February 18th, 2018

Meeting in The Middle Part 1

Children Facing Death General Questioning

Now that I have retired, I am remembering. Here is something I wrote years ago about an experience of encountering someone I knew from college that was booked into our jail.

———-

The yellow post-it note was in my Patrol team box attached to our staffing binder. It was from a colleague named Marty who works in the Warrants Detail. So in so “is in the jail and she would like a visit.” I recognize the name on the sticky note instantly. Geez, what could she be in our jail for? I went to my Sergeant’s desk and searched our jail log on my computer. There was her name. In custody for 484(g) PC. Well, that was some measure of relief, but not much. At least it wasn’t a felony or something truly awful, but still…how did she know I was a cop? Grapevines, I suppose. We weren’t good friends, but our circles in college overlapped. She was on the crew team too. My head was spinning.

I decided to wait until late in the shift to make a walk to the jail. If I went there early in the shift, whatever I saw, heard or faced would consume me all night and morning. I knew myself well. I was reviewing reports a bit before 6am and it hit me. That yellow post-it. Visit the jail. At least the jail staff will be readying the arrestees for the jail run. The jail run was what we called the process of transporting prisoners in a van to the court in Oakland. My shift was almost over so I wouldn’t have much time. Guilt hits me and I wonder why I feel so resistant to see her. I am supposed to be compassionate. A certain something was holding me back. Intuitive voice I gather.

I walk to the sally port area of the jail. I slowly remove my gun, OC, ASP and flashlight and lock them in the metal drawer and slam it shut, pull the key and shove it in my back pocket. The sally port door into the BPD jail is a heavy metal thing and is painted an offensive orange color. (as opposed to pleasant orange). The door has a small window to peer inside the jail. I push the call button and wave at Lee in the control area. The door is activated by an ever-changing code and opens very, very slowly. I am small enough, so I always go in sideways, well before the door opens halfway. It’s become muscle memory and a habit I picked up years ago when I go into the jail without a prisoner. I smile at Lee as he looks at me intently, almost certainly checking to see if I have a prisoner with me. I walk straight forward, passing the pre-booking area to the left and wait for the interior jail door to open. The exterior door one clicks shut behind me. I always get an eerie feeling being locked in. If there is some sort of emergency out on the street, it takes what seems like a lifetime to get out. That’s the point, I suppose.

I walk around the control room to the access door, intent on checking which cell she is in and she sees me before I see her. It was as if she has eyes in the back of her head as she is facing away from me and hardly turns. She waves over her shoulder and continues to eat what looked like pancakes in a plastic tray. I continue in to greet Jay and Lee and Henry Ann. That’s me, my way. To say my hellos and how are yous and show my appreciation for their work. Perhaps I am stalling too.

“I came to see the woman in 116.” I had glanced at the cell number on the door when she had waved. Henry Ann replies, “Yeah, she said she knew you.” Yea. Ok. Is it all right if I go in?” I ask. “Sure if you want to sit in there, I will click the door when you get there.” Henry Ann says. “Thanks”, I reply.

I get to the door and see that she is sitting at the round metal table with the 4 circular seats about it. Everything is smooth, no edges. Everything is bolted for safety. She is alone in one of the women’s “dorm” or community cells, which holds 4 women. There are metal beds with blue plastic mattresses rolled up on them. I don’t know if she had any company, but I do know she chose this option, as arrestees are asked if they want to be alone or with others. There are many more single cells in the jail.

“Hey Mary”, she says, still picking at the pancakes in a tray. I see that they are drowned in syrup and her paper cup of coffee looks as if it has gone cold. She keeps her head down. “Look at you…” she mutters. “Yeah”, I say, as I sit on one of the hard seats right next to her. “Marty left me a note that you were in here.” “Marty?” I realize she may not have known his first name. Before I can elaborate, she interrupts. “Oh, the cop that brought me here. He was a cool guy.” Yeah, he’s nice” I say. I feel awkward, as I look her over. It is definitely her. Her clothes are unlaundered, she has that familiar homeless smell about her, her hair is thick and graying in spots and the parts of her arms that I can see with her slightly rolled up sleeves are dry and alligator like.

