was getting through it successfully by passing my tests. There were physical and mental hurdles to clear and there was really no time to concern myself with the horror stories of others beyond the time spent listening to them. All I wanted to do was get out of the academy and into a district where I could finally be police officer. I imagine that’s how most academy recruits feel.
I really thought I could make a difference out on the streets when I started my career 15 years ago. I was in a great area of the city where half of the time I patrolled in a busy, violent area of the city and the other half of the time I patrolled where life was much more laid back and crime wasn’t as rampant. It was nice to be in a part of the city where I was exposed to so much right away.
The busiest district in the city was a perfect place to learn the ins and outs of police work. I met many people from all walks of life. That area of the city had some of the richest people in the city living just blocks away from some of the poorest. It’s an interesting dynamic, but I think it’s also part of what makes St. Louis so cool. I could write an entire book about my time in the Third District that could be a comedy best seller. It could also be written as a tragedy.
I’ve seen a lot of the worst in human beings on the streets. After a few years dealing with the same people over and over again, it gets frustrating.
The problem with policing a busy urban area is that people demand police service almost nonstop. We are to blame for a lot of the calls, because we used to implore the citizens to call 911 whenever they saw something suspicious, and now they do it!
Dispatchers out there who may read this can vouch for the sorts of calls they handle. Folks call when they see teenagers walking on the sidewalk or playing basketball in the street. Egads, not black kids playing basketball in the street! But we have to respond. We respond and the black kids begin to despise us because they think we’re just harassing them. We try to explain that we have to respond when somebody calls, but the damage is done. Trust is lost and the cycle of some blacks hating the police just because we’re the police goes on. I can’t say that I blame them for not understanding though.
The reality is that police officers in St. Louis sort of feel like report takers. We respond to calls, take down the notes and move on to the next one. There’s little time to be empathetic with a person. Oftentimes, it’s the same people calling over and over again. The job got stale to me. I was frustrated that nobody was listening to me when I was actually able to take the time to try to help them. I’d be at the same person’s house for the same problem every few days. He hit me again, Officer Don, what should I do? How about the same thing I’ve told you for 15 straight weeks, ma’am?
I hate myself for it, but I’m guilty of imploring women to leave an abusive relationship as though it’s as simple as just packing up and leaving. I’ve told prostitutes to get a real fucking job as though it’s that simple for them to do so. I was young and didn’t know better. The uniform doesn’t make us special, I was still just me with my limited life experiences that I had to draw on to try to help people.
I once got a call for a family living in a van.
Sure enough, there was a black woman and an older white man, along with their biracial kids sleeping in a broken down van. The kids were 7 and 8. This was before I had kids and I remember them being the two most beautiful kids I’d ever seen. They were beautiful physically with their big brown eyes and curly brown hair, but they were also special personality-wise as well. Their parents were both deaf, but the kids could hear and signed with their parents to communicate with them. I was struck by how patient the kids were with their mom and dad.
I had seen the dad and boy several days earlier. Somebody had stolen the boy’s bicycle and they were trying to track it down. I didn’t get that call, but I drove by to make sure that officer was ok and I remember seeing those two trying to communicate with the officer about whatever it was they were trying to tell him.
Their van was on a private lot and the owner didn’t want them sleeping there anymore. The weekend was coming and the parking lot would fill up with restaurant and bar patrons. Aside from taking up space, homeless families are never good for business.
I made a couple of phone calls in order to find the family a place to stay. I’ve never been so aggravated before in my life.
There were a couple of places that would take just the kids or just the wife or just the dad, but wouldn’t take the wife and kids unless the wife was being abused, and nobody wanted the whole family together. The parents were petrified that I was trying to take the kids from them permanently. While the kids hadn’t been in school for 8 months, that wasn’t even on my radar and I was stunned to hear the kids tell me that’s what mom and dad thought. They were very animated and adamant that the family stay together. I wasn’t going to just leave this family to stay in the van and wait for another officer to get another call for them later that night. Another officer might tow the van and lock somebody up for trespassing. W ho knows? I wasn’t going to take that chance though as I’d grown fond of this little family in the couple of hours I’d already spent trying to help them.
No facility in St. Louis would help. I even went to a couple of them in person, hoping that my uniform would sway somebody to take in a homeless family for just a night or two. No such luck. The system failed this family that day.
Honest to God, I was two seconds from just saying fuck it and letting these people sleep in my living room when the mom’s sister drove by and happened to notice her standing on the sidewalk. Hallelujah, the sister took the family in for the weekend.
I gave the little girl my business card and told her to call me if she ever needed anything at all. I don’t know what happened to them after they left, but I think about them from time to time. I did get a strange voice mail from a girl once thanking me for something and telling me that she was doing well in school. It was well over a year after I’d met this family, and I didn’t put the two together at that time. Not until later did I wonder if that little girl with my card was the person who had left me that message. I hope it was her.
Not being able to help this family but for the grace of God or luck of the Irish or whatever works for you made me bitter. I went about my job like everyone else, shooing away drunks and whores and crackheads when I was called to do so, without a second thought about doing anything more than relocating them. I figured not locking them up was my favor to them.
If people wanted to do drugs or sell themselves for sex or drink themselves to death, then fuck ‘em, they’re adults.
My bitterness ebbed a lot once I had a daughter of my own. It’s funny how a kid can change a man’s attitude real fast. Suddenly prostitutes and crackheads and drunks were people to me again. They were once somebody’s baby, just like mine, but something went wrong. While I went back to being more compassionate and empathetic after my daughter was born, it never really occurred to me to find out why these people were doing what they were doing. That always seemed like somebody else’s job.
I moved off the street when I got my law degree. I work mostly as an attorney for the police department right now, even though I’m still a commissioned police officer. I only patrol on secondary gigs right now, but that may change soon. I may go back to the streets full time. When I do go back to full time patrol, I’m going to be a better man and I owe much of that to the blogging community.
Many posts I’ve read on BBW have shed light on the what went wrong to somebody’s little boy or girl I just mentioned. I followed this blogger after reading this post because after reading her story, I saw in her the desperate girl, boy, man and woman I failed to recognize in every prostitute, drug addict, suicidal caller or abuse victim that I shooed along or did the minimal amount of work for to satisfactorily handle a call.
I failed almost all of them.
I’ve sat and talked with the mentally ill homeless people on my beat quite frequently. I bought them food and gloves and socks and even booze, but I never did try to be their friend. I could have done more to find out why a little girl would swallow a 250 count bottle of Tylenol instead of putting her in an ambulance on her way to the hospital. Hopefully, the doctors helped her out, but I could have followed up with her or her parents to see how she was doing. There were hundreds of people I could have followed up with. Many people encountered at night when they want to claw your eyes out are quite nice the next morning when the effects of their booze or drugs wear off.
I stopped seeing these people as people and I hate myself for that. My baby girl helped me to remember that they were all babies once. Bloggers like you have helped me to understand why many people are where they are in life and to think back on what I could have done differently for hundreds of them I never bent over backwards to help.
To the bloggers who share their painful tales, I appreciate your honesty and wanted you all to know that your stories of abuse, addiction, mental illness, etc. ARE making a difference to some of us who read them. I vow to do better to be the change for the better that some people seek, if they’re receptive and want my help.
Thank you so much for including me in your group.