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Copyright 2023 © by Jim Potter
When a friend invited me to be a speaker at an upcoming AMBUCS (American Business Clubs) meeting, he suggested I talk about my law enforcement career. I preferred to talk about my writing. We agreed that I’d discuss my transition from being a deputy sheriff to a published author and how writing offense reports was instrumental in my literary productivity.
It’s vital for speakers to know their audience. If I was presenting at an author’s club meeting, I could talk all day about my writing process, but the AMBUCS social meeting wasn’t a writer’s group or a book club.
I had 25 minutes to entertain an audience that didn’t assemble prior to sunrise every Friday just to hear a sales pitch. By the time I was introduced, they would have barely finished swallowing their ham and eggs.
As I considered my presentation, I knew I had to narrow my topic from a 33-year career as a deputy sheriff (1981-2014) and my 20-years of serious writing.
I started with a question. “When you were a child, were you ever asked,” ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’”
Unlike some of my young friends, I never had an answer.
I told the AMBUCS that it was interesting for me to look back at my past and connect the dots that made me who and what I am today.
During my deputy sheriff’s career, children would ask me, “Did you always know you wanted to be a police officer?” Later, as a published author, people inquired, “Did you always want to be a writer?” My answer was “no” to both questions.
During my childhood, my favorite TV shows were westerns, especially, “The Lone Ranger” (1949-1957). This show began a theme of mine carried on throughout my life: help protect people who were being bullied, victimized, and traumatized. Eventually, becoming a VISTA volunteer, teaching at schools located in and out of prison, and working as a deputy sheriff and school resource officer, allowed me, in my own way, the opportunity to assist others.
Another favorite Saturday program of mine staring a super hero, was “Superman” (1952-1958). I never jumped off tall buildings or changed my clothes in a telephone booth, but the slogan of “fighting for truth, justice, and the American way,” influenced my law enforcement career choice. So did my father, Harold (“Hal”) Potter, a World War II veteran.
The spark that eventually led me to law enforcement was a part-time job I had while in college. I worked security in a large grocery store, catching shoplifters looking for five-finger discounts. For me, snaring culprits was exciting, rewarding, and addictive.
The biggest influence on my writing was college, especially graduate school and writing my thesis.
But every shift working as a deputy sheriff required me to interview people, research, and write reports. Unlike most writers, my daily output of accident and offense reports, had a hard deadline. I couldn’t go home until the paperwork was completed.
In my AMBUCS talk, I compared the early 1980s of law enforcement to the 2020s. When I left for work and said goodbye to Alex, my wife, I promised, “I’ll see you when I get home.” Those were the days before cell phones, so a telephone call to her to explain how an emergency was extending my work shift, wasn’t possible.
- Our patrol cars had a police radio, but the reception was poor to non-existent. Sometimes, we made traffic stops without being able to communicate with emergency dispatch.
- We worked prior to the 911 system being established in our county in 1985.
- We handcuffed prisoners and seat-belted them in the back seat, trying to keep an eye on them in our rearview mirror during our trip to jail. But there were no safe cages installed to help prevent assault or injury from arrestees during transport.
- Unlike today, domestic violence calls were typically a long-form report sent to the county attorney. A DV arrest at the scene was rare.
Law enforcement taught me the importance of careful observation, and it helped me to become a better writer. It also taught me about death. I worked one too many suicides and learned the monumental difference between working a fatality wreck where someone we didn’t know had died prior to our arrival vs. working a wreck where a person “expired” while we were attempting to help save his or her life. At least I have memories of saving lives, not just losing them.
After seven years of working the road, I felt like I could write a book about stress and anxiety, but I was too overworked to lift a pencil. Instead, due to the creation of a school resource officer position, I became reinvigorated and even more productive. Working in the schools with children, and focusing on education and prevention, was a breath of fresh air with no odors of death lingering on my clothes at the end of a work shift, requiring a long, hot, therapeutic shower.
My law enforcement career enabled me to write my police memoir, Cop in the Classroom: Lessons I’ve Learned, Tales I’ve Told. Most of the chapter titles were provided by my students when they asked me questions.
- “Have you ever shot someone?”
- “Have you ever arrested a drunk driver?”
- “Have you ever watched someone die?”
- “What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you while working?”
- “Do you know my dad, he’s in jail?”
With five minutes remaining in my presentation, I recalled writing my novel, Taking Back the Bullet: Trajectories of Self Discovery. I explained that it was the book I was always looking for in the library but couldn’t find, so I wrote it. I shared with the AMBUCS that for the bank robbery scene I did a lot of research. While on duty, in uniform, every time I made a business transaction at my brick-and-mortar bank, I was plotting a shoot-out at their business. If the bank tellers would have ever imagined what I was thinking, they might have locked the door or called 911.
As my presentation wound down, I showed off the cover of my latest published book, a novella, titled Deputy Jennings Meets the Amish. I shared its synopsis and explained that my marketing included advertising in a weekly Plain People newspaper servicing Amish and Mennonite subscribers.
Then, in conclusion, I told the still attentive audience about my next book, one geared for smart middle school readers. I introduced them to K-9 Kudzu, a German shepherd police dog, who is the narrator in K-9 Kudzu’s Guide to Law Enforcement: Observations of a Working Dog Who Loves to Play. I teased that the color-illustrated book would be available to purchase this summer.
I answered a few questions before the meeting closed, but the best comment I heard was while a retired funeral director was purchasing my novella.
He told me that his long career as a mortician may have never occurred if not for a classmate of his dying at age six. Attending the funeral gave direction to his life. He found a career helping people cope with death, not avoiding it.
Until next time, happy writing,
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Marilyn O'Neil Bolton says
Interesting program for the AMBUCS and for the readers! You’ve had a fascinating career, and your current life as a writer just continues with your background in a new way.
Jim Potter says
Marilyn, thanks for your comment. Yes, my career gives me something to write about. Maybe that explains why a cop keeps showing up in my literary work.