“I am a supervisor – was busy last night,” I utter. My way of offering an excuse for not coming in sooner without lying directly. “No problem. I am glad you came.” Now I tell the whole truth. “Marty left a note in my box and when I saw your name I was baffled, I reveal. “Yeah, huh.” she says, looking up at me now. I continue, “I checked the jail log on my computer right away to see what you were in for and it said, 484(g) PC.” She was attentive now, almost anxious…I elaborate. “Fraudulent use of an access card.” I go on as if asking a question. “That’s just a misdemeanor, right?” “Yes,” I say. Her body registers relief, and she turns to the breakfast again and takes a few bites. “Can you believe it.” she says, framed more like a statement rather than a question.

“What happened?” I ask, and then think it sounds stupid. She starts to tell her story. I listen carefully while looking at her hands, her slumped shoulders as she talks… “It started with a back injury. I was on Vicodin then …I have been in West County for 7 nights and am kicking Methadone….” She stops eating and looks at me. I see that she is unfocused, her eyes strange. I imagine her dope sick and ask. “How are you doing with that?” “Not too bad. I am kicking two pills. I was up to 10 and went down to two before I got arrested. If I was kicking 10, it would be a lot worse.” I think about that but do not verbalize… I have seen people dope sick and it is agonizing to watch. It could be me, I think. I reminisce. The line was drawn; I stepped away and walked in the sand towards the water. So many choices, so many years ago.

Me the cop, I have been pleaded with, offered sex, begged on knees and cried and screamed at by people who I have arrested and taken to a jail who do heroin. I look to her eyes again. The terror of being dope sick drives them to the pleas, the negotiations.

Aww Forget It… hmmm, Not So Much

General

Hands Down – The Best Gig of my Career -1998

It’s interesting being on the outside. I think everyone at my former department imagines that retiring from police work is wonderful, exhilarating and relaxing. They live vicariously, by making comments about how lucky you are, how jealous they are, how they can’t wait and isn’t it “the best?.” I think each of us has a unique experience, some grand, some… not so much.

For me, it’s been in the not so much category. Of course, we each retire to our own personal circumstances – family, relationship, physical and emotional health. I am certainly not going to bore you with the list of tough stuff. I think a few things will give you the idea.

I have always been a workaholic. I’ve also always been a workaholic that is emotionally connected to everything I do. It’s how I am made up. It’s strange not knowing all the inner workings of my former department. Not knowing how my team members are faring. I️ do miss being privy to some pending arrests or heady investigation, but it is the human piece that I️ miss much, much more. I miss the humor, the snide remarks and the laughter. I miss the taking care of others – not only community, but my colleagues. I guess I miss the belonging.

When it comes to crime, I️ turn to Berkeleyside for local tidbits, but knowing all too well about public information and/or “transparency” (yes, add air quotes there), I️ am not learning much. Is ignorance, is the not knowing, the bliss?

It’s been a strange transition, this going from 100% blue wool, Kevlar chested, badge wearing woman to….community member. Yes, community member. A 50 something woman driving her electric car (not a Leaf – gratefully, not a Tesla – disappointedly) around town. I️ still feel stuck in between. Stuck in this strange gray place that I️ don’t want to be.

As I️ head to my yoga class, (a new post retirement thing), I️ see a patrol car pass. Yes, of course, I️ always look. Is it BPD? (City of Berkeley Police Department) Naw, it’s Albany, it’s Kensington, it’s BART, it’s El Cerrito, it’s sometimes UC Berkeley police or Alameda County Sheriff Transit…. I️ had forgotten how many agencies passed through this city. Oh, there’s BPD. The officer is driving with purpose, eyes fixed ahead. I️ wonder what’s going on, but do I️ truly want to know? I am in that gray place again.

I’ve been hiding out more than I should. I’ve been posting occasional photos of my pup on Instragram. I wasn’t one for social media before I retired, but I am still pretty wary of the privacy issues. It is a strange way to stay “connected” or is it me trying to belong? I’ve been trying to figure it out.

This blog has served a purpose. It has been more use to me than anyone else. A curative, therapeutic process as I negotiated the last years of my career. I hope it touched someone as that is all I had hoped for. I know it has helped me.

Is It All That It’s Cracked Up To Be? #2

General

Yes, the passage of time can be tough, especially when one accumulates so much stuff. I was scrambling my brain for another word to describe the things, but stuff just hits the mark. 

