From the Outside In (Excerpt Chapter 2)

No rest is right. I couldn’t doddle any longer. I knew Mr. Breedlove would be waiting and wouldn’t like it if I made him wait too long. I walked the few doors down to my office, grabbed my briefcase and my purse. I went to the front desk to sign myself out and headed to the barbwire encased parking lot where Mr. Breedlove was just making it to his car. I walked around to the passenger side and waited for him to unlock the door to his midnight blue 1997 Cadillac Seville. Anyone could tell from just looking at the Cadillac, Mr. Breedlove’s meticulous nature extended to his vehicle. The car was pristine, from the outside in. The Seville was highly polished with the white wall rims spit shine clean.

Once the door was open, I helped him load the two car seats into the back seat, just in case we would have additional passengers on the way back. I slid into the caramel colored leather seats. The interior of the car was spotless and smelled of masculine spice and musk tinted cologne. As Mr. Breedlove started the smooth running engine, the cool sounds of jazz and blues enveloped the interior. He donned his wire rimmed sunglasses and backed out of the parking space. While waiting for the motion censored heavy steel gauge gate to open, we buckled out trusty seatbelts.

You could tell Mr. Breedlove was intimately familiar with this community. He effortlessly navigated his way through the streets and arrived at the family’s alleged residence with ease. Sgt. Ellis’ patrol car was parked one block away from the residence and that’s where we held our initial field consultation.

“What’s up guy?” Sgt Ellis said, greeting Mr. Breedlove.

“We’re at it again, huh?” Mr. Breedlove replied. You could tell these men had history together; one that well may have extended past a professional relationship.

Breedlove introduced me to Sgt. Ellis as this was my first time working with him.

“Well, this couple is no strangers to our police department,” Sgt. Ellis advised. “We have been out here a couple of times on disturbance calls,” he continued. “He would hit her, she would get upset and call us; we would come out and arrest him; she would cry and beg us to let him go. I think both of them are into drugs.”

Investigator Breedlove briefly reiterated the report we had received and the decision was made to go to the apartment to determine the whereabouts of the alleged victims as well as the parents.

Both cars drove the one block to the residence and parked on the side so as not to alert the occupants, just in case there was cause for concern. The residence was a duplex; one unit on the bottom and one unit on the top accessed by an outside staircase. The duplex was in a very poor neighborhood; known to law enforcement and child welfare as being heavily infiltrated by drug activity. We determined the Atkinson/Garrison apartment to be the upstairs unit. We approached the stairs. Sgt. Ellis was in the front, then Investigator Breedlove, then me. Sgt. Ellis banged on the door, as only police officers can. We listened, but there was no response. He knocked again. This time you could hear movement in the apartment but there was no acknowledgement of the knocking on the door.

Investigator Breedlove asked, “Hey sarge, if we lean on the door and it accidentally comes open, is that against the law?”

Sgt. Ellis responded, “No, that’s not against the law,” leaning his six foot two, 250 pound frame against the cheap wooden door.

The door buckled and opened under the weight. Immediately in the front room of the house was a man who identified himself as Mr. Atkinson. He was holding the two children. We entered the residence. The house was sparsely furnished. Mr. Atkinson and the children were sitting on a mattress on the floor. The linens on the mattress, once white; now were a disconcerting shade of murky beige. There was a noticeable unpleasant smell in the house; a combination of stale must and mildew; like the windows in the house had never been opened. Plastic trash bags covered most of the windows. The children were beautiful but unkempt. The little boy had shoulder length hair that was filled with lint. He was dressed in a tight fitting faded blue t-shirt and underwear. The little girl’s hair was matted in some areas. She was dressed only in an ill fitting diaper. A small television was playing Sesame Street in the background.

“Why didn’t you respond to the door?” Sgt. Ellis asked in a very authoritarian voice.

Mr. Atkinson, holding tightly to the children responded, “I dunno… I thought if I didn’t answer, you would just go away.”

Mr. Atkinson’s speech was noticeably slurred; and I wasn’t the only one who noticed.

“Are you under the influence, sir?” Sgt. Ellis asked.

Initially Mr. Atkinson was unresponsive, as if he didn’t understand the question.

Sgt. Ellis was not patient. “I’ll ask you again; have you taken any drugs today?”

Mr. Atkinson stuttered as he responded, “Ye… ye… yes sir.” He dropped his head and grabbed his children a little tighter, as though he were embarrassed.

“What are you using Mr. Atkinson?” I inquired.

“Crack,” he replied.

“When did you use?” I pressed further.

“I don’t remember… last night… this morning…hell, it’s all the same.” His demeanor began to change. He became increasing agitated by my questioning, and I didn’t care. I had worked with enough addicts to know how to handle it.

“How much did you use Mr. Atkinson?” I pressed even further?”

“I don’t know lady… I just smoke ‘til it’s gone.”

“Who did you smoke with?”

Mr. Atkinson refused to look at me as I questioned him. I knew he was having a hard time with a woman asking him these kinds of questions, if anything about his reported history of being abusive is true. He didn’t respond.

“Mr. Atkinson? I asked you a question. I physically moved closer to him. “Who did you smoke with?”

