Monday, July 25, 2011

My Life with the Police, the Feds, and Jail

Text (c) Robert Barry Francos, 2011
Images from the Internet

Since moving to Saskatoon in 2009, I have been asked for security checks in order to live and work here. So briefly, here are my experiences with the law through my life.

When I was in grade school, I used to love going on field trips, not only to get out of class, but to explore the world. Even then I was curious. Some of the memorable ones include a 6th grade trip to the then-relatively-new Lincoln Center. My teacher, Mrs. Lowenberger, was an major opera fan and supporter and knew the community at large in that field. She managed a backstage tour of the opera house. In an earlier grade, we went to the Pepsi Bottling Plant (20th Street, Brooklyn; right off the East River) to see how the soda is made (in today’s fit-conscious society, I wonder if that would happen now, and I’m not sure if that is good or bad). We were given 7 oz bottles right off the machine that fills them, and we scarfed them down. They were very warm, and mine came right up again.

Even before then, the class was taken to Bauer’s Bakery (RIP), on 18th Avenue and 82 Street, in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, which made rolls, bagels and bialys for the local grocery stores (including my local one, then run by Holocaust survivors; it was the first time I saw the number tattoos). We were given fresh rolls literally right out of the oven. Tasty, but we all burned our little fingers. The bakers thought this was very funny, and apparently this was a common practice for them on class visitations. In retrospect, this is not surprising as my scout master, a major bully and sadist, was a bagel baker.

However, one of my most memorable trips was to the 62 Precinct House (Bath Avenue, a block off 19 Avenue), our local cop shop. This was exciting, getting to see a real police station. One of the things we learned right off was that it was not called the “sixty-second,” it was the “six-two.” We met the desk sergeant, the station chief, and then they took us up to see the holding cells (what we kids really were hoping for) which were empty at that time, and often were in the early ‘60s. Back then, it was a mostly Jewish-Italian working class neighborhood, where everyone watched out for each other, and the local mafia kept things running smoothly (this is not an endorsement, just the truth) and pretty much crime-free (other than the occasional body in a truck kind of thing).

We were invited to look at the stark cells, which I was the first to do, being the shortest boy, and then one of the kids in the class slammed the heavy metal barred door behind me. It locked immediately on its own, and I was trapped in the cell. The officers who were showing us around thought this situation tremendously amusing, and were feigning that they could not find the keys. Needless to say, I stated bawling. No, I didn’t think I had done anything wrong or would be stuck forever, but I was thinking in my 7 year old brain that if my parents had to come to pick me up in jail, they would think I had done something terrible. After what felt like a very long time, though it was probably no more than 10 minutes, they let me out. I don’t remember much else of the visit. So if people ask me if I was ever locked in jail, I can honestly say the affirmative. A pure example of something being “true but not accurate.” It made me skeptical, even to today, of news reports that claim they are “objective” (I’m talking especially to you, Fox News and Sun News).

After graduating from high school, I worked for eight months at a major corporation at 99 Church Street (a couple of blocks north from the WTC). It was my first real job, in their mailroom. I knew it was just for a few months, until I started college, but gave it the detail it deserved (as I always do in a job). The last month I was there (before they knew it was), the management gave me another duty: I was to carry funds from the company to the corporate bank, about a half mile away in the Wall Street district. Taking a lie detector test and signing some papers, I was officially bonded to do so. The first day out, while I was waiting for the okay, I counted what I was about to carry. In cash and cashable bonds, it was $1.3 million. That is not a misprint, and that’s in early 1970s dollars, remember. So, there I was, all 110 lbs of me, carrying just about that much cash (give or take a few hundred thou) every day, rain or shine, to the bank just before 3 PM. Did I think about taking it and running? Yeah, but not realistically. It was totally “If I had this, I would buy…” kind of fantasy, but the thought of actually doing it? No, not at all. However, what concerned me the most was that I would get robbed, and then the company would think that I was in on it. I was terrified each one of those walks, and for $90 a week gross (a good pay then for my level), the anxiety was not worth it. Luckily it was soon September, and I resigned to go back to school. However, I was happy to have been bonded.