Since I was facing retirement in a few months, I started with the easier stuff in my desk drawers.  I can’t possibly be emotionally connected to office supplies, can I? Maybe I can. 

I had highlighters of all colors. Same for Post-it notes. How many pens did I really need? I bought  my own favorite pens over the years, same with the Post-it notes and those highlighters. I also had these notorious sticky arrows of various colors. Oh how I adored those arrows! I could put them on hard copy police reports when I reviewed them years ago. Reminders of typos or awkward sentences or questions I had. Notorious I say because I periodically overhead team members talk about those arrows. “Sarge loves those arrows, huh?” “ My reports looked like an art project after she got to it!”

The officers that didn’t mind the arrow feedback or corrections would gather the arrows up and give them back to me for reuse. Some team members preferred to trash them. I didn’t take it personally. Now I wonder how much more money I could have invested in my 457(b)  (Deferred Compensation) account if I just settled for BPD office supplies. They certainly didn’t have nice pens or colorful sticky arrows for the members of the department. Ok. Let it go, Mary. Let it go. 

Ah pens. Yes, I held them too.

There were pens from companies, pens from retirement celebrations, pens from conferences, pens from other City of Berkeley departments, pens, pens, pens. There were a few pencils in there too. Dump in Free Box, Mary. No joy sparking. Occasionally a colleague would ask to borrow a pen. (Perhaps a little memory joy building) I’d open that top drawer, offer a few different pen options and say, “Oh, just keep it. I have a lot.”

Every time I moved to a new police assignment, it was an ordeal. I often said that we outgrew our building before we moved into it. I can certainly attest because moving from the old Hall of Justice to the Ronald T. Tsukamoto Public Safety Building was an ordeal. Each move meant some type of purging process, recycling, reuse and lots of confidential paper shredding. 

Curiously, this retirement downsizing I was doing didn’t feel like an ordeal. Throughout, I felt heavy, then light. I felt pride and self doubt. I felt loneliness and togetherness. I now welcomed each shift of those remaining police patrol days with a renewed hope. I reminisced with colleagues who were also friends. I took risks in conversations and I felt that my candor/humor/total irreverence often surprised people. I always had quite a bit of it, but I believe my coworkers were looking at me with a new lens. True, I was a bit more edgy. As they say, “What are they going to do, fire me?!” I still had a month plus to go to my retirement date then, so yes, there was a chance they could have. 

Is It All That it’s Cracked Up To Be? #1 

General

I could tell you that I took an intentional hiatus from writing. I could tell you that my absence was purposeful and planned. But I am not in the habit of lying. Avoiding the truth, Yes… downright lies, No.

Everything I jotted down in the last few months seemed sappy and self indulgent. I was lifted one day and down trodden the next. I figured no one would want to read all that. 

The truth is that I retired from the City of Berkeley Police Department (BPD) on August 12, 2017. When I went to the CALPers (CA. Public Employees Retirement System) office and signed my retirement papers in May, I was both excited and scared as sh$t. I hate to admit it but since 1994, policing had defined so much of me. It has reshaped my compassion and challenged my politics. During many long nights, it has consumed my thoughts while reinvigorating old wounds. 

I say that I couldn’t have asked for a better last day at work. That is not a lie. The shift was simple and sweet and full of exquisite surprises. It is truly the little things that mean the most to me. 

I think I did it right. I had a few months to plan. I had a few months to process emotionally. I had a few months to savor time with colleagues and my team. I had a few months to shed myself of so much “stuff”. 

During the final months, I reminisced about reading and following the book, “The Art of Tidying”. I started with my desk drawers in the Patrol Sergeants’ office. I created a Free Box and started dumping useable things in it…flashlights, office supplies, swag from other departments, conference lanyards and business cards. I held each item. Does it spark joy? Ahhh a sticker from a tactical gear company. Hmmm, does this spark joy? Naw, not so much.  I put it in the Free Box. 

One by one, I held the contents of my top drawer. Some conjured memories of years past, of accomplishments, the ups and downs of my career and of opportunities lost. Occasionally as I sat with stuff scattered on my desk, I would laugh out loud or tears would burn in the corners of my eyes. The passage of time is tough. 

