As a kid growing up in the hood, I got into my share of trouble along with other kids in the neighborhood.  I know it sounds cliche but a lot of them did actually end up either dead or in jail.

Lucky for me I had a father who lived at home.  A towering figure of a man with a military background that spanned over two decades, he ran somewhat of a tight ship.

Although he did not hesitate to put the smack down on any of us kids when we got out of line, most times a  yell from the living room into one of the back bedrooms, where we were being rambunctious, was all it took to get us to straighten up and fly right.

During my pre-teen years, growing up in the hood, the neighborhood homies and I would frequently play football in the streets or in each other's back yards.  Other times we would get into raising pit bulls, we would start back yard ping pong contests, raise hamsters, or race slot cars, and oh yeah! we would also smoke weed, drink beer.  Some of the homies graduated to more serious activities that, like I said, landed them either in jail or dead.  My father's oversight kept me from advancing to that level of crime but even with that I did sometimes get into mischief.

One summer the homies decided to start boxing.  Well me and a buddy of mine decided we wanted to join in.  We had gloves but they weren't to our liking.  We had a little money in our pockets so we paid a visit to one of the local department stores.

Once inside the store we made our way to the sporting goods section then into the isle where the boxing gloves were.

Each of us selected the perfect set of gloves from off the shelf.  Only one problem; we didn't have enough money to cover the cost.  We came up with an idea, we would switch the pricetags from a couple of boxes of less expensive gloves with the boxes of gloves we wanted, then pay the cheaper price before leaving the store.

The switch being made, we headed for the check-out counter.  The cashier rang us up like nothing was wrong.  We took our gloves and started out the door.  No sooner do we get out the door when store's loss prevention officer stopped us and directed us back into the store.  Damn!, we were busted.  The loss prevention officer held us in a room in the back of the store until the local P.D. arrived and took us into custody.

This was the last thing I wanted to have happen.  I was really in hot water now.  My buddy was sweatin' too but not like me 'cus he didn't have a father at home.  The most he would get was a serious tongue lashing from his mother.  I was lookin' at a major beat down.

So, the police arrived, put us in the back seat of their patrol car and drove us to the station where we were placed in a small, cold holding cell with two cold silver metal benches to sleep on and one exposed  toilet to use.

The next (what seemed like) several hours was hell, as we waited to be picked up by our parents.  We sweated, we prayed, we planned how we would give an explanation for the incident that landed us in the hoosegow, and we prayed some more.  I knew I was going to get the whoopin' of my life in just a little while.  I think the thought of the beating that was to come was worse than the experience of being detained, arrested and whisked off to jail.

My buddy's mom came to pick him up first.  Suddenly I was alone awaiting my fate with no one to confide in.

As I laid on the cold hard metal bench inside that cell I realized my father had finally arrived because I could hear his deep voice exchange a few (undiscernable) words with the station jailer a few feet from where I was being held, D-Day had come.

Several minutes later I could hear the jailer's boots as he walked toward my cell.  Then the jingling of his large ring of keys as he inserted one of them into the cell door lock, then I heard the turning of the key, the slamming open of the cell door handle and finally the sound of metal sliding against metal as he slid open the heavy cell door. The heavy metal door sounded a loud boom as it came slamming open,  "OK, let's go" the jailer barked.

For a minute I almost wanted to stay instead of face my father and the impending doom.

I came face to face with my father in the lobby of the station.  He didn't say anything.  He just stood there motinless with a somber, sober look on his face. He remained in that statuesque position and the only thing that moved on his body was his eyes as he gave me a brief head to toe glance to ensure I was in tact.   Once he was satisfied that I wasn't hurt or injured he simply turned and headed out of the station toward the car.  I instinctively knew I was to follow.  I didn't say a word.  I just follwed with my head down and my heart pounding.

I sat down in the back seat of the car and we started for home.  I humbly and patiently waited to be lambasted at any moment.  I was sure to get a  thorough verbal dressing down that would ultimately preceed my sho nuff physical thrashing I would get once we were home.

Finally, the silence was broken, I brace for the forthcoming onslaught; no doubt it would be a serious promise of the inevitable beating I would be subjected to once we were back at the house.

As I listened attentively, scared and horrified as to what we be said, I heard my father exclaim, "don't worry I've made mistakes too."

That was it?  I couldn't believe it. No "are you stupid", or "wait till I get you home?"  talk about relief, talk about waiting to exhale, I could breathe again.  I had dodged a major bullet. More like a scud missile.  In the past I had experienced and witnessed first hand the damage dad could do when he was angry.  Somehow this time it seemed as though I would be spared.

As I reflect on what happened and my father's reaction I now realized that my dad was a well-traveled man of the world, he had spent over two decades in the military.  He had seen a lot and experienced even more and with all his worldly wisdom he realized that that day I went to jail was a teachable moment. Thank God for me he decided to teach by example (offering himself as an imperfect vessel) and not teach by the belt.

To say that I appreciated his act of mercy would be the understatement of the decade, especially knowing full well the pain he was capable of, and oft times more than willing, to inflict.

I realize now that in that moment of mercy my dad was more like our Father than any other time I can remember because, "I did not despise the riches of his goodness, forbearance and longsuffering, knowing that the goodness of God (Father) led me to repentance"  (Romans 2:4)


Hiram Johnson; 20 year veteran of a major metropolitan police agency.