Dear Nice Police Officer at the County Jail,
You have a hard job. Every day, you sit there at that desk, protected by glass. The people who come in to see you arrive in varying degrees of despondence and desperation. All of them look to you for answers to questions they don’t even know to ask.
You sit at the front line and stand witness to hardships that only exist in the lobby of a county jail. You comfort grieving mothers and patiently answer the questions of so many wives. And the children. You smile at so many children who’d give anything just to hug Mom or Dad through the impenetrable glass.
I remember the first day I met you.
I didn’t even notice you as I blankly checked in to visit my husband three eternal days after his arrest. I was too numb to notice the FBI’s ten most wanted fugitives or the countless guns hanging on the wall, let alone your name or face. I was busy frantically writing my husband’s new five-digit name into white underwear and t-shirts, doing anything to keep myself from preparing to see him.
When I finally stood in the visiting room and saw him for the first time, the black and white stripes punched the wind out of my lungs. I crumpled into the corner and sobbed, trying to hide my distress from him and the other people in the room. It was only the unseen power of God that gave me the strength to stand up and face him, to take the phone into my hand, to view his face through eyes no longer rose-colored. For half an hour minus my initial meltdown, I held myself together with grace beyond my own.
When another woman whispered as I was about to exit the room that we could watch them until they walked around the corner and were hidden from view, I turned to watch him leave through the glass. I stood in the doorway, one foot in the visiting room, the other in the hallway – and I watched him disappear around the corner, taking all of our dreams with him. The strength left me, and I fell to the floor in grief that only exists in movies and at deathbeds. Unrecognizable sobs filled the room as the rest of the visitors hushed. Out of the blackness in my eyelids, I felt my mother-in-law’s arms circle around me as she bent over to comfort me. I felt other hands rubbing my back, and strange voices encouraging me that it would all work out.
A few moments later, my sobs had quieted to something just above normal. I looked up at the sound of a man’s voice. “Excuse me. You can take all the time you need, ma’am… but could you move over to a bench? You’re blocking the doorway.”
There was a tentativeness to your voice. I could tell you felt bad for having to ask me to move, but I understood it was your job. You reached out your hand and helped me up, directing us to a bench where I spent at least another 10 minutes just trying to find myself enough to pull it together.
You smiled at me each week I returned and answered each of my questions with kindness. You learned my name and joked with me as I began to heal. You were a friendly face in the midst of a cold and sterile place. Months later when I told you I was going to tell my husband I wanted a divorce, you made sure that a crisis specialist talked to him after the visit to make sure he was okay.
We never spoke extensively, but I was grateful for your kindness and respect. Not once did I feel demeaned by you. Not once did I see you meet anyone’s frustration with anything but patience and understanding. I know that glass is there for your safety. I know you deal with angry people daily. I know you see us at our worst – in our weakest and most vulnerable moments. And I know that it is hard to meet our desperation and despondence with kindness, but you do it anyway.
Your smile sets us at ease in some of the darkest moments of our lives. Thank you for treating us with dignity. Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. And thank you for caring about the men and women we visit – despite the mistakes they’ve made. I doubt you will ever know the power of your influence – how much your choice to be kind impacts the families in our community, but believe me; it does.
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