Both Sides of the Bars
In January of 1977, I transitioned from Active Duty in the Marine Corps to the Reserve. I didn’t want to leave the Marines, but I was sick of all the drugs and racial tensions I saw in society and decided to become a Cop so I could help stop the violence and protect the victims.
As with all the best laid plans of mice and men, I ended up in a series of dead-end jobs. They were lost as soon as they were found. It was due, in large part, to my inability to adjust back to civilian life at that time. Thank goodness for my grandfather. He was a big guy in the Idaho State government at the time. He pointed me to the Idaho State Department of Corrections where they were hiring Correctional Officers (aka, prison “guards”). I figured it would be a good first step into law enforcement. With my military background and clean record, I knew that I was a good candidate.
I drove the 20 miles from Boise to the prison out in the middle of nowhere to apply. When they let me in, I went over to the front desk, and I couldn't believe who was sitting there. It was my good buddy Chuck from the Marine Corps. He looked up when I walked in and said “What in the #€££ are you doing here?” The last time I’d seen him was at Camp Pendleton when he got out of the Marines a year or so before. I first met Chuck when he was an MP (Military Police) in the Corps. He had tried to arrest me for surfing on a restricted beach. He couldn’t get me to come in to shore to be arrested (although we did engage in a lively verbal exchange)… I’ll save that story for later. We ended up being friends when we ran into each other a few months later (and he was no longer an MP).
I told Chuck I was there to apply for a job. He walked me in to the Lieutenant (another former Marine). I finally ended up talking with a Captain, who was former Army. I got the job…
I felt pretty much at home again, wearing a uniform, in a structured environment, with a workforce that was more than half fellow veterans. After completing the academy, my first duty was working the Towers. In the Towers, I was responsible to watch the Yard and a section of the fence. There, I could continue to study the rules, regulations and policies while I worked. The job in the Tower was to stop anyone from trying to get over the fence, but there was no real interaction with the prisoners. When I completed my tour in the Towers, my next tour was working Death Row. It was there I had my first basic and very limited exposure to inmates.
After the Towers and Death Row, I was assigned to work the Yard (open areas between the housing units) with the Yard Sergeant. That's where I got my first real exposure to inmates. The Sergeant and I would walk around in the open areas with hundreds of inmates walking all around.
I was nervous. However, after I worked the Yard for a while, I started to relax into the job. As I became more settled, I think the inmates could see that I was a disciplined, but reasonable Officer. A lot of the inmates began to relax around me then as well.
A month or two passed and I actually started feeling like I’d known some of the inmates before. It was a strange feeling. It was almost a kind of kinship with some of them which made me very cautious. I was also curious. Each day I would talk with some of the inmates. I would get to know them, where they came from, their history, and listen to their stories. I found that we had a lot of background and experiences in common. I did some research into many of the inmate’s records. What I found was shocking.
Over half of the Officers that I worked with were fellow veterans. Some of them I knew personally and most were from units that I knew of. Over half of the inmates were also fellow veterans. They were from those same units and organizations. We fought in the same war and sometimes in the same places at the same time!
Some veterans came back and were able to fit right back into normal life. The majority, like me, came back and went through some tough times. Some veterans ended up in law enforcement on the outside of the bars. Some veterans went the other direction and ended up in the same place…on the other side of the bars.
You might say "There but for the Grace of God go I", but I attribute my ability to transition to my family and the strong morals and character I was raised with. Most cops (Law Enforcement Officers, or LEOs) have a strong sense of service. They'd rather uphold the law than break the law. They have a strong desire to protect victims. I am thankful that I had a supportive family and friends who could help me find the direction I needed at the time. Some were not so lucky and ended up on the other side of the bars.