Friday, December 28, 2007

Karma Police

A true story...

Amy S. walked into the lobby of the police department, sobbing and moaning like a wounded animal. Her tear-stained face was red and swollen; her hair completely disheveled. She reeked of cigarettes and sadness.

It was the day after Christmas and her two young kids just that morning had been taken away by child services. She lost her job months ago, which caused her to get evicted from her apartment and subsequently categorized as an unfit mother by the local government.

Amy S. had nowhere to go, nobody close to cry to, nobody to hug her. After ringing a bell on the counter, she just sat on the short leather seat in front of the criminal evidence window, waiting for someone to help her.

The police department lobby, quieter and gloomier than usual, was empty except for me and Amy, her presence on the leather seat emphasized by the occasional sniffling and moaning coming from her direction.

Amy was hunched over, her shoulders bobbing up and down as she tried to contain her sobs. For an instant, I wanted very badly to just hug this poor stranger. But I didn't.

Suddenly a stout man with a blank expression came to the window and asked "May I help you?"

Amy stood up abruptly, and told the man the story about her kids, about how she had no one, about how it was the worst Christmas she'd ever had, and how the local Samaritan center wouldn't let her in without identification.

The man in the window stared at her and said nothing.

Amy asked him what time it was.

"4:15," he said.

"I have until 5 to get my ID, or at least a copy of it, so I can bring it to the shelter," she said, between sob-induced gasps. "I got a letter in the mail a few weeks ago that said you guys have my ID. David F. had it on him when you guys arrested him."

The man told Amy to wait while he went into the back room to locate her ID card. At 4:28, he returned and told Amy that there was no record of them ever having it.

"Sorry ma'am," he said. "Do you have a copy of the letter with you?"

"No," Amy replied, still crying. "Please, I have no one. You have to have it. I just need a copy of it. Please... I have no one."

"Are you sure David F. had your ID when he was arrested?" the man asked.

"I'm positive," she replied.

"I'm sorry ma'am. We don't have your ID. I suggest you go to the DMV next door and see if they can issue you a new one."

Amy sobbed even louder. She took one last look at the man and hurried out of the lobby, mumbling "I have no one, I have no one, I want my children" under her breath. Then, she was gone.

Out of curiosity, I walked up to the man at the counter, who knew me from my weekly visits to the police department to catalog local crimes for the newspaper, and asked him what David F. was arrested for.

"He was arrested for selling methamphetamines," he told me.

"And you really don't have record of sending her that letter?" I asked.

"No," he said. "This is the third day in a row she's come in."


"She got out of jail on Sunday and was there for drug offenses," he said, with a tone of amusement. "Her kids have been in government custody for months. I think David F. was her boyfriend, but he's not at this facility anymore."

"So do you think she really needs her ID?"

"I don't know."

"What if she keeps coming back?"

"She'll stop soon enough," he replied.

After that little incident, I wondered if Amy would be back the next day. I wondered if her "drug offenses" really were bad enough to warrant her misfortune.

I felt bad for her, but also angry that she made stupid decisions, causing her to go to jail and leave her children. Or maybe it was just the feeling of the holidays, making me more emotional and empathetic than usual.

But then I realized that on top of everything, it really didn't matter what I felt.
It all narrowed down to one over-dramatic, cliche version of the story... one that supports the idea that karma really is a bitch, and this time police really were involved.

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