I’ve been approved for a new role in the community, volunteer chaplain for the Sheriff’s department. The phone rang last week to see if I could assist with a death notification. What a way to start! A female inmate was in custody when the coroner called with news that her mother had died. They were not sure how she would react to the news, so I guess they call the clergy.
I said I would love to come. OK, I fibbed a little bit. I wasn’t too excited, but I was willing. When? Now. On my way. I guess.
I’ve never been in jail before (there’s a news flash, right?). A young and very kind black woman walked me through what was going to happen. She was clearly in charge. Someone eventually brought the woman into a holding cell (I guess that’s what you’d call it). The deputy delivered the bad news and the initial reaction was loud, of course. After a few minutes, they left me to talk with her for as long as I thought was needed. No pressure to rush.
We talked for maybe 15-20 minutes. Emotions rolled in and out like the waves in Redondo. She clutched her Kleenex – a well-worn small roll of toilet paper. I think mom was homeless, as was this inmate. I suppose she hadn’t made good choices and now she felt alone. All alone. Mom was gone.
When we finished talking, I made my way across the hall to the waiting officers. I started a bit of a chat with the deputy in charge. It was a fascinating conversation. Brief, but memorable. She shared that on a day like this our humanity is most important. Being a member of the human family was most important on this difficult day. And then she made a comment which struck me hard. I wish I could remember exactly how the words came together, but the gist of it was something like this: When the sheriffs put humanity first, no one pays attention. They all get a bad rap most of the time, but they are simply humans trying to help us all get through life.
It was a sentence drenched with emotion. These deputies are trying to do their best and love people and serve the community, but they never get much credit. And sometimes, to be honest, it is just hard. Very hard on them. And on days like that one, they will do anything to relieve human heartache. I ached for her, most of all.
It is difficult to work in law enforcement these days. We don’t appreciate them enough. We don’t thank them enough. And yes, there are some bad ones out there. But in case you haven’t noticed, there are some bad preachers and lawyers and doctors and engineers out there too.
I left with a heavy heart for that young sheriff. She’s got a tough job, and I’m not sure there was much I could do to lighten the load. But I will pray. And I will appreciate those who serve to keep order in the community.