Sunday, September 17, 2017

Serve and Protect?

“Is that all you have to do? I need to have your job!” 
  Her tone was rich with sarcasm. The energetic woman looked about ten years older than me. I smiled when she went by, not because I thought she was funny, but out of an obligation to serve and protect. My service to her was refusing to be offended by her flippant remark, and my protection of her was hiding the horrors of my job that she knew nothing about.
            I could have said, “Where were you when I was picking up the pieces of a car wreck that killed three women and a baby? or where were you when I was waiting on the fire department to bring a ladder to cut down a man that was hanging by his neck in an oak tree? or where were you when I was listening to the confessions of murderers, robbers, rapists, and thieves?” but I didn't. After all, I knew what to expect when I pinned on a badge over 25 years ago, and I, like many of my kind, took the motto “to serve and protect” to be more than a cliche because we believe we are called by God to do some of mankind's most difficult chores. If you don't think so, just try going to a mother's house at 3 am to tell her her child has died in an accident or controlling yourself when someone spits in your face. Those chores are somewhat routine 
            Historically, lawmen in the United States have been pretty good at protecting. We're eager to respond to danger, right wrongs, stop violence, and risk personal safety for the sake of others. Unique among all other public servants, we proactively strive to stop danger, abuse, and violence before it ever occurs. We search for unsafe motorists, drunk drivers, suspicious persons wandering in the night, and thieves who have the intention of taking your possessions, but ironically, our zeal to protect can be our greatest enemy if it is left unbridled. In our effort to protect, we sometimes make disastrous decisions and over stretch the limits of our authority. The things people remember most about us is when we overreact or do something stupid
    LEOs must always remember to balance protection with service. An attitude of service helps protect us from ourselves. Most people think our service is nothing more than seeking justice for victims. Though this is partially true, it is not primarily true. A wise cop learns early in his career that his community service is displayed in four primary ways:

1)  It is service that is non-judgmental. This is a difficult standard to apply because, by its nature, law enforcement requires discretion and judgment. Cops must objectively determine things like whether a call is criminal or civil, if a crime was actually committed, the identity and location of suspects, and probable cause to make an arrest. These are daily chores for us, and to make matters more difficult, experience has taught us that the average person is a liar. We make judgments on a regular basis, but when it comes to dealing with people, service dictates that we refrain from applying moral standards on victims, witnesses, and suspects. 
2) It is service that listens with the purpose of understanding. This is the art of empathy. Empathy invokes sensitivity in the hearer and causes him to vicariously feel the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of the person he is listening to. Empathy has been described as walking in another person’s shoes or looking deep into a person’s soul. True service includes listening and understanding with empathy.  
3) It is service that brings reason to others in the most difficult moments of their lives. Most people that cops come into contact with are distracted from reality due to a number of factors which include drugs, alcohol, anger, depression, anguish, envy, greed, mental illness, etc. Conscientious cops intervene emotionally to help change people's perspective on their circumstances.
4) It is service that does not take things personally. A wise cop recognizes that verbal attacks directed at him are merely attacks on what he represents. This attitude saves him hours of misery by giving him the ability to deflect all the verbal smut that is thrown at him. In this country, self-expression is deemed a right, and cops cannot justify use of force to protect themselves from words. Successful law enforcement officers learn to compartmentalize insults, criticism, and hatred. As a general rule, cops must remember that it does not matter what a person says to them as long as they obey the law.     
When we get our service right, it enhances our ability to protect. The service of properly responding to people is our a greatest asset in protecting the public, and in addition, it results in people feeling truly protected. It also helps us respond properly to unsolicited insinuations that we are lazy and could be replaced by self-righteous busybodies.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Flee From the Wrath to Come

      Someone pulled a thread and we are unraveling. The whole thing is coming apart at the seams while we watch in unbelief. We thought our history would sustain us, our embrace of freedom, our ability to rally together as a family and fight and die if necessary. But now we are left with factions so diverse that each individual is torn in many different affections. We thought our tolerance would uphold us, that very unique way where we turned from our wrongs and embraced those we once enslaved, but our tolerance has become intolerable, for we now call the killing of the innocent good and the death of the evil wrong. We thought our Christian standards would save us, for we delight in kindness, generosity and acceptances, but we abandoned the very Christian morals that gave us Christian standards and now we are left with counterfeit virtues. We thought education would see us through the dark times, but we watered down our education to a self-esteem boosting, permissive, entitlement-driven system that teaches our children they are merely the product of evolution and natural selection while training them how to wear condoms and how to receive benefits that they have not earned.
      So...where do we go from here? If you have reached the end of your line there is only one place to God; not a god of suicide bombs or meditation on self-realization, but the God of Truth, the God of righteousness, the God of our very creation. The God who shows himself to his creation by joining in our miseries, not being born to entitlement, but being born in a manger. The God who not only died for his own, but suffered and died, so that the righteousness he requires can only be found and can only be had in Jesus Christ alone.
     Give thought to your soul, for our days are short, and remember this above all else, "God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble." Humble yourself, and flee from the wrath to come. Look to Jesus and live!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

How Do You Define Christianity?

Last week I was listening to a sermon from Martin Lloyd-Jones from England. During the sermon Dr. Lloyd-Jones commented on the Christian culture that was prevalent in his day. He described the culture as having an attitude that Christianity was just one of many legitimate religions, and though the Bible was important and perhaps even inerrant, it could not be understood.  Dr. Lloyd-Jones commented, “They assume that Christianity cannot be defined.”

