Friday, April 1, 2011

Are those my Footprints?

I grew up in South Columbus Ohio the step-son of a meat packer who was a veteran of World War II and a stay at home mom whose own life was one of heartaches and triumphs. My Dad worked at the old Swift’s Premium Meat Packing plant at Lockbourne Road and Refugee Road in the 1950s and 1960s. He was a man who personified all that we would want our children to grow up and become.

A hard worker, a good neighbor to all and someone who knew the importance of being fair to everyone around him while being cautious of those who he needed to be. A guy who would give the shirt off his back or the food from his plate to anyone truly in need of either. And one who demanded from his kids to be grateful for what they had and to have empathy for anyone who did not have enough.

When he moved our family to the South end he was making about two dollars an hour and was able to not only support all of us on that, he managed to buy a home in the German Village area for around $10,000.00. One that he and my mother would budget and save for and eventually pay off the mortgage in less than ten years. This area was chosen for a number of reasons aside from being only a few miles from where he worked. The elementary school that I, along with my brother and sisters attended was less than two blocks away.

There was a Big Bear Supermarket and a bus stop a block away which made it convenient for my mother who never learned to drive. And there was a park just a few more blocks away that was the perfect playground for us and the many other kids in the neighborhood who would become our best friends.

My mother was a woman who endured more than I think I ever could and the threads that wove the tapestry of her life were like a blueprint for me to aim higher and to push a few envelopes to the edges to achieve whatever I was after. Raised in foster homes and later marrying an abusive man who neglected not only her but myself and a brother and sister she persevered and kept us together and taught us the importance of never giving up and to never stop setting goals or allow change or setbacks to discourage us.

Her story is documented in a book I wrote called “Honey, I Promise!” It was my way of telling the world how proud I have always been of her and how her personal struggles were not wasted, but instead served as reminders to others that before we are done living there is still time to make our lives better. When she married my step-dad in 1958 we moved to this place I still call home from the bowels of poverty where we lived in government assisted housing that was mostly populated by other desperate residents, some who did not always hold morals or lofty ambitions in high esteem and some who were just plain dangerous people to live near.

It was a move that without question allowed me to navigate through childhood into adulthood safely, surrounded by the best people I ever knew and with purpose to chase the dreams I was able to. I cannot present any argument that we are products of our environment. And because of this I have been able to accomplish much more than I could have ever imagined. From being able to soar without falter through nearly twenty years as a broadcaster by being given the opportunities to work at all of the major radio stations in Columbus, to having the privilege of serving in law enforcement for another twenty years.

My radio broadcasting credentials include working at WTVN where I started my career in 1972 as a disc jockey. From there I moved on to WNCI, then to WRFD, WMNI and finally to WCOL. My final stint in radio was hosting an afternoon talk-show where the guests on my program could be anyone from politicians to entertainers. It was because of that radio show that I made the decision to try a different way of making a living. A guest on one of my final programs was the very fiery and often controversial Sheriff of Franklin County.

Earl O Smith, a no holds barred lawman who encouraged me to trade my headphones for a badge he was offering. After leaving the broadcasting industry full time in 1986 I was given a deputy sheriff’s commission and appointed to the position of Public Information Officer. It was a job that placed me in charge of the department’s media affairs. That meant writing press releases and conducting press conferences while working with the sheriff’s detective bureau, jail operations, court services, administrative office, training academy, warrants and extraditions unit and the patrol division.

As the PIO for a large law enforcement agency I gained even more valuable communications skills by working with all phases of the media including radio, television and newspapers from around the country. Tucked away in my portfolio of experiences I have been recognized in various national publications including The New York Times, USA Today and Time Magazine. I have also appeared on nationally broadcasted television programs including ABC News, CNN and the long running FOX television program “America’s Most Wanted.”

Of the awards for service I have received one of my most coveted was from The American Police Hall of Fame for my participation in the capture and arrest of a kidnapping and rape suspect. However in 1992 I was assigned to the sheriff’s Communications Center as a communications technician where my duties consisted of being a radio dispatcher and 9-1-1 call taker. That assignment was the biggest lateral move in my law enforcement career.

Having had a very good job in a high profile position for a number of years I had become the victim of a political shake-up with the election of a new sheriff. The new assignment in the radio room was one of long days and little reward. Not to suggest that police dispatchers are not as important as any other law enforcement personnel, but having previously been dispatched to murder scenes, deadly vehicle crashes, fires and every other imaginable human tragedy to prepare news statements and mingle with reporters- the new job was not only mundane for me but it represented a significant reduction in my wages.

Like I said, as a career move it was one that went in reverse. So in 1995 I went looking for a new job, one that would place me back outside in a police cruiser doing real police work where instead of dispatching someone else to interesting situations someone would be sending me. I found that opportunity with the Obetz Ohio Police Department where I began working as a patrol officer and within a few years I was promoted to the rank of sergeant.

It was there where everything I ever hoped to find in police work came to fruition. I was finally in a place in life where every day at work mattered, a place where I really felt I was making a difference. Wrapping up the latter experiences as the Chief of Police was unquestionably the zenith of where that career could have taken me. However being able to pen a couple of books before this one that documents all of it certainly ranks high on my list of most personal satisfying achievements.

Because whether or not anyone finds them interesting or even well written they will always be around as a record that I took advantage of everything I was ever taught. And aside from what I write I will someday leave behind something else I am proud of; my children and their offspring to hopefully carry on all that I was able to pass on to them, the things that were given to me by my own parents.

That sense of never giving in and to never fold to the expectations of what others think you can do or what they may try to limit for you. And more importantly to never forget from where you came. To cherish and remember those who played the most important roles in your life and to protect what is dear. I have often defended my style of writing as being an extension of how I have lived my life and what it took for me to make the most of it. And because of that there are some who find much of my work offensive.

The fact that I rarely guard my language, and when I feel it necessary to disregard the protocol of good journalism (if that is what it takes to write good stories) I will do it. I am not as much of a wordsmith as I am a story teller and I make no apologies for that. When others point out the starkness of what I sometimes write or when they put on their copy- editing visors and look down their noses at how my work is published I can take their criticism, but not to the level that I will ever try to be anyone but who I am as a writer.

If the saying “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” is true than I submit that whatever offends us makes us strive to never allow it to change who we are. Be offended but don’t allow it to cloud what is important. And to me as a writer that means to tell real stories about real people and real things in language that may not be appropriate for some readers but it is language that leaves little to anticipate when trying to understand why I use it and why without it the true depth of the story would never be seen.

For anyone who is easily affronted by language that is born from the gutter I can only submit to them that they would never feel at ease either in the company of police officers who work the mean streets and deal with the frustrations no one else wants, nor would they if they could have been with me during what it took to write this book. And if some of the words crucial to reach deep into the stories here leaves anyone queasy than some of the photos displayed here might make them vomit.

If it is any comfort I have left out the harsher and sometimes more graphic in nature images that really show the degradation of people and how some of them live. It is what I believe a good writer and photographer should do to protect the integrity of any story. I will be judged in both categories with what I am sharing here and I will be fine regardless of how.

This book is not yet in print but is available for all eReaders at

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