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The Day That Changed My Life

Walking into the 7-11, I headed for the beer cooler. Glancing towards the cash register, I could see the clerk waiting on two customers. “Perfect.” I opened the cooler door and grabbed two six packs of Stroh’s beer. Before the clerk could even move, I was out the door and headed around back to the alley. Just my luck, there was a Detroit police car headed my way. It didn’t take a brain surgeon, let alone two cops, to figure out I had stolen beer.

I had no choice but to drop the beer and run. I had just been to Juvenile Court the week before on a shoplifting charge. With my juvenile record, I would spend time in juvenile hall. I hurdled a backyard fence and raced through the yard. My house was only two blocks away. There was no way those cops could get down the alley. Let alone see me cross the next street.

I jumped my neighbor’s fence into my backyard. Safe, I was home. I actually laughed.

Thinking to myself. “Those stupid cops are probably still driving around looking for me.”

Just as I grabbed the side screen door, I heard, “Well, well, if it isn’t Ricky Frahm.”

Standing by our corner shrub was my neighbor, Officer Dan Fields.

“Well now, Ricky, what took you so long to get home?”

He walked up to me along with his partner. “Is your mom home?”

“No, she is working at Murphy’s bar.”

“Ricky, I have one question for you? Why did you steal the beer from the 7-11?”

“What beer? I was over at my friend’s house all afternoon.”

“Really? Then I suppose it wasn’t you we saw running from the back of the 7-11. Nor you dropping them in the alley?”

“You two are mistaken. Like I said, I was at my friends all afternoon.”

With that, he slammed me up against the house and kicked my feet apart.

“Ricky, just once in your life, can’t you tell the truth?”

He frisked me and then put the handcuffs on. They walked me back to their car and put me in the backseat. I had run-ins with the cops since I was eleven. Most of them were dicks. They didn’t give a shit about why you did something. Maybe you had a reason. When I was fourteen, I got caught breaking into a house. My dad had just died from a heart attack. He didn’t have life insurance. My poor mom had to get a job. Between the costs for the funeral and other bills, she fell behind in the mortgage payments. The bank started sending warning letters. If she didn’t start sending them money, she was going to lose our house. So, I broke into a few houses to get some money. I lied to her. I told I was helping a friend’s dad at his auto repair shop. Telling the cops the real reason was a waste of time.

When we got to Detroit PD’s 5th Precinct. Fields and his partner took me straight to the Juvenile detective’s. Just my luck, I got Detective Pierce. Here was a guy with zero personality and a questionable IQ level. He processed me and put me in a holding room. He had to call my mother to come down to get me.

After almost two hours, I started banging on the door. What the hell was going on.

I saw Dan Fields walk up and unlock the door. “Rick, your mother will be here in an hour. Mind if I came in and talk?”

“No, if you are going to preach to me about good and bad. Forget it.”

“Don’t worry, I just want to talk with my neighbor.”

He came into the room, closed the door, and sat across from me.

“Rick, I have been your neighbor for two years. I have seen the way you play with the younger kids. Heck, my ten-year-old thinks the world of you. He says anytime the kids ask you to play street hockey or toss a football around with them, you do. With your dad passing away a few years ago. I understand you have taken over as the head of the house. Watching your brother and sister for your mom so she could work. Your mother told me you are straight “A” student. How you manage that with what you are into, is amazing.” When he first started speaking, I sort of listened. By the end, I heard every word. He had tried to speak to me several times before. This time I had to listen.

“Ricky, if I didn’t think you were worth helping. I would have gone home an hour ago. But I could not. This was my chance to talk to you. Every day I run into kids like you. They could have made a better life for themselves, but didn’t try. I am in charge of a program called “Police Explorers.” They are kids like yourself, age fourteen to eighteen, who want to learn about police work. See what it is like to be a police officer. Plus, they help at events directing parking and they also can ride with officers. I really want you to join.”

“I don’t know. Most cops are dicks.”

“This program will teach you it is just the opposite. Look, you don’t have to decide tonight. Just give it a thought.”

I looked out the door’s glass pane. There was Detective Price, with my mother at the door.

“Officer Fields, I will think about it.”

My mother did not say a word to me all the way home. She was pissed, but needed time to cool off. When we got home, she told me to go to bed.

I washed up and laid on my bed. What Officer Fields spoke about kept running through my head. I knew when I turned eighteen the next step was Jackson prison. I eventually drifted off to sleep.

The next morning before my mother could start on her usual lecture. I told her what Officer Fields had told me about the police explorer’s program. She finally had a reason to smile over something I said to her. Mom came over to me and hugged me so tight I thought she was going to break my ribs. I had put her through a living hell over the past two years. My mother was another reason I wanted to give this a try. We could not have a better mother. It was time I repay her for putting up with me. Besides, my brother and sister were getting older, and I did not want them to end up headed where I was going.

Walking over to Officer Fields’ home, I caught him just in time. He was leaving for work.

“I thought about what you said to me yesterday. If they will take me in as an explorer, I am interested.”

“Well, since I am in charge. I would say you are in. We meet tonight at 6pm at the 5th precinct. I will be in the lobby. Ricky, I am so glad you decided to join us. I will see you tonight.”

“See you.”

As I was walking home. I heard my buddy Tony yelling for me.

“Ricky my man. What were you doing talking to that cop?”

“Nothing important. Look, I am tired. I had a rough night. I am going back to bed. See you tomorrow.”

“Talk about a blow off. Fine, see you tomorrow.”

