Values instilled in the lobby of the county jail
As I walked through the front doors, I walked past a young man with short blonde hair and a glowing smile strumming a guitar and singing. He nodded and I walked on through to the lobby of the Whitley County jail.
There, I encountered several things going on simultaneously as I approached the information desk in search of the person I came to interview for a story.
Here and there, I saw neatly dressed men carrying Bibles and talking in hushed voices. They didn’t seem anxious, but calm as they waited in the lobby. They walked here and there, greeting each other. I later learned it was church night at the jail, with each clergy member awaiting their chance to reach out to those in the jail population with God’s word.
Everything experienced thus far in my visit was unexpected. As I got further into the lobby, however, I encountered a situation I’ll never forget.
A woman sat exasperated in a chair and several seats away, sat an equally frustrated-looking man. It was the last two people I saw that really caught my attention, however.
Seated with a chair between them was a Sheriff’s deputy in his brown uniform and a curly haired boy.
About five or six years-old, the little boy with a cherub’s face and a hint of mischief behind his dark, sparkling eyes, sat talking to the deputy. He told him he’d never steal again, he wouldn’t be naughty again and he’d try to be a good boy.
The deputy, strictly, yet compassionately talked with the boy for some time about the virtues of leading life on the straight and narrow. He was down on the boy’s level and spoke with his heart, the voice of a father, a community leader and an adult who cares all wrapped into one.
As the boy talked, his eyes darted around the room, examining the pictures on the walls and the people nearby. Sensing he was, perhaps, not reaching the boy entirely with his message, the deputy then spoke to the boy about the importance of looking someone in the eye when you’re talking to them. It was as though this boy had never heard that before, and truly, he might not have. Some of the lessons parents took the time to instill in children years ago about respect, right and wrong, honesty and doing the right things might not be taught in all households today, after all. So, it was moving that in his voice and position of authority, a local Sheriff’s deputy took the time and the opportunity, to teach those lessons tonight to that little boy. In a lot of ways, I felt the deputy was doing something he shouldn’t have had to do – was it not the parent’s role to educate their child? Yet if they were so exasperated and frustrated with the child at the age of five or six, perhaps it was good they brought him to someone with the care and compassion to teach the boy what they could not. He didn’t have to do what he did. As a member of this community, though, I’m grateful to that deputy for taking the time to pass knowledge on to that child; as they say, it takes a community to raise a child. Isn’t it wonderful that he wasn’t too busy to get involved in this situation and to say the things that needed to be said. I wanted to thank him personally, but the timing was wrong. I wonder if the boy will think of the deputy as he’s growing up? I wonder if, as a teen talking with an older adult, he’ll look that person in the eye and remember what the deputy told him?
As serious and heavy as all that was, I nearly cracked a smile watching this unfold from a corner in the jail lobby as I waited for my interview. I was so moved by this situation and that I had been given the gift of observing it. At the end of his conversation with the deputy, the little boy looked up in my direction, though I don’t know if he was looking at me, and held his finger and thumb about a centimeter apart and said, “I was about this close to going to jail tonight!”
Perhaps what that deputy said will keep that boy out of jail – tonight and for the rest of his life. Perhaps tonight will be the foundation for a just life. Perhaps that boy, years from now, will reflect on the wisdom of the young deputy and reach out to another young child in need of guidance.