Upon hearing those words I asked myself the question, “How do you define Christianity?” I must admit that my first thoughts were fleeting. I thought of oneness with Christ, joy in Christ and a relationship with Christ, but I realized I was describing my feelings about being a Christian rather than defining what Christianity is.

I shared my question with a friend of mine, and he replied that Christianity was, “Being a follower of Christ.” I agreed with his response, but his definition was kind of like defining reading as the ability to read. His definition described Christians, but it did not pinpoint the true essence of Christianity. What is it that makes Christianity exclusive and unique?

I thought about the gospel and how it is the, “…power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16. That wasn’t a bad definition. Being a Christian definitely means believing in the gospel of Christ as opposed to believing in something else. But somehow Romans 1:16 as a definition of Christianity still did not distinguish or characterize Christianity in a way that was different than the solutions religion had to offer. After all, only the foolish would dispute the necessity for every person to believe or have faith. Religions might dispute the object of someone’s faith or whether someone’s faith is genuine or not, but not the necessity of faith. What was I missing?

There have always been false religions and philosophies that have attacked Christianity and tried to bring it down to their level. The philosophy or religion of humanism is perhaps the most prevalent. Humanism basically says, “The end of man is his own happiness.” It is a philosophy that makes the individual sovereign. It is a belief that God is made for the individual rather than the individual for God.

Christianity on the other hand says, “The end of man is to glorify God.” It stands on the premise that men and women were made by God and for God. It places God in the center as the supreme authority and author of what is right and what is wrong. The great God is known to us as three persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Spirit. Christianity declares that Jesus Christ left heaven and became a person to live on this earth because mankind was enslaved and oppressed.

Who was it that ruled over humans to oppress them? It was evil or more simply put sin, “For as by one man (Adam) sin entered the world and death through sin, therefore death passed unto all men for that all have sinned,”  Romans 5:12.

Jesus Christ then, as God and as a man, was sent by the Father to do several things that only he was qualified to do:

            1) live a perfect life;
            2) offer himself as a sacrifice for the sin of those who believe;
            3) conquer death by coming back to life after being murdered;
            4) give his righteousness to those who have none; and
            5) be a mediator between God and men and women.

Reminded of these facts, the answer to my question, “How do you define Christianity?” was right before me. It was as simple as my favorite Bible verse, II Corinthians 5:21. “For He (God) made him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God through Him.”

There are many ways to define Christianity, but it is Jesus alone that makes it exclusive and unique. The primary and essential definition of Christianity is: the righteousness of Jesus Christ received by a sinner. No other religion or philosophy offers righteousness without their followers making an effort to achieve it.   

In Leviticus 11:44 God said, “Be ye holy for I am holy.” Hebrews 12:14 says, “Follow peace with all men and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” God requires holiness and righteousness and he is completely inflexible on his standard. The problem is that there are, “…no good, no not one…” and, “The heart (of man) is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.”

The proud person believes he can achieve righteousness. The proud person sets his will to the work of being good and doing good. He may not deny the righteousness of Christ, and he might even ‘accept’ Christ’s righteous truths to be helpful. But he feels that he can accomplish his goal by his own good thoughts, desires and acts.

The humble person says he can do nothing except receive the righteousness of Christ. The humble person sees clearly that he has no righteousness of his own. Only the humble will admit that his righteousness is like ‘filthy rags’ before the holy righteous God. The humble are desperately needy for goodness they don’t have and cannot produce.

Humble sinners are the only ones qualified to be Christians. They are the only ones who can receive God’s righteousness in Jesus Christ. The proud self-righteous can never receive the righteousness of Christ. Why? Because, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Those who humble themselves, repent and believe that Christ is their only hope are those who receive salvation through Christ, not by works of righteousness that they have done, but because of God’s mercy in Christ alone.

Christianity then is the righteousness of Jesus Christ received by a sinner.

Are you righteous? If so, is your righteousness achieved or received?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Wedding Day: Of Daddies, Daughters and Marriage...


