A Reader Writes By Jim Shinn: The Christmas cop

December 23, 2001

He sat in his police car, looking at the new Christmas lights recently put up in the "hood." He knew many of the families had serious financial problems but it did not stop them from lighting up their lives, if only for a few weeks.

He smiled to himself. This was his favorite time of year. He did not relish that it was his job to ruin a "family" Christmas from time to time. He accepted the truth that drugs, alcohol and violence were a part of too many people's lives and it often got worse around the holidays

Although he sympathized with families, he had a job to do; he was just another consequence to a lifestyle too many parents would choose. Again this year, he would have to arrest "Santa" or "Ms. Claus" because of their behavior.

That thought took him back to his junior high years, to the best Christmas ever. That fateful season, or "faithful" as he now refers to it, started much like other yuletides of his youth. His dad was in prison for drugs.


Past years there had been chaos and broken promises around this time of year and he actually had gotten to the point where he hated Christmas because he couldn't remember it ever being "merry."

When he entered adolescence he was pretty angry about some of the conflict he had witnessed as a child. He didn't look forward to the holidays because often things got worse with all the partying.

There never seemed to be enough money for the family needs. He didn't like being envious of the other students upon return to school in January, but it was just how he felt. It was like a thirst. He had gone without so many times he couldn't help wanting what others had.

He was especially bitter this year. He had worked hard to make the basketball team and he desperately wanted some new Nike shoes. Again his father had promised this year would be different. He wasn't just angry with his dad but the police officers who took him away. It was a couple weeks before Christmas and his dad had received a "third strike" and wouldn't be home for a long, long time.

He had so much anger, but his pillow was the only place he could put it. There were even nights he wanted to die in his sleep, just not wake up and maybe the pain would stop.

He knew this Christmas was going to be the worst. Not only had his father spent rent money on drugs, his mother had lost her part-time job. Dismal summed up the current chaos of Christmas.

As he lay in his bed, again unable to sleep, there were no sugarplums dancing in his head. Fear, loathing and minutes passed as he tried to extract the image of his father's arrest from his head.

Filled with frustration, he

cried out to God, "I don't care about the damn shoes! Just help my mom get through Christmas without crying so much. Just a little something for my little brothers! I don't think I can take another Christmas seeing her sad, swollen eyes every day of the vacation."

It was a little late in the evening two days before Christmas. He was watching TV with his mother and younger sisters. There was a knock at the door. Being the man of the house, he went to the door. Standing before him in plain clothes was a Latino man, one of the police officers who had arrested his dad.

He felt the anger burn just beneath the surface as the

uninvited intruder asked for his mother. When she went to the door, he went and slumped back down in front of the TV. He could hear whispers and then he

heard the men's footsteps retreating to the street. He was surprised when he heard them return, and he looked over from the broken recliner.

What he saw amazed him! The officer, with the help of a women, had brought several wrapped gifts, and three large grocery bags, one with a turkey protruding from the top.

What amazed him more than the presents was the utter look of joy on his mother's face. Mom invited them in for coffee and as they sipped, the gifted guests asked to do a little Bible reading from Luke, Chapter 2. Afterward they briefly prayed for his family and were gone into the night.

He was shocked to see the joy in his mother's face. Although they had never gone to church as a family, he saw her look up toward the ceiling and mouth "Thank You!"

His mom permanently changed after that night and started taking the kids to church. Even though they still had serious financial problems, she had a happiness he could not understand, until he prayed the same prayer two weeks later.

His father finally returned to the family 10 years later, a changed man as well. He too, had come to know Jesus as the "reason for the season." It

was 15 years later, that the cop sitting in his car, listening to 100.1 FM, realized that his own family had been changed by the Angel Tree Ministry.

He had since become an avid volunteer. He smiled to himself as he thought of all the families he had helped during recent Christmas seasons. As he looked at the lights, he was again reminded of why Christmas was his favorite time of the year.

>> El Centro resident Jim Shinn is a counselor at De Anza Junior High in Calexico.

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