Procrastination

General


Months have passed without a word. Not a word from me. It is not as if I had nothing to say. Nothing to write. It wasn’t that I was feeling “No Thing.” I decided to retire some months ago. About the time I stopped posting. The blog became a source of embarrassment and shame, despite how few read it. The writing feels self serving and more for me than anyone else. 
I wrote early in this blog that for as much as things change, they remain the same. I wrote that I wanted to share some humanity in the uniform. I envisioned that perhaps someone would read a piece and recognize that we aren’t the robotic, racist, emotionless killers that we have come to be known… or at least I am not. 

For as much as things change, they do remain the same…That may be true of many aspects of the work, the culture and humanity itself. 

I have gone through my writing – the piles of papers, the notebooks and the napkins. The truth is that I have changed. Forever changed. Some for better and some for worse. It hasn’t all been because of policing. It’s the whole me. 

I told myself years and years ago that I would leave before I didn’t recognize myself anymore. Some days I fear that I waited too long. 

Sticks, Stones, Bottles and Bear Spray

General

Spring has sprung here in Berkeley. Along with the overflowing storm drains, wet cardboard and tent cities, we have become the place of media “money shots”. Lots of verbal and physical brawling grace this town. Spit flying, fists landing and blood flowing. I have watched as humankind detiorates beautifully. As a peace officer, I see slices of human deterioration everyday.

Most recently, I worked, watched and waded into crowds of defiant individuals. At home, my ears were ringing all night from the flash bangs, M-80s and some homemade improvised Red Bull can explosives. 

It’s surreal to watch and listen to people screaming at each other. I mean, I have heard quite a bit of it over the years but on much smaller scales. Do the opposing sides really think anything is accomplished? Do sticks, bottles, bricks and bear spray help the cause? Spread the political messages? Make a difference? 

A young man was stabbed in the chest. Another individual was whacked over the head by an opposing view – the twenty something – who knows what the world needs to truly achieve peace. 

As my ears continue to ring, I look to bloody teeth. I hear a barrage of angry sentiment. I ponder free speech. I think of Tibetan bells and people who talk about peace. 

The Many. The Mundane.

General

 

Oh I am quite certain nearly every law enforcement officer has heard, “Don’t you have anything better to do?! “Why aren’t you out catching murderers or rapists?!” 

And Yes. I am also quite certain that most  of us would welcome taking predators and murders out of the communities we serve everyday. (Although that would imply that in the city I serve, we would have 1000s of them amongst the 120 odd thousand population) No doubt about it. Those types of arrests are satisfying, invigorating and what many of us signed up to do. Or had illusions we were signing up to do.

Truth is though, in between the gun toting gang members, rapists and child molesters, there are so many other demands. How ’bout all those who prey on every pharmacy, bookstore, electronics and grocery store in town and steal. All shift long, every shift of the week. Scattered in  the stacks of calls for police services, are the thieves. And woweee, thieves take up so much time. (yes, it is that time people blame us for not spending on the “more important things” we should be doing) Cosmetics, razors, shampoo, body wash, baby formula, batteries, meat, pasta, wine, and hard liquor. You name it, someone has stolen it. 

When I was the PIO (Public Information Officer) I would review dozens of police reports looking for interesting tidbits. Quirky stories. Fodder for slow news days. Burglaries and shoplifting are sometimes entertaining. The woman who tried to get away with 5 pounds of steak and 8 pounds of shrimp in her pants. Surf and turf dinner party tonight? The guy who took Preparation H, Medamucil and Immodium. Yes. For real. No joke. You name it, someone has stolen it. 

Then there are the loss prevention staff whose job it is to spot the “people behaving badly.” Some of them take up even more police time than the shoplifters. These motivated security employees will run after suspects for blocks and blocks. They will call 911 yelling into cell phones, all out of breath and barely understandable. Some will tackle thieves over a couple cans of Red Bull and a bag of beef jerky. I’d like to generalize and say these security guards are wanna be cops, but that doesn’t always ring true. Too much media, maybe too many video games? “Sergeant, I saw the perpetrator take the product off the shelf and conceal it in his pants. I pursued the perpetrator on foot and apprehended him.” Who talks like that?! I have never uttered the word perpetrator except when telling a story like this one. I often worry for these guys. Only takes a gun or knife in the hands of one of these “perpetrators” to change the story. 

What else takes police time, you ask? Oh, falls on city property, welfare checks, abandoned cars, found _____ (fill in the blank), alarms – cars, houses, businesses, traffic hazards, mental health. Blah blah. 