            I guess a man shouldn't dread the fact that his daughter is getting married, but I do. I tried real hard to put it off, and maybe I succeeded for a little while, but the inevitable will happen this Saturday barring divine intervention or the rapture (my hope is the rapture). You might say that I am being selfish, and you would be right, because I am going to miss my little girl so deeply that it hurts.
            I will miss the spontaneity, the endless energy, the smiles and even the impatience and frustrations. I will miss the knowledge that my little girl is sound asleep at night in her white four poster bed with the pink quilt on top right down the hall from her mother and me. I will miss the frantic efforts to get ready for school and work, the occasional days at home relaxing, the impromptu meals and the late night marathons of studying. But the fact is inevitable: the time of parting has come, and it looms over me now like a dark and cloudy day.
            I guess I have regrets, and even more on the way, of things I should have done, didn't do or messed up on, but the pain in my heart right now as I write these few words has nothing to do with those things. My current pain has to with the things that went so right in our home, the days and moments when there were no bad decisions, misunderstandings or hurtful words. Those days when I hugged my little girl, looked deep into her blue eyes and heard the words, "I love you daddy." Those days when we walked together as one because she was in my arms safe and sound, or up on my shoulders as we walked miles without the slightest burden. Even now I see her on her second birthday, waiting at the steps by the door with her blond curls shining golden in the sunlight, so cute in her little skirt, and excited about her party as her grandparents and aunts and uncles were arriving to surround her with a love they couldn't hide.
            There were many days when I watched my little girl as she played, and I wondered at her beauty and why God would bless me with my own little angel. Then there was that night so many years ago, a bad night filled with death and carnage; a night when I picked up the pieces of other's irresponsibility; a night when I came through the door quietly, for it was too late for women and children to be awake, so I tiptoed into my children's room to look at them as they slept peacefully. That night when I was overwhelmed with my love for my own woman and children, and I knelt down by their bedside, bowed my head and whispered a prayer, thanking God for his protection and his good gifts. That night when I heard my little girl's voice call out quietly, "daddy," and I felt her little soft hand in mine. That night, not so long ago after all, when I held my baby girl so tightly in my arms and in the midst of my pain I remembered that God is indeed good.
            There were struggles in school from a little girl who could not stand to leave her momma, but somehow she eventually learned to make it through the day. But learning it seemed, at least the school book kind, did not come so easy. We held our breath at every test and meandered through grade school until one day, on her own, that little girl determined to learn the secret of how to excel, and she did! I dare say my little girl's brilliance lies not in natural born intelligence (after all she is my child), but instead, in striving with diligence, in refusing to give up, and in hard work. From this, she succeeds and determines to teach others her secret that they may succeed as well.
            And now, on a mid-summer afternoon, I can honestly, albeit somewhat regretfully say that she is no longer a little girl. No, she is no little girl, she is a woman! A woman with a beauty like unto her mother's; a woman of depth and charm. Though I thought it would never be, my little girl is a woman, setting out for a life of her own. A woman who does not need to be carried on her daddy's shoulders anymore or told what is right and wrong.
            Olivia, my little "Sissy"... I no longer carry you on my shoulders, though I wish I could, but Olivia...I will always, always carry you in my heart, for you are my heart and the best part of me. Go my love, go! Go with God, go with John-Michael, and just as in our time together you've made me a better man, do the same for him, but never forget that you will always be your daddy's little girl...

With love,


Friday, January 10, 2014

Everything I Need in Law Enforcement I Learned in Sunday School

Law enforcement has always been a thankless job, but over the years it has become the most scrutinized occupation in the country. Everyone seems to have an opinion on how police should do their job and anything short of flowers, good manners and a happy ending is quickly and relentlessly criticized. This leaves little room for error, and every cop knows that error can be deadly in more ways than one.

There are many academic requirements in police work. A police cadet learns about the Constitution, state laws, local laws, and policy and procedure. When they get out on full duty, they are expected at all times to know each revised statue pertaining to everything from bear wrestling and loud mufflers to first degree murder. However, intelligence is not the only qualification necessary. They must also train their fine motor skills to the point where they can direct a high powered projectile from the barrel of a pistol at a distance of 25 yards into the circumference of  a garbage can lid. In addition, they go through annual training in defensive tactics, down fighting skills, baton techniques, and less than lethal force.

But skill and intelligence are not enough. Every law enforcement officer is expected to use their knowledge and skills perfectly in dire situations when they are exhausted, distracted and fooled into believing that a desperate person that has broken the law is going to be cooperative, polite and reasonable. The result is stress, danger, and constant scrutiny by supervisors, upper management, victims, offenders, the media, the court system, and the general public. Thus, it is a thankless job.

Police training is good and necessary. After over twenty five years in law enforcement, I have had thousands of hours in training; however, I have found that the best training I ever received I learned as a child in Sunday School. It is these old lessons that have endured and helped me survive. Here are a few of those lessons:

