I went directly from high school graduation straight to jail! At the time I started dispatching, I was two months into being 18 years old and ‘green as a gourd’ in the sense of worldly knowledge. That soon changed! With that job, I would soon have an extended family of coworkers that treated me as family and I believe looked out for my ignorant butt on the way to becoming an adult. I didn’t realize how sheltered I really was.
The responsibility and seriousness of the job laid the foundation for my train of thought to this day. Life101 was taught everyday in abundance.
Thinking quick on your feet was a necessity, thank God I was able to do it. As of this writing, dispatching was and is my favorite job that I’ve ever had. It was also the hardest, but in a good way. There is something in that line of work and the people you work with that never leaves you. It is a ‘take care of your own’ line of work.
I went about learning dispatching the way I do everything, “by the seat of my pants”. To really appreciate what I want to share, let me describe the ‘Office’ to you.
It was the summer of 1986, before Caller ID and any type of computer system on site. Although I did learn to use a walkie as if I’d always used one. Most of the time we were like a restaurant, we had our usuals. On the white board to the left of the doorway was a list of the current occupants. To the right hung the keys to ‘lockdown’.
The 10 codes poster took up much of the wall to my immediate right. There was an electric typewriter and the Inter-City radio that was used for county to county communications. The Desk was actually a wrap around counter for easy access to different equipment and log books that were routinely used.
In front of me was a telephone that had a long cord and three lines, a log book and complaint cards for logging each call as needed. The main radio we used was positioned in the corner with the desktop mic in front of it.
I’ve lived in Humphreys county all of my life, but there were hills and hollers I’d never heard of. Landmarks like a place where a tree or a house USED to be, or “….you remember that time we had a call there by the….well turn left right there.”, were important in day to day and night to night communication.
2300 – 0700
I worked the most with Vernon. He was a mess. One midnight shift in particular scared the shit outta me! A call came in around 0130 and I heard, “….there’s a bomb inside the jail, at 3:00 it will go off!” I called Vernon at the Pilot and told him about the call. He just laughed…..HARD!
I watched the time ease painfully by and there I sat, waiting to be blown up. I thought if I’m gonna die, I’m not dying hungry. A bologna sandwich and a glass of sweet tea is every rednecks dying meal.
It never dawned on me to EXIT the building! God, I was dumb….and 18!…..Did I mention I was 18?!
When Vernon got back in the car he radioed, “….are you still with me?” In an instant I went from paralyzingly scared to pissed and said, “GIVE ME A SIGNAL SIX!”
We played countless card games, told dirty (and I do mean dirty) jokes, shot the shit and whatever else could be talked about at 3 and 4 in the morning. Looking back I think he was looking out for me.
As serious and dangerous as an officers job is, there were plenty of laughs and good times.
Vernon meant the world to me. He was like me, terrified of snakes. Why all people are not afraid of snakes I do not know.
As a creature of habit around 0300, he would take a break and swing by the jail. In that hour of a midnight shift you’re either wide awake going wide open or dead still smoking cigarettes, drinking BLACK coffee to fight the lull that comes at that hour of your shift with nothing going on. One night after the bomb had failed to go off I decided it was payback time. As I heard the patrol car ease to a stop and the engine go quiet, I waited for the slam of the car door. I had eased the long, coiled phone cord out of the phone and was ready. As he walked in, I reached under the desk to open the security gate when he crossed the doorway, with his back to me, I flung that phone cord at his neck and it hit him perfectly and wrapped its way around to his chin. I hollered, SNAKE VERNON SNAKE!!!”
I’ve never seen a sleepy deputy wake up so fast! I think he forgot he had to pee!
I made friendships with some of the best people during that time that have remained to this day.
The “Office” has been changed. Dispatch now comes from one location with what looks like enough buttons and lights to electrify half of our small town.
The things you never expect to stay with you are the very ones that will. What a wonderful learning experience this was and still is. And God bless the ones I worked with. They must’ve had the patience of Job.