As I pulled onto their street, I had a hunch on which house was theirs by the number of scooters, bikes, and Little Tykes mini coops that were in the yard. Sure enough, as I got closer, the house number confirmed my hunch.
A mutual friend had recommended I interview Eric. I'd met Eric a number of years ago at the Rochester Area Family Y. I knew Eric was a husband, a father, a corrections officer, and a baller originally from Chicago; I was excited to hear more of his story. What I found out is that Eric goes all in with anything he commits to. No holds barred. Period.
Eric and his wife, Jessica, welcomed me into their home as their youngest, Gianna, was getting ready for her afternoon nap. We sat down at the kitchen table to begin our conversation.
[S]: So, Eric. Tell me what brought you to Rochester from Chicago.
[E]: Well, I went to school at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City, Iowa where I played football and baseball. After that, I transferred to Winona State where my oldest child, who is now 16-years-old, was born. My son's mother and I then moved to Rochester and I worked at TruGreen Chemlawn. Eventually, we broke up and she moved to St. Louis, so I moved back to Chicago so I could be closer to my son.
[S]: How did you meet your wife, then?
[E]: It was crazy. I was visiting a friend in Winona after I'd moved back to Chicago. We'd gone out to a bar and Jessica came up to me. We started talking and went out the next day and ended up hanging out that whole weekend. We just sort of ended up together and had a long-distance relationship for about a year. We knew what we had was special. Then, we blinked and now we have 4 Kids.
[S]: Speaking of kids, I hear your daughter Aaliyah is quite the baller. I've seen a couple videos and she's pretty impressive for being only seven-years-old. She even met and played with the Globetrotters?
[Follow Aaliyah on Instagram]
[S]: Do all your kids play?
[E]: They all play either basketball or baseball.
[S]: What is most important to you?
[E]: This. This right here: family.
[S]: What are the ways that you demonstrate that family is your priority?
[E]: I work tremendously hard so Jessica can stay home and raise our kids. That's very important to us. We want to instill our values in our kids. Everything we do is for them and for their future.
[S]: What are those values that you want to instill in your kids?
[E]: Faith. God. Church. It's very important to us. We go to mass every Sunday at St. John's and the kids attend St. Francis school. Even if we are out of town for a tournament we will still catch a mass wherever we are. It can be difficult sometimes, but we make it happen. Aaliyah just had her first communion last Sunday. It's funny. I never went to church as a kid, but I went to a Catholic school and then married a Catholic girl. Church has always been really important to Jessica as well.
[S]: Tell me what a typical day looks like for you.
[E]: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I wake up at 4:00 a.m. and go to the gym to play basketball. I can't wait until 4 o'clock in the morning so I can go play. I love to do it and I still can do it and I'm gonna keep doing it while I can. After ball, I work at the ADC (Adult Detention Center). After that, I usually go directly to another job. I work part-time at Scheels and at the Y. Oh, and I'm a Lyft driver, as well.
[S]: Do you sleep?
[E]: Somehow I can sleep for only 5 hours and I'm good.
[S]: Picture yourself playing sports in high school. What do you see?
[E]: My parents. They were there every step of the way when I was playing sports competitively. That was some of the best times of my life. Sports, and my parents, taught me a strong work ethic.
[S]: Is there a particular game that stands out the most? Any moments of glory?
[E]: Um...I think the time that stands out the most is when I was a sophomore and they moved me up to varsity. That first varsity game was against St. Patrick which was one of our rivals. I was so scared; I'm not gonna lie. But, I wasn't gonna let anyone else know that. I sorta tricked everyone into believing I was ready to play. But then, I ran like a 95 yard kick off back for a touch down. It was just crazy. Once that happened I was like, "Okay I can do this," and then I was good. That sticks out in my mind, especially.
It was the first moment when I conquered fear. I'm still sort of like that today. I sort of psych myself out but then when I do it I get over it.
[S]: Why are you a Correctional Officer (CO)?
[E]: I had always thought about going into law enforcement. The work is really rewarding and it's not what people expect. Being a correctional officer isn't being some sort of big brute tossing people around. It's having sympathy and empathy. It's former detainees coming up to you in the street and saying, "Thank you for the respect you gave me...I've turned my life around." It's people that go back into the community to be productive citizens - that's what being a correctional officer is all about. Or, at least, that's the hope you have for people as a corrections officer. You have to know how to respect people and how to talk to people.
I tell detainees that they can still change their life. They might have to take a different path, or take a couple turns this way or that way, but they will get there eventually.
[S]: What's the most frustrating part of the job?
[E]: Seeing the same people come in and out of the detention center. Some people have young kids and it's those kids are the ones that are missing out. It's frustrating because the detainees don't understand just how much their kids depend on them. But, yeah, that revolving door is really frustrating.
[S]: Have you ever been frightened working as a CO?
[E]: Well, I'm currently on court duty, so there isn't too much opportunity for that. Though some people can get really upset when they go in front of the judge and realize the weight of their charges or get hit with a big bail or something like that. In those cases, we can get people kicking doors or causing other trouble. We also see a lot of people with mental health issues or addicts who are out of control. Meth is nasty stuff. Just terrible. So many productive people get on that stuff and you see a progression of mugshots as 10 years fall off a person's life in a matter of months.
[S]: Jessica, do you have any fear in Eric's work as a CO?
[J]: There's always that apprehension that something could happen, but Eric is so good at how he interacts with detainees so there really hasn't been an issue. There have been times when a detainee has driven by the house [unintentionally] and seen us outside and now we know they know where we live. Chances are nothing's going to happen, but it's a little unnerving.
[E]: I'm very observant. That's part of the job. When you start working at the ADC you're always looking and making assessments. Now, it's just natural for me to look around and see what's going on, see who's doing what and what's the closest exit in case something happens. I'm always thinking. It's mind mechanics. It's the same sort of thing when you're playing basketball; you think ahead in your head because once it happens you have a plan and you can react.
[S]: Have you ever had no hope for someone that was incarcerated.
[E]: No. I think there's always hope for someone and the idea of not having hope makes me sad. Everyone has a chance to do better. And, even though I see a lot of sad stuff I tell detainees that there's so much more in life that they're missing out on. There's so much more that they haven't experienced. So, I always hold out hope even if they just don't see it.
Rarely does the general public see the work of correctional officers. Hopefully, we can all appreciate those in our community who serve in such a way because it's people like Eric who change the world one person (and one conversation) at a time. Our detention centers can be dark places, and it's often words of empathy and compassion that turn on the light of hope that guides someone to a better place.