1.     "There is no good, no not one..." This verse is found in Psalm 14:3 and restated by Paul in Romans 3:11. Contrary to popular culture, this verse declares that the hearts of all people are not good; instead, our hearts are self-seeking, and we look to our own devices for guidance and comfort. Simply put, this biblical truth relates to original sin and the nature of all human beings. It does not mean that people are incapable of doing good things, or that they are as bad as they could possibly be. It means that all people in their natural state are incapable of being perfectly righteous or holy. It means that the life goal we were born with is to please ourselves rather than God, to have self-ownership rather than submitting to the ownership of God, and to seek personal contentment any way we choose, including drugs, excessive alcohol, wrongful sex, or violence. This fact about our human nature is a good thing to know when you have the task of serving and protecting the public. It explains why people break traffic laws, steal, become violent, tell lies, commit sex crimes, murder, and everything else you can think of. This lesson is also a good thing to remember about ourselves as law enforcement officers. Knowing the deficiencies of our natural character should caution us when we exercise authority over others.
2.     "God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble." Though there are many aspects of pride, perhaps the most prevalent is an attitude of independence. A proud person insists on doing things his own way. He refuses to be taught, corrected or led. On the other hand, humble people place themselves under the authority of someone else, and for the spiritually humble, that authority is God or more specifically, Christ. We as law enforcement officers must remember that we are under the authority of local government, the state, the nation, and God.
3.     "Beware he who thinks he stands, lest he fall..." 1 Corinthians 10:12. In Sunday School, I learned that I was not always right. This is an important fact for police officers to remember. Our subjective feelings are of little importance. We must only act on objective facts and be cautious to control our hunches and biases.
4.     "The eyes of The Lord are everywhere beholding the evil and good," Proverbs 15:3. The lesson here is that God knows everything, but we do not. There are times in law enforcement when it strongly appears that someone committed a crime, but there is too little or no evidence to prove it. We must do all that we can in the pursuit of justice, but we can't do everything. Sometimes we have to leave the mysteries and the unexplained with God, and hope that there is new information in the future.
5.     "Vengeance is mine saith the Lord, I will repay." This lesson from Hebrews 10:30 is important to remember when those of us in law enforcement experience the deficiencies of the criminal justice system. It often seems that criminals get away with crime and no one cares, but we must not have a vigilante attitude. We should never take matters into our own hands because God has clearly told us that he holds all people accountable for their actions, and He is the ultimate judge and avenger.
6.     "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," is the Golden Rule from Matthew 7:12. All training in human relations and communication comes down to this simple sentence given to us by Jesus two thousand years ago. We should ask ourselves how we want police officers to treat our children, spouses, and parents, and we should treat the people we come in contact with that same way.
7.     "Love your neighbor as yourself." This is the second great commandment found in Mark 12:31. Though it is similar to the Golden Rule, it is different in attitude. Whereas the Golden Rule deals with actions, the second great commandment goes further. This Sunday School lesson emphasizes a continual good will toward others as Christ exhibited to people when He was here on earth. Jesus was very good at putting himself in other people’s shoes. He humbled himself and became a man so he could experience firsthand the pain, temptation, and difficulties that you and I experience. This ability to emotionally and mentally place ourselves in another person's life is called empathy, and it is an essential skill for all cops.
8.     "Judge not that you be not judged," is from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:1. Of all the passages in the New Testament, this one is perhaps the most misunderstood. It is not a prohibition against discretion or evaluating people and situations. Instead, the context shows that it is a warning against hypocrisy; the kind of hypocrisy that condemns others while overlooking our own faults. As a cop and a Christian, I must not condemn or despise anyone.
9.     "There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing," Proverbs 12:18. The bible is full of warnings about controlling our tongues. This Sunday School lesson reveals the fact that every person has the capacity for verbal violence, or by the use of their words they can aid in the emotional and/or spiritual healing of someone. We can have a positive effect on someone's life simply by being thoughtful, patient, and polite, but thoughtless and provocative words can easily start a fight.
10.  “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
This lesson from 1 Corinthians 10:31 brings us to the bottom line because it reveals our purpose in life. I clearly remember the day that I realized the truth of this lesson. Knowing that God created me to please him helped me to recognize the difference between right and wrong, and it removed the pressure of imagining that there was some worldly purpose that I must achieve. Since my purpose for living is to please God, I can seek to do that regardless of my worldly circumstances. One of the great benefits of fulfilling our purpose in life by pleasing God is contentment.

Though these great truths have been a major influence in my career, they would mean nothing if it weren’t for the application of the gospel in my life. The gospel of Jesus Christ became personal to me in 1984. The Sunday School lessons I had about the gospel were essential to my understanding of it, and of course, understanding is the first step of faith. Here is my understanding of the gospel:

Because I am a child of man, I have a fallen nature that was displayed in the very first hours of my life by selfishness and discontentment. As I grew older, I declared my independence from all authority and sincerely embraced the theory of self-ownership. Despite the fact that God created me and sent his Son to redeem me, I offered him mere tokens of the appreciation and gratitude that was due to Him. Though He made me in His image to please Him, I consistently sought my own pleasure. I took great pride in keeping what I considered to be the most important of His commandments while rationalizing that He did not mind much when I broke the ones I found less important. I felt that I was the captain of my soul, but my soul was a sinking ship of greed, envy, anger and self-justifying depression. I had become my own god by determining for myself what was right and wrong.

If the case against me would have been brought to trial, I would have rightly been found guilty of breaking God’s law. My condemnation would have been perfectly just, and the punishment for committing an offense against the eternal, holy God is dreadful and never ending.

But then came the call of the gospel, and it changed everything. Jesus saved me from the wrath to come by taking my guilt and condemnation upon himself on the cross in a “substitutionary” death where my sin was imputed to (placed upon) him while his righteousness was imputed to me. This sacrifice freely offered by the Messiah provided me with righteousness which I could not earn, inherit, purchase or steal. In love, God displayed his pleasure and acceptance of the Christ’s sacrifice by raising him from the dead on the third day, thus the transaction was complete. My salvation was purchased at a great price by Him whose very name is the definition of love.

If that is not good news, what is? 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Showdown in West Max

In November 1988, I was 26 years old and a brand new graduate of the Northwest Louisiana Criminal Justice Institute, commonly referred to as the “Academy.” Eight months earlier I was facing Caddo Parish Sheriff Don Hathaway with my right hand held high, swearing to uphold the laws of the state and the parish. As a new Deputy Sheriff I was assigned to Caddo Detention Center located in Springridge, about 8 miles from my home. Caddo Detention Center, or CDC, was the parish lock-up housing over 500 inmates.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving we got our paychecks early due to the long holiday weekend. I’m not sure why it mattered since there was no way to get our check to the bank until Monday, but I was glad to have it. I folded the check in half and did what I always did with it: I stuck it in my right shirt pocket. On that day I was working “West Max” which was the maximum security part of the jail located on the west side of the compound. West Max housed over 80 inmates with a high bond for serious crimes or a history of repeated offenses. Like all jails CDC had a laundry list of rules, and we deputies were expected to enforce them. One of those rules was that the inmates could not wear hats or anything on their heads when they were out of their cells.