Much later, a few years after Y2K, I started working for a media promotion and production company. A newbie on the job, I was still in the process of getting up to speed, when I heard a quandary that was going through the office. Apparently, they were going to promote the yet-unreleased new $10 bill, and had to find a way to get the image to their office in Washington, DC. It was way too sensitive to trust to either the express mail service (not always reliable) or messenger (strangers). Without a second thought, I proposed, “Well, I have a car; why don’t I just drive it there?” This impressed my supervisors (though it didn’t really seem that big a deal to me, just the right thing to do). For the next week or so, I had to fill out forms and get an identity check with the FBI to be cleared to make the trip. Of course, I passed. Really, I did not think my being locked in a jail cell for 10 minutes at 8 years old would come to much with the FBI. Hell, I didn’t even bring it up.

I drove my car into work that day in midtown, and parked it in a pay garage. Around noon, I was given a company cell phone and the package, and set out on my way. If I remember correctly, someone from the office came with me to pick up the car, just in case. And I was off, with my Google Maps printout and a full tank of gas to make the 5 hour or so trip to DC. The only time I stopped along the way was to answer the cell (luckily, it rang just as I was about to pass a rest stop along the NJ Turnpike so I could pull in), to answer the question “Where are you now?”

Rush hour traffic in DC was horrendous, and I had a 5:30 deadline to get to Avenue K. The directions on the printout were pretty vague and worthless because it didn’t take into account all the construction, so I got lost pretty fast. I managed to arrive at where I was supposed to be at 5:45. Parking illegally outside the building, I phone up to the office and told my contact I was downstairs. He came down 10 minutes later (so much for the deadline), and happily took the package (I asked to see some ID first, even though he knew my name, which he found amusing; last thing I needed was heat from the federal level of enforcement). Then I headed north (no, I did not stop at the 9:30 Club, though I was tempted), arriving home at 11 PM.

For my service, along with getting some nice intra-company cred, was money per mile (in both directions), overtime until I arrived home, and reimbursement for both gas and parking. And I got to listen to my tunes all the way. It was a nice way to spend a day at work.

When I moved to Canada in 2009, I had to go through a fingerprint search. Paying a fee, the Saskatoon police inked my fingers onto a form, signed it, and I sent it off to Virginia to the FBI. I wasn’t worry about it. I’d been bonded twice, once by the FBI, and had never been arrested. A few months (!?!) later, I get a letter from the FBI stating that my prints were unreadable (apparently, the older you get, the more your prints fade), and had to be redone. They suggested I put Vaseline on my fingers the night before, and wear gloves to bed, to plump them up, and have them redone; all payment for reprints was on me. Thanks…

I showed up at the police station again, and showed them the letter. They were both amused and annoyed at it, but they took them again (after I removed the gloves, of course) and they didn’t charge me for the second time (thank you!). Again, a few months later, I received the official notice that I was free and clear. I sent the info into Canadian Customs and Immigration, and now I’m waiting to hear back from them.

I did get my permission to work, though (a work permit), and have been looking for a job. A job had been offered conditionally, and all I would need was a police check (for which they would pay). Hey, no problem, I had been cleared by the FBI just a few months earlier!

My local police search came out clear, and then I was told by the police that I needed to have my fingerprints taken, even though I had done it for the FBI recently. Apparently, this time the prints were clear and defined. Great! “We’ll have the results back from Ottawa in 2 to 6 months,” they informed me. Whaaaaaaat?

I went back to the office and told them what they said about how long the prints would take to process, and they rescinded the job offer because they could not wait that long to fill the position. I’ve keep my record clean and still I’m waiting. To be honest, I don’t blame the company because I’m an unknown who has lived here for merely two years. As for the prints, as someone said to me, “Doesn’t the government have digital? They should have the results within the week.”

Who knows? Perhaps I should have had the police check done earlier on my own, but I didn’t even think of it after the FBI clearance. But once I finally get it, I won’t have to worry about it again. And I’ll keep searching for work.

Am I sorry for keeping my nose (and record) clean, considering this problem was no fault of my own? No, keeping on the good side of the law was the right thing to do, and I would do it again. Just wish I had that job, as it was something I really wanted.

But, as I tell a loved one often, “Life goes on…”

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