There was a time when I was working in the Field Training Program, where I would dress up as a homeless, mentally ill person and the new officers would interact with me as part of scenario testing. Our goals were for the officers to interact with me compassionately, yet safely (press my buttons, offend me or belittle me-I might stab you), and then identify a resolution for the disruption I was causing, preferably by providing me with the resources that were available to me (I would provide hints, such as mentioning some military service, to see if they realized that I might be eligible for VA benefits, or talking about being taken out of school due to a disability, to see if they recognized someone who might be on Social Security Insurance). These were the best results, but depending on my responses to their actions, I might get arrested for under the influence of drugs or sent to the hospital for a medical problem, or if I expressed an intent to hurt myself or others, to Emergency Psychiatric Services. I enjoyed doing this and felt that it was a worthwhile function, as I always had an excellent rapport with the local mentally ill. Some officers even told me that it was like I spoke their language. Most of the time, they were not being complimentary when they told me that.
On one particular evening shift, we had a trainee officer on duty who had not gone through this scenario, so the training officer asked if we could do it quickly, during shift, when things got slow. I agreed and got all dressed up in my homeless, mentally ill clothes, and sat in my office, doing paperwork until they called me. When the officers were ready, I walked out into the campus and found them and went to work with my scenario. The officer managed my issue well, treated me with the same respect that I hoped he gave to the real, mentally ill homeless, and completed his scenario with a passing score. However, while I was in the middle of my critique of his handling the issue, a call came in and the officers had to go. So I decided to just take a walk around campus. I had my radio, gun, badge and ID hidden beneath my bulky clothing, so I didn’t think anything bad would happen. And I started walking.
Less than five minutes later, a mentally ill, homeless man, named Charlie Huff found me. Now, I had contacted Charlie many times and had alternately taken him to either jail or the hospital due to his (ironically) habit of breathing in carburetor cleaning spray, a thing we call Huffing, to get high. Unfortunately, it makes you high by killing off brain cells, like alcohol, only much more effectively.
Charlie came right up to me. “Hey, you’re new around here. Let me give you the tour.”
He then began walking me around the campus, speaking in the slur of those brain damaged by chemicals. “Here’s the church. Grace Baptist. They have programs here during the day where you can get services and counseling if you need it.”
He pointed at the University Police Emergency Blue Light Telephones that we had littered about the campus. “Those call the University Police directly. If someone is picking on you or hurting you, grab the phone, you don’t have to dial anything. And the University Police are nice. They look out for you.”
I almost cried.
He showed me places around the campus where I might find people who would give me food during the day, or if you caught them at the right time behind the Student Union, food that was about to be thrown out. He explained that the library on campus was open for non-students, if you needed to research anything (I was surprised he knew this or that he might even be doing research. We had never received a call of him in the library, to my knowledge).
Finally, we ended up near my office, but closer to the 7-Eleven across the street. He reach into his clothes and produced a handful of grubby coins. “Let me see if I have enough to buy you coffee,” he said, counting out his nickels, dimes, and pennies.
“I have some money,” I told him. “I think I have enough to buy us some food, too.”
We went to 7-Eleven and I purchased him a coffee, two sandwiches, and a bag of cookies. And then we went our separate ways for the evening. I contacted Charlie many times again after that night and sometimes I had to take him to jail and sometimes I had to take him to the hospital. But I never forgot that he was part of the community that I served and I never forgot the night he was my good Samaritan.