Inmate recreation was a special time of day for all prisoners. Twice every day and three times during the summer, the inmates were allowed to get out of their cells so they could exercise, play games like cards or basketball or they could simply enjoy being out of the confines of their cells for awhile. Afternoon “Rec” started at 1 pm and lasted for two hours.

On November 23, 1988, I was working the doors in the “cage” in West Max letting inmates out of their cells for recreation. Two other deputies were outside in the West Max Rec yard which was known as the “bullpen.” The bullpen was a rectangular area of concrete surrounded by high fences and topped off with four rolls of razor wire to discourage climbing. The razor wire was extremely effective, for I know of only two inmates who braved it during my three years at CDC and they ended up cut and bloody. For some reason tracking dogs get real excited when they smell blood.

When I opened the doors of the cells that day, the West Max inmates which were nicely dressed in red filed out...eager to get outside to the bullpen. Most of them considered me to be a part of the entire structure of walls, wire, steel and concrete. I wasn’t human to them, just a part of the justice machine. They ignored me, or more than likely didn’t know or care that I was there. As long as I did not interfere with their entertainment, recreation or meals, all was well.

As one of the inmates filed past me that day he was tying a blue bandana on his head. Of course this was contraband, and colors associated with a gang. It was my duty to inform him of his violation. This was what I had been trained for. It was the reason I received a paycheck.

“Marcus Turner (not his real name) do not put that bandana on your head. You know as well as I do that it’s against the rules.”

Marcus Turner looked at me with contempt and kept walking. He continued to tie the bandana on his head as if I had never spoken a word. At that moment I was in the cage operating the cell doors, and I was unable to stop him. Furthermore, there was no need to overreact. Maybe old Marcus would change his mind and remove the bandana before I stepped outside; it's always best to give people the benefit of the doubt on small matters.

I finished letting inmates out of their cells. I checked all four tier doors, made sure they were locked and had everyone go outside. With everything secure behind me I walked into the sunshine of the bullpen on an unusually warm and pleasant day. It didn’t take me long to spot Marcus Turner. He was the one doing pushups near the north fence with the blue bandana on his head. I took my time so the pushups could have the positive effect of wearing him down. On the far side of the bullpen fence I saw my old friend Kevin Dunn. Kevin was assigned as a “floater” that day, which meant that he escorted inmates on the compound, relieved deputies and did whatever the sergeants directed him to do. All floaters were automatically assigned to the “Response Team.” The Response Team responded to all calls for emergency which included fires, fights and deputies needing back-up.

On October 26, 1881 in Tombstone, Arizona, there was a little incident known as the “Gunfight at O. K. Corral.” One hundred and seven years later, on November 23, 1988, I had my own little O. K. Corral. The facts of both incidents were strangely similar: known outlaws were breaking minor laws and zealous law men refused to ignore those trivial offenses. The major difference between Tombstone and CDC was that there was far less at stake in the small jail in rural Caddo Parish…or was there? Either way it was time for a show down.

Only days out of the Academy I was fresh with knowledge and empowered with the mandate that rules were made for the good of the institution. It was my job to enforce those rules; anything less would be considered cowardice and compromise. Wyatt, Virgil and Doc would be proud. But before I confronted Marcus Taylor, I let my co-workers know what I was about to do. I was particularly interested in telling Kevin Dunn because I knew I could count on him. With a plan in place, I turned and approached the offending inmate, intent on serving and protecting my community by re-gaining and maintaining order among those awaiting justice.

It was rumored that Marcus Turner was a Vietnam vet. He was muscular and tattooed in a day when only cons and soldiers wore ink. On his back in a grand curve of large Old English letters was his last name “T-U-R-N-E-R” spelled out for all to see. He was a formidable foe, full of hate and known for confrontations with deputies, but it really didn’t matter…right is right and wrong has consequences.

By the time I reached Marcus Turner it was as if all activity and noise had stopped in the bullpen. It was 1 O’clock High. All eyes were on me. “Marcus…I told you not to put that bandana on your head. It’s time for you to go back to your cell. Rec’s all over for you my man.”

Since women and children may be reading this I cannot quote what Marcus said to me, but I can say that it was a common phrase heard behind the cement walls and metal bars of CDC. If those walls could talk and someone was listening, those words were sure to offend. Marcus’ two words made up an independent clause complete with an action word and direct object. I, of course, was the direct object. The subject was inferred to be Marcus or perhaps any inmate with disdain for lawmen. A man of few words, Marcus Turner emphasized his brief communication with the body language of contempt. I had ordered him to his cell, but he refused to go. We had ourselves a standoff.

Marcus’ short and not so subtle phrase was a spark in a tinder box. Suddenly, I was surrounded by inmates. The showdown was real and the stakes were high. Marcus was directly in front of me, but instantaneously another inmate appeared on my left. It was Geoffrey Palmer (not his real name). Geoff was short, but powerfully built. His upper lip was raised revealing his pearly-white teeth, and he was biting his bottom lip, sort of like an angry dog. He was only inches away from me. I addressed him directly.

