|Protecting Ourselves...and Our Children|
|By Bryan Avila, TDCJ Correctional Training Instructor - Sergeant of Correctional Officers|
I’m heading to my local grocery store. As I pull into the parking space, I see something that catches my eye. It is such a beautiful sight that I can’t stop staring as she gets out of the car. She is gorgeous. Her blond hair is blowing in the breeze, beautiful smile and laughing. I know that I must meet her. I can’t control myself. I have never felt like this before. She is perfect. She is God’s gift to me. She is 6 years old.
As we enter the grocery store, I keep watching her and just want to talk to her. Her mom may pose a little problem if I approach her but I’m patient. Up and down the isles we go. I keep my distance so I don’t stick out like a sore thumb. Then I see my chance. Mom is busy looking at the sales while my princess starts to make her way towards the cereal. I carefully approach her and call her by her name. At first she looks at me skeptically until I ask her how school is going and if she is enjoying her ballet lessons. I also ask how her brother is doing in football.
I CAN’T be a stranger since I know so much about her.
Before anyone notices, we are walking out the grocery store…
As children, we are told by our parents not to talk to strangers. We are told that there are bad people out there that want to hurt us. We are told not to tell strangers our names and to tell an adult if a stranger tries talking to us. In a small child’s mind, if you know my name you can’t possibly be a stranger. If you know mom’s name (or dad’s), you must be a friend of theirs so I shouldn’t worry.
There are many predators out there. A quick search of my state’s Department of Public Safety’s website showed that there are 132 registered sex offenders within a 3 mile radius and 22 within 1 mile of where I live. There is one the next street over. Would I do anything to protect my daughter from them? You bet I will.
Now, question: How many people out there will go and say to a sex offender “Good morning, this is my daughter Jane and she is in your target range?” Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Well the fact is that it is not. The scenario played out at the beginning is not farfetched in any way. Subconsciously we give the predators all the information that they need. Some of you readers are either doing it, or have close family members that are doing it. Trying to figure out how we TELL them? Vehicle decals and bumper stickers.
We have all seen them: the family stick figure portrait on the back window. Mom, Dad, kiddos and pets along with the names underneath. How about those activity decals (football, lacrosse, hockey, ballet, dance, etc) with your child’s name under it. “Proud parent of a ‘insert school name here’ Honor Roll student.
Get the picture? As parents we are very proud of our children and their accomplishments. We love to brag about them. We tell our friends and family about their latest feat. But we are also giving the predators this information that can be used against our own children. We are constantly putting out of information out there for everyone to see without a second thought.
What got me going on this subject? Well, let me tell ya. I had been talking about this same thing in a class one day when a person made a comment that was so ridiculously stupid that it sent me into a brief coma leaving me speechless. Once the initial “you gotta be kidding me, are you smoking crack???” shock wore off, I fought off the urge to knock some common sense into him and moved on.
On my way home I had been thinking about this entire conversation and how flabbergasted I was over it. Well, I had to stop and get gas and at the pump next to me was an SUV, with the decals on the rear window, kids in the back (little boy and young girl) and mom is working the pump. Any other day I would have not even paid too much attention to it but that day the temptation was just too much.
I looked over at the woman, smiled and politely asked how she was doing. She smiled and replied. I’m in uniform so she wasn’t freaked out…yet. I then asked, by name how the kids liked their football and ballet. Now I could see the panic starting to set in. Before she could get into panic mode, I pointed out the decals on the back of her car and how potential predators could get the same information (I NEVER would have tried this while out of uniform since it would be the fastest way to get the cops called on me).
As we spoke for a few minutes, she said that she had never thought about it in that manner and truly thanked me for making her see it from a different angle. I told her that I have children myself and being proud of them is what we do as parents as well as protecting them. We parted ways and I drove off into the sunset (literally, it was just that time of day and I have to drive West to get home…).
At work we may be a little more reserved on what we say, but not always. As correctional officers, we must always maintain correctional awareness. What we say, where we say it and who we say it to must always be in the foreground of our thought process when carrying on conversations at work.
Offenders have all day long to watch us. They know what vehicle we drive. They look out windows. Some agencies have offenders that work outside doing all the landscaping in the front of the facility. Offenders talk and pass information amongst each other. Those janitors that we see day in and day out cleaning offices, hallways, etc are supposed to be there working therefore they become a fixture in that area. They have the cleanest 3 foot section around (whether it’s the wall or floor) because WE are talking and they are listening to our conversation. We have invited them into our private lives. They become a fly on the wall for us and we forget that they are there sometimes. They know almost everything about us because WE have told them.
Editor's note: Corrections.com author Bryan Avila started working as a Police Officer in 1994 while attending Norwich University in Northfield, VT. In 1999 he began working for the Vermont Dept of Corrections while still working as a Part-Time Police Officer. In 2007 he left public service until 2009 when he began working for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He is currently a Correctional Training Instructor- Sergeant of Correctional Officers, at the TDCJ Region I Training Academy located in Huntsville, TX.
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