“They momma… damn!”

“Did you smoke here at the house or were you and Ms. Garrison somewhere else?”

“We weren’t here…” he mumbled.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you,” I replied.

“We weren’t here I said,” he answered, almost shouting.

Investigator Breedlove started to interject, but I motioned to him that it was okay.

“So Mr. Atkinson, where were the children when you and Ms. Garrison weren’t here?” I asked; softening my voice. It was designed to be a clear signal to him that I was not intimidated nor was I going to respond to his anger with anger.

He hesitated before responding, as though he realized he could be incriminating himself in the process; or maybe he was just so high, his thought processes were moving slowly. Either way, there was a long pause.

Sgt Ellis was losing the little patience he had. I spoke before he had an opportunity to interject. I needed for Mr. Atkinson to know, even from the beginning, that he would have to deal with me. When the officer and the investigator were gone, I was the one who was going to be there. I was going to be the one reporting on what would be best for their children. Our working relationship had to be established from the beginning; adversarial or not.

“Mr. Atkinson…”

“We left them here…it was late and they were sleep…”

“You do realize that’s why we are here, right? We got a report that the children were left home alone.”

“You can’t leave a 3 and 1 year old home alone,” Investigator Breedlove added. “Anything can happen.”

“Where’s Ms. Garrison?” Sgt. Ellis inquired.

“Working,” Mr. Atkinson replied.

“Where does she work?” I asked.

“I already know the answer to that question,” Sgt. Ellis advised. “She’s at the Pink Pony. I think she goes by the stage name Delicious.”

The Pink Pony was familiar to all of us; a strip joint in the seediest part of town.

“Well Mr. Atkinson, considering your current condition, and the things you admitted to, it’s going to be necessary for us to find an alternate place for the children to live until we determine whether or not you and Ms. Garrison are capable of providing adequate care for them,” Investigator Breedlove advised.

That immediately got Mr. Atkinson’s attention. His seemingly drifting cognition was now very focused. “What do you mean? You taking my kids from me?” Mr. Atkinson responded with noticeable anxiety and anger.

“You can think of it that way if you’d like Mr. Atkinson; or you can understand that because of you and Ms. Garrison’s actions, you are giving them to us,” I advised.

“That’s some bullshit man… that’s some bullshit… these my motherfuckin’ kids…mine! Ain’t no son of a bitch goin’ to take my damn kids from me,” he replied.

Mr. Atkinson was rocking back and forth with the children on his lap, in a very agitated state. I think all of us became increasingly concerned.

“Now we can do this the easy way or the hard way Mr. Atkinson,” Sgt Ellis advised. “You know we have been down this road before, so you know how this can end up.” it was good to have Sgt. Ellis present to ensure the situation did not get out of hand.

Mr. Atkinson hesitated briefly and then said, “Naw man, I don’t want no problems with you man…” He paused. “We’ll be able to get’em back, right?”

“Absolutely Mr. Atkinson,” I said reassuringly. “If you all work with me to make this situation better, then of course we want your children to be returned to you.”

“So, what’s going to happen now?” Mr. Atkinson asked.

“Well,” Sgt. Ellis began, “I should arrest you, but I’m going to give you a chance to work with these people to get yourself together.”

“I appreciate that man… I really do…” Mr. Atkinson replied. “What about they mama? What’s goin’ to happen to her?”

“At this point Mr. Atkinson, no decisions have been made with regard to Ms. Garrison,” Investigator Breedlove advised. “That decision is for the judge to make.”

“Do the children have clothes and shoes to wear?” I asked.

“Oh, you gettin’ ready to take them now?” Mr. Atkinson responded seemingly surprised.

“Yes sir, we will be taking the children with us now,” I explained.

“Damn… that’s fucked up,” he said shaking his head. “C’mon lil’ Mario, let me get your clothes,” he said, sitting his daughter on the mattress, and pulling himself up.

“If you don’t mind sir, please bring the children’s clothes in here and get them dressed,” I said.

Mr. Atkinson begrudgingly walked into the adjacent room on less than sturdy legs. He came back a few moments later with a pair of pants for each child and shoes for the little boy.

“Does the baby have shoes?” I asked.

“I don’t know where they are.” he said.

Mr. Atkinson dressed the children and I assisted in helping little Mario put his shoes on.

“Can I help you with your shoes?” I asked, squatting down eye level to the little boy.

He nodded his head.

“Have they eaten this morning, Mr. Atkinson?”

“Naw, naw, not yet. I was gone fix’em something later but…”

“Okay, well we’ll make sure they get something. Do you know if they are allergic to anything?” I inquired.

“Not that I know of,” he said.

“Is little Mario potty trained?” I inquired further.

“Naw, not yet.”

“Are there any diapers for the children?”

“I ain’t been to the store yet,” he said, hanging his head.

Investigator Breedlove picked up the little girl, who had been sitting quietly on her father’s lap. I asked little Mario would he like to take a walk with me. He reached for my hand, and we began to move toward the door. Investigator Breedlove, I, and the children began to descend the steep staircase. As we got near the bottom we heard Mr. Atkinson yell out, “Bye lil’ man…daddy’ll see ya later.”

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