“Geoff…you need to step back!” Now I had told my co-workers what I thought was going to happen, and it was playing out like a gun fight without guns. There were two deputies in the bullpen with me, but they were far away and as it played out, totally ineffective. However, there was Kevin Dunn; he was tried and true. The only thing between him and I was two locked gates. I took my time, thinking he might already be on his way.

Geoffrey Palmer was on my left. Marcus Turner was directly in front of me. Other inmates made a large circle around us. I was all alone in a ring of fire.

Geoffrey and Marcus both refused to move. Palmer was snarling like a rabid dog. I stepped a full step back to create distance, but when I did, Palmer followed me. He was way too close for normal human relationships, except of course for man and wife. Palmer and I weren’t married, so I stepped back again. He continued to follow, so I dropped low and had a flash back from my high school wrestling days.

The double leg takedown was not only quick, but it was nicely efficient. Palmer was top heavy, having big arms and a broad chest and since he was moving toward me to begin with he lifted nicely on my shoulder as I came up holding both of his thighs to my chest. His ascent was brief as was his descent; I took him to the ground, hard and sudden. As he fell he ripped the right pocket off of my shirt and my paycheck dropped to the pavement like a lonely school girl. At this point things were moving very quickly. I pinned Palmer’s arms to the ground and sat on his chest just like my brother Ron taught me when I was a mere six years old. I looked down at Geoffrey, and he still had that snarl on his face.

Suddenly, I felt a weight crashing down on my back. Instinctively I brought my left hand up to my throat and it stayed there as an arm came around my neck. It was Marcus Turner. I could smell him and feel the bristle of his beard on the back of my head.

I was sitting on one prisoner and had another on my back. Turner squeezed my neck tightly. He squeezed with everything he had while the rabid dog beneath me continued to snarl but was unable to move. The only thing that kept me conscious was God and my hand between the felon’s bicep and my throat.

If I had been on my feet I might have slipped away from the slimy soldier’s grip on my neck, but I was sitting on another inmate and completely immobile. My only choice was to control the one I had and survive the other. Releasing the dog was an invitation for disaster.

Once again I felt weight fall on my back. The sensation was momentary but it preceded a gradual lessening of the pressure on my neck until the big arm dropped away completely freeing me from the vice grip of a dead-lock head-lock.

It was Kevin Dunn. Kevin had made his way to the bullpen and put a neck restraint on Marcus Turner. The restraint was Kevin’s signature move. He not only knew the technique, he was proficient with it. As a result Marcus Turner was sleeping like a baby in a mere matter of seconds…lights off, nobody home. That thought is still comforting to me to this very day.

Within minutes the Response Team was all around us. They cleaned up the mess above me, but I still sat on top of Geoffrey Palmer, waiting. My simple plan called for keeping the aggressor down until all was calm, and then I would cuff him and have him escorted to lock down.

 Things were calming down and thinning out. A sergeant appeared on my left…thank goodness the end was near.

But Geoffrey looked up at the sergeant. Through the ever present snarl on his lips he exclaimed, “Sarge, tell him to get off of me!” It was more of a command than a request.

I was fond of this particular sergeant, and I still am to this day, but on that day he did something I have never been able to understand. “Get off of him McDaniel.” What? I couldn’t believe my ears. I looked up at him and he repeated, “Get off of him McDaniel!”

It was not a time to argue, and I was respectful of my superiors. However, his orders placed me back in the fire, and I knew it. Letting up the aggressor without some form of restraint left me vulnerable, and it kept me from retrieving my paycheck which was lying exposed on the pavement. Nonetheless, I am law and order every time. I got off the dog.

The puzzling sergeant was on my left and suddenly free from restraint, Geoffrey Palmer was standing in front of me snarling with his fists clinched. I prepared for the fight. Geoffrey had been humiliated among his peers and any man of any worth would have felt the impulse to redeem himself. I couldn’t blame him for that. Thankfully Deputy Bubba Richardson saw the danger and stepped between us. In the South, any kid named James is Bubba. James “Bubba” Richardson was a tall, far-sighted deputy from Mississippi. Bubba quickly handcuffed Palmer, deflected his verbal assaults and led him away. With the dog finally gone, I reached to get my check, but it was gone…long gone.

It took a little time for the dust to settle in West Max that day. I was left with a lot of paper work and a sore neck, but the incident did not end there. The next week there was a disturbance in West Max, and I responded. The incident that day was resolved fairly quickly, but on my way out I had to pass Marcus Turner’s cell. Marcus repeated his infamous two word phrase, but for more significance he attached my last name. He said something, but I was unable to hear it. I approached his cell.

“You got something to say to me?”

He walked up to the bars and grabbed them with both hands.

“I know where you live. You’re a dead man.” He showed me his back and said nothing further. My paycheck, complete with home address had made its way to the instigator...he knew exactly where I lived.

Within a week we discovered that Marcus Turner had a network outside the cell walls. Somehow he had his cronies in the free world locate where my wife and Bubba Richardson’s girlfriend worked. At that time I didn’t tell my wife, Colleen, about the very real danger for fear of alarming her. For the next few months I slept lightly, responding to every strange noise. I stashed guns in convenient locations throughout the house. I never left my home unarmed, and I saw Colleen off to work every day.  

Due to the disturbance in West Max before Thanksgiving, it was a couple of weeks before I was assigned to work there again. There were plenty of other places to work, like East Max, the West Yard, the East Yard or floating. I guess my supervisors thought it was best to let things settle down in West Max before they put me back over there.

