The Journey Begins
In the late summer of 1993, the early morning sun peeked over the horizon sparkling on the rippling waters of Penobscot Bay signaling the start of another workday in Belfast, Maine, and its surrounding rural communities. In the early morning light, I was preparing for another long day driving the Ford L900 dump truck I operated for my father’s construction company. I enjoyed the hours driving countless miles across Waldo County, plus it provided me with ample opportunity to contemplate my situation. The reality that the career I had pursued for the past six years would not provide the stability or security my young family needed in the coming years weighed heavy on my mind.
I had grown up in Belfast and in the early 1990’s the City was still struggling to reinvent itself after having lost so much of its industry over the prior decade. As I pondered options for a career change law enforcement repeatedly surfaced as a possible option. I was familiar with many local police officers but I didn’t know any of them well enough to ask their advice about a career in law enforcement, except maybe one, Chief Robert Keating.
Chief Keating had served as the Chief of Police in my home town for as long as I could remember and a prior encounter with him during my teen years had left a deep positive impression on me. You see back in the mid-1980s when I was about 15 years old I decided it would be a good idea to add a little bulk to my gangly 130-pound frame so I started lifting weights. I never did find that bulk I was looking for but that didn’t stop me from entering a local weight lifting competition held at the Belfast Area High School. I didn’t know it at the time of the event but Chief Keating was a member of the audience. I’m sure I must have been a sight to see up on that stage huffing and puffing while pushing and pulling weights with my scrawny arms and legs.
A few weeks passed when there came a knock on our front door. My mother opened the door to find Chief Keating standing on the other side. I didn’t hear much of the conversation due to the sound of my heart pounding as I scoured my memory for anything I may have done to warrant such a visit. My mom closed the front door and returned holding a few Polaroid pictures of me, in all my awkward glory, up on the stage at the weight lifting competition. My mother explained that Chief Keating had been at the event and noticed that no one from my family was there taking pictures of me so he decided to take a few pictures so I could have them. I had never met Chief Keating before that day and his kindness left a positive impression that I have held onto until this day.
I have always been an introvert and a little shy so building the courage to walk into the Belfast Police station to seek a new career was no easy task but, I had pondered my dilemma long enough, it was time to take the first step regardless of the outcome.
One afternoon I cut out of work a little early and went searching for advice from Chief Keating about starting a law enforcement career. I was hoping to find some of that same kindness he had shown so many years before.
I drove into Belfast and looked around for a parking space near the station. The station, crammed into the small space below City Hall would have been easy to miss if you didn’t know where to look. When I entered the small lobby of the police station I explained to the on-duty dispatcher located in an adjacent room that I wanted to speak with the Chief. A few minutes passed and I was led down the narrow winding hallway toward the Chief’s small office. Once in the office, I found myself sitting across from someone who had almost as many years in law enforcement as I had been on this earth. It’s an understatement to say I was lost for words, struggling to explain the purpose of my visit and to this day, I’m not sure how much sense I made. Chief sat back into his seat and paused for a moment. I could feel my anxiety rise as I waited to hear his response. What was he thinking?
The Chief’s deep booming voice broke the silence and much to my relief, recognizing my lack of knowledge, began to explain the process for becoming a sworn police officer. Chief agreed to sponsor me for attendance at the 100-hour course at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. As Chief explained about the two-week-long, 100-hour course I would be required to complete if I wished to be a sworn officer I could feel my optimism sink as I realized that attending the training would mean two weeks without a paycheck. Something I knew would create a hardship for my family.
After discussing the situation with my wife we decided that this was an opportunity we could not pass up. I let Chief Keating know that I wanted to attend the training and he completed the necessary paperwork for my attendance. I traveled to the academy for the classes and the time seemed to fly past. It became clear that this was a career path would be completely new to me. The material presented and the terminology used was something I had never heard before. When I returned to meet with the Chief so I could return equipment and plan the next step toward my new career I received disappointing news. Chief explained that he was not in need of additional patrolman at the time, given the flood of thoughts racing through my mind, he must have seen the disappointment on my face. As our meeting came to an end Chief Keating posed a question, one that I had never considered, maybe the Sheriff’s Office is hiring?
As I made my way up Congress Street I was feeling a great deal of anxiety as I became painfully aware of how little I knew about the operations of the Sheriff’s Office. I found the office which was marked by an old cream-colored sign in front of the 1800’s jailer’s quarters that had been converted into office space to house the Sheriff’s Office Patrol operations. Once inside the lobby area, I explained to the dispatcher, through a small window, that I was there to speak with Chief Deputy Robert Jones. Soon I found myself being led through the old residence and past what I’m sure was once a living room that now contained a large conference room table. We made our way down a short hallway and entered a side room that now served as the office for the Chief Deputy. I explained my desire to begin a career as a law enforcement officer and proudly announced that I had completed the 100-hour course. I was met with discouraging news again as I was told that the Sheriff’s Office had no immediate need for patrol deputies. I began to wonder if I was pursuing an impossible goal. Before the meeting ended, almost as an afterthought Chief Jones offered that the jail may be looking for correctional officers? He suggested that I go to the County Jail, which was attached to the old jailer’s house, and speak with Lieutenant Barnaby who coordinated hiring. It may have been offered as a passing thought, but to me, it was a glaring opportunity, a chance to get my foot in the door! I left the Chief’s office and made a beeline for the jail to speak with the Lieutenant. Once there I briefly met with Lt. Barnaby and was provided an application that I promptly completed.
Time passed after turning in that application, and I continued working my construction job until I came home from work one day to find my wife holding a letter that was clearly marked as having come from the Sheriff’s Office. What awaited me inside this letter? I opened it with a great deal of anticipation and I read aloud so that both Lorraine and I would be let in on the news together. As I read it quickly became obvious that I had been accepted for employment with the Sheriff’s Office and would be attending an upcoming training for a group of part-time correctional staff. In that moment I could not have known the transformation that would occur in my community or within myself, over the next 25 years. My journey had begun.