AND yes – gun toting gang members, if we are lucky. Or it is unlucky? 

Off Topic

General

Years ago, my niece Sophie coined a phrase that still resonates with me. “Aunt Mary, Off Topic.” It was directed at me. I know I have shared once or more that I go off on tangents quite often. I am way more focused at work. In uniform, I am able to make a quick decision, negotiate with savvy, drive Code 3 without plowing into the seemily immortal high school students at lunchtime. When I am off duty, I get off track. Think I just did it again…

Ok so, my family got a 8 week old puppy in November 2015. I flew down to San Diego and picked her up as a surprise for our daughter. Not wanting to have an animal companion named after a candy or cookie, we gave our 8 year old three names to choose from. She picked the name Olive.

I forgot to mention that someone promised our child a puppy before that December Holiday season. I think I rolled my eyes, sighed, crossed my arms on my chest and stomped my feet all at once. An over 50 tantrum. I felt it wasn’t a great time, for those 2 maybe, but not for me. Do you know how much an 8 week old puppy needs to go out to pee and poop? In the wee hours too?!  Training? I knew it was going to be my gig. “You are so much better at that stuff honey.” ” But I promised her…”

The last couple years haven’t been easy. My resiliency has waned. My capacity to compartmentalize has taken a dump as well. Age? Length in the job? The overall policing and political climate in recent years? Yup, definitely some of those and a whole bunch more.

I started to joke that our little Shitzu is my emotional support animal. I have given to “Paws and Stripes” and watched media pieces about service animals and emotional support animals. I truly get it now. There is something so simple and so wonderful about petting an animal. Holding Olive. I adore the exquisite way that Olive rubs her sweet little head against my leg, the way she stares up at me when I scoop her up, and the meditative way in which she scurries out across the yard to fetch the ball over and over. The unconditional love.  I feel my anxiety soften and my mind slow.

Testing Time

General

Standing at the back, I saw the passage of time. I saw the heads of some of the men and women that I worked with over the years. A few of them had even retired a few years after I was hired. Nearly 20 years ago. So hard to imagine it. I remember when I was a new cop, a rookie, in field training, that a group of them wore these cute dinosaur pins on their uniforms. Those pins were an unofficial badge of honor. An arrival to an elite group. The veterans. The older guard. The old boys. 

I stood at the back at this memorial for a man, a former Chief, who had given me a chance. A chance that has become a 22 year career. It struck me hard when I heard he had died. He was only 66 years old. 

I had arrived a bit late on the rainy Friday afternoon, but felt more at ease in the rear of the small chapel. I could see some of my past at the City of Berkeley Police Department so easily, but they couldn’t see me. 

I bowed my head with respect and with reverence. I shed a few tears. Not only for Chief Butler, (rest his soul) but for those whose heads I saw now. Not all of them were supportive of women or me, but I found the endearing qualities in most of them in order to negotiate many challenging times. Despite our differences, in some ways, we were…and are…the same. 

Go Quickly into the Night

Facing Death General

Suicides…

Too many to count. So many ways. Some appear peaceful. Free from the demons. Free from depression, anxiety, despondency and fear. Free from pain.

I leave every one of these calls changed in ways that are likely too difficult to explain. I absolutely loathe when an individual does it in his/her home. As I often say, no one should have to see a loved one that way.

Over the years, I have read last words hastily written on paper, computer screens with instructions, warning notes on doors and apology signs to first responders. Most writing has a “I am sorry” once, twice, ten times in it. Then there are the very organized, those who guide us through the home with arrows and have left an array of letters addressed individually to family and friends. They leave out contracts for funeral and cremation services fully paid and financial paperwork or portfolios. They believe they are easing the burden.

There are couples who lie side by side on the couch, legs outstretched with the now all too familiar plastic bags over their heads and the nitros oxide tanks propped nearby. Those hit me deeply, viscerally. What conversations did they have or words did they utter to each other before they fell asleep forever? 

A recent incident that troubled me was a 60 something man who printed out a crude diagram from the Internet showing where one needs to point the barrel of the gun on the side of your head to kill yourself instantly. He lay on the bathroom floor, the gun nearby as well as a hand held mirror and the diagram. I imagine he saw himself before he pulled the trigger. He wanted to get it right. He did.