Every inmate involved in the disturbance had received punishment for violating jail rules. Furthermore, Marcus Turner was eventually sentenced to six extra months of jail time, at least on paper. By the time I starting working in West Max again, Geoffrey Palmer had served his time in lock down, and he was back in West Max.

In early 1988, Sergeant Jim Reed worked day shift with weekends off as the classification officer. By summertime, Jim left the Sheriff’s Office and went to work for the Post Office. Six months later Mr. Reed returned to CDC; the Post Office job had not worked out for him. Fortunately for all of us Sheriff Hathaway hired him back, but when he returned, Mr. Reed was no longer a sergeant. He was assigned to the shift just like everyone else. Mr. Reed was older than the rest of us, probably fifteen or so years older than me. It was no doubt a difficult transition for him to return to the jail as a regular deputy. No one was too sure how to handle the situation. Most deputies kept their distance from the old sergeant, but for some reason he and I hit it off from the very beginning. We worked together often, and I enjoyed his company. If he was mad at anyone or angry about how the Sheriff’s Office had treated him he never told me. I never heard him complain or criticize anyone.

When I returned to work in West Max in December of 1988, Mr. Reed and I worked there together along with another deputy. The day started with a headcount and then recreation. That morning I assumed my usual role of letting the inmates out of their cells and making them go outside to the bullpen.

I finished letting the inmates out on the upstairs’ tier and then went downstairs to let the rest of the inmates out. Things went quickly on the lower south tier, but when I went to the lower north tier things slowed down. It took a few minutes and some strong words to usher a couple of inmates out. One inmate was rather slow and confused about what he was supposed to be doing. Perhaps it was his first full day behind bars. I walked him down the tier to make sure he went outside. When I got to the end of the tier, I turned and shut the bar door and then pulled it to make sure it locked. When I turned back around Geoffrey Palmer and another inmate were standing there, waiting for me.

The inmate who had been loitering on the tier was nowhere to be found. I was blocked in. I had metal bars behind me and on my right side, a brick wall on my left and my two friends were directly in front of me. If I turned my back and tried to unlock the door to escape, I was sure to be ambushed. I knew what was at stake, but I followed my use of force policy. “You guys need to head on outside right now.” It was a clear and unambiguous command, yet I had no expectation that they would obey it.

I dropped my right foot back, lowered my center of gravity and tightly gripped the giant jail keys in my right fist.  My plan was simple: the first one to move toward me was getting my booted foot in his groin and the second one would receive a handful of keys in the mouth.

Geoffrey was wearing his infamous snarl and both inmates had their hands tight at their hips. I lowered my gaze to the middle of their chests and waited for first draw. At about that moment I heard a deep voice, “No one is supposed to be on the tier…get outside now!” It was Mr. Reed.

Geoffrey and the other inmate looked at me, looked at each other, and then dropped their heads and walked out to the bullpen. Mr. Reed had suspected that something was wrong, and he came back inside to check on me. His presence was enough to alter the odds and cause Geoffrey and his pal to recognize that their intentions had been thwarted. Both Mr. Reed and I knew what was at stake. He watched out for me the rest of the day.

I was grateful to Mr. Reed: grateful for his insight, grateful for his care and grateful that he had the presence of mind to recognize danger. However, my gratitude was not complete until the next day. During our shift meeting that was held every day before we took our posts, the shift sergeant read over the events that had occurred at the jail over the past twenty four hours. It seems that the evening shift became suspicious of Geoffrey Palmer after they relieved us the day before. The guys on evening shift decided to search his cell. During the search they found what in jail lingo is known as a “shank.” This particular shank was a long, thick piece of wire that had been sharpened to a point. When I heard about Geoffrey’s shank the full gravity of what had happened the day before came upon me.

Throughout my career in law enforcement the protective hand of God has been upon me and my co-workers. Back in 1988 that fact was very clear through the efforts of Kevin Dunn and Jim Reed. Kevin is now my boss and I call him “Captain.” Jim Reed retired as a Lieutenant, but sadly he died in September, 2011. I will always remember Mr. Reed, and I am grateful for the lessons he taught that young impulsive deputy twenty five years ago.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Colonel's Son