The truth was, I didn’t want to be around him or any of them.

A few minutes before five, I walked into the lobby of Detroit PDs 5th precinct. Officer Fields and about twelve kids were standing around talking. All of them were wearing uniforms like police officers, but had Explorer patches on the shoulders. My first reaction was to laugh. Really, uniforms? Well, I am here. Let’s see what it was all about.

Officer Fields brought all of us back to a training room. He introduced me to the group. He then had each one of them tell me their story. As I listened one after another told their story. What I was hearing could have been my story. Everyone of the twelve had been in trouble and served time in juvenile hall. Then it was my turn to speak. I thought for a minute before I spoke.

“Thank you, Officer Fields, for asking me to come here tonight. Hi, I am Ricky Frahm and my story is like the rest of yours. I have lied, stolen, cheated and even ran away. I hope tonight will be the night that changes my life.”

That night, a homicide detective spoke to us and showed pictures of victims. Many of them were kids our age, involved in narcotics. Seeing their faces and listening to how they died turned my stomach. When he was over, Officer Fields brought in a couple of pizzas and Pepsi's. We all sat around and just talked. Each one had something in common. Officer Fields convinced them to come and at least see what the program was about.

I started coming to all the meetings. Our group of inner-city kids grew from thirteen to fifty. All of us brought into the group by one man, Officer Dan Fields. Over the next two years. I got to know “Dan”. He was an extraordinary officer. I used to think all cops were dicks. I found being in the explorers that ninety-five percent of the officers were good men and women. Out there doing a thankless job, for little pay. I asked everyone of them I met or rode with. Why they want to be a cop? The universal answer was to help, to make a difference. Dan Fields was one of them.

The day I turned eighteen; Dan Fields came over with an application for the Detroit Police Department.

“Rick, it’s your time. We need young officers like you. A kid that had a rough life, a kid that knows what it is like on the street, a kid that has turned his life around. Rick, you are an example to all the kids in this precinct and the city of Detroit. What do you say?”

I could not fill out the application any quicker. A month later, I was in a hall with almost five hundred men and women taking the written exam. I passed with a high score. Went through an hour long oral board. Comprising four precinct commanders. Two weeks later, I received a letter of congratulations from the Chief of Police and a starting date for the sixteen week academy. The academy was mentally and physically demanding, but my time as a police explorer paid off. I finished tops in my class academically, physically, and firearms.

The graduation ceremony was a day I will never forget. My entire family was there to see me accept my badge. In fact, Dan Fields was there to pin my badge onto my uniform shirt. I was hoping to be assigned to the 5th Precinct, but was sent to the 8th Precinct on the city’s westside.

My first year was a probationary period. For the first six months, I rode with Field Training Officers. Once I passed that portion for the next six months, my shift lieutenant monitored for my performance. The day I received a letter from the chief notifying me, I was now a full member of the Detroit Police Department. Was during our pre-shift roll call. Our lieutenant had me stand as he read the letter. No sooner than he congratulated me, I was nailed by about fifty wads of paper. Not to mention a large amount of heckling!!

Being off probation gave me the opportunity to do some things in my beat I could not do before. I made it a point to get to know the people and for them to know me. My role model was, and still is today, Dan Fields. He made a difference to the people and kids in his beat. There were hundred, and I was just one example. I made it a point to talk with the kids on the corners or in the alleys. I spoke with the ministers, reverends, priests at the churches. Their help would be necessary for the families and kids I met. I spoke with business owners in my beat. Seeking their help with jobs. During those first few years. I met a girl that loved me enough to put up with the odd hours, crappy pay, and the constant worry I may never come home. Denise and I would eventually have three boys and two girls.

Over the course of my twenty-five years, they offered me transfers to the Detective Bureau or Narcotics. There were several chances to test for promotion. I passed on them all. I just could not leave the people in the 8th Precinct, much like Dan Fields, never left the 5th Precinct.

When I married, part of my vow was to retire when I reached my twenty-fifth year. Several close calls only reinforced my wife’s desire that I retire. That day finally arrived. My last day at work, my lieutenant told me at roll call there were only two things he wanted me to do that day. One, be safe. He already told dispatch I was not to get any calls. The second, he wanted me in the precinct at noon for a lunch.

That night, my wife had a retirement party planned in the social hall for St. Peter’s Catholic church. I asked that it not be a big deal. I am the type of person who does not like recognition. In fact, I tried my damndest over the years to avoid it. The things I did were just the right thing to do.

My wife, Denise, drove that night. Which was odd, since I did all the driving. Our children had already left for the party. Just before the church, Denise cut through an alley and pulled into the rear parking lot. When I asked why, she went that way. Typical for Denise. “Because I wanted to go that way.”

As we parked, I could see our children, my mother, brother and sister with their spouses all waiting. I had to deal with the hugs, kisses, and tears. I told my brother if I tear up, to squeeze my shoulder until it hurts. He had a strange smile on his face. I was positive he hoped I would cry.

Before Denise and I walked inside. I gave her a hug and kiss. “Sweetie, for over twenty years, you put up with me. What I will never know is how you did it.” Denise rolled her eyes. “Let’s get the show on the road.”

I did not save every kid or family, but I will tell you at my retirement party. I cried when I walked into the hall and heard people chanting my name. Looking around the room, I saw the smiling faces of some of the people I helped over the years.

Denise put her arm around me. “Honey, remember how you constantly asked me if you were making a difference. Just look around this room. Rick, they are all here because you made a difference in their lives.”

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