            In the spring of 2009, I went to a veteran’s recognition service at a local high school. I arrived at the outdoor event early and watched as adults came on campus for the celebration. I was about halfway down the main corridor when I noticed an older white couple coming up an incline at the front of the campus. The man was pushing a wheelchair, but it wasn’t a regular wheelchair, it was more like a reclining bed on wheels. The passenger in the wheelchair was a small black male. I saw a black female that I assumed was his mother walking in front of him. I thought to myself that it was nice of the old man to help the woman. Very few people would do what he was doing.
            I turned to focus on my responsibilities and lost sight of the wheelchair. After about ten minutes, I walked up the stairs by the courtyard and once again saw the old man pushing the little man in the tilted-back wheelchair. The woman that had been with them earlier was gone. As the tilted-back wheelchair got closer to me, I noticed that the young black man sitting in it had his head tilted back revealing a couple of teeth spaced apart at intervals and saliva on his lips. His eyes were rolled back in his head and his arms and hands were drawn up under his chin. Though he was an adult, he was very small.
            The old man approached the stairs with the wheelchair looking as if he planned to go directly down the steps with it. I rushed over to him and said, “Sir, there’s a wheelchair ramp down by the gym.” The gray haired man looked at me over the top of his glasses, and then he leaned the tilted-back wheelchair on its back wheels and pushed it down the stairs. The little man in the chair grinned widely and bounced up and down over the steps. He seemed to be enjoying the bumpy ride.    
            I continued to watch as the old man reached the bottom of the stairs and then pushed the wheelchair to the courtyard. The man parked the wheelchair at the end of a row of chairs and locked down the wheels. I thought he would take a seat next to the wheelchair, but instead he did something I did not expect. In an act that revealed he was much more than just a caretaker for the black man in the wheelchair, the old man reached down, cradled the small handicapped man in his arms and picked him up. He effortlessly carried the man down the row of chairs and sat down with him in his lap. Despite the strange display, the old man was totally unashamed and oblivious to the reaction of anyone around him. He held the little black man in his arms the way a mother holds her new born baby, then he brought out a small towel and wiped the little man’s eyes and face with it.
            Moments later, the woman who had been with him earlier sat down beside the man. She smiled and spoke to the little man sitting in the old man’s lap. The three of them seemed perfectly content and comfortable. I knew at that moment I was looking on at something very special.
            There were a couple of empty chairs behind the man and woman. I really wanted to know why the old couple was caring for a handicapped black man. The crowd was beginning to pick up, so before I missed my chance I quickly went to one of the chairs and sat down behind the couple. I leaned forward, placed my hand on the woman’s shoulder and said to her, “Ma’am, I noticed you and your husband when you walked on campus a few minutes ago. I’m very curious to know your story.”
            Looking back on it now I realize it was a pretty stupid thing to say. I shouldn’t have been so nosy, but I didn’t want to miss out on something that seemed so significant. By all appearances the old white couple was showing a type of unconditional love that is so rare, it almost doesn’t exist…almost.
            Any uneasiness I had about talking to the couple was alleviated when the woman, Mrs. Joye Byrd, spoke to me. From the very first moment she began speaking it was obvious that she was very kind and gracious; her name matched her personality.  I think she recognized that I was talking with her out of admiration and respect for her, her husband and the little man in the tilted back wheel chair.
            The couple’s name was Mr. and Mrs. Floyd E. Byrd. Mr. Byrd was a retired Colonel in the Army and a retired teacher from the Caddo Parish School Board. He returned to his old school on this day to attend the veteran’s program. As Mrs. Byrd was gracious, Colonel Byrd was tough. I got the impression that if I would have challenged the Colonel he would have squared off with me in the grass beside the courtyard; yet at the same time this tough man didn’t mind cradling a needy and helpless human being in his lap and showing him affection.
            Joye Byrd was a retired teacher. During her career in Caddo Parish, she taught profoundly handicapped children. The little man sitting in her husband’s lap had been one of her students many years earlier. His name was Gary.
            Miss Joye explained to me that she loved all of her students, and Gary was no exception. One day she learned that Gary would not be returning to her classroom because his mother had abandoned him. In a very serious manner she told me as a matter of fact, “We could not let that happen.” And they didn’t. In an act of love that still astounds me to this day, the Byrds, a wonderful old couple who could have quietly retired and spent the rest of their days relaxing, adopted Gary! They brought Gary into their home and took care of him like he was their own child.
            Colonel Byrd introduced me to Gary. I spoke to him, and he was able to respond by making noises and sort of smiling. The Colonel interpreted what Gary was saying, and he acted very much like a proud father. Though Gary’s abilities of communication were limited, it was obvious that he knew who his momma and daddy were. Just like his parents, he was a happy young man.
            The black woman I had seen earlier and assumed was Gary’s mother was simply just a woman in the crowd. Gary had come to the event with his parents; I just didn’t recognize it at first. Gary’s parents cared for him and made sure he was comfortable and loved.
            I have heard several stories of influential white families who have taken poor black athletes into their homes and prepared them for college football, and sometimes even professional football. That is certainly a nice gesture, and should not be underestimated, but this is not one of those stories. This is the true story of a man and a woman who bypassed a quiet, relaxing retirement to love and care for someone that no one else would love and care for. They brought an adult into their home, an adult that had fewer capabilities than most infants, and they were not embarrassed to have him with them or to call him their son. They were not impatient with Gary or put out because they had to dress him or change his diapers. They didn’t call the state to send over a babysitter so they could get away from time to time. Instead, they took their dear son with them, everywhere they went.
            The Byrds didn’t seem to notice or even care that Gary would never grow up like other children, or that he was incapable of any of the usual accomplishments associated with a normal childhood. They loved Gary simply because it gave them great pleasure to do so, and because of their love, Gary loved back.
            According to the medical experts, Gary should have died well over a decade ago, but due to an uncommon type of love, his life was extended. Mr. and Mrs. Byrd would probably claim that love has extended their lives as well.     
            I wrote this blog in 2009. On September 5, 2013, I opened the paper and was saddened to see the obituary of Colonel Floyd E. Byrd: was also sad to see that his foster son Gary W. Conner had preceded him in death. Though the world is a bit poorer due to the loss of this uncommon man and the son that he chose to be his own, may we be content to know that they are at home now, before the throne of God.     
            Sometimes God displays rare and uncommon people in our mundane and common little worlds. May he open our eyes to see them, teach us gratitude to appreciate them and give us wisdom to emulate them.