From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

Police Woman

Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a police officer. I was enthralled with the world of law and order. My favorite TV show was Police Woman, with The Rifleman a close second. Deep in my heart, I wanted to save people, to do right; I wanted to be a hero.

I was always an overweight kid. Whenever I told my family about my dreams of being a policewoman, they would say, “Well, you’re going to have to lose some weight if you want to do that.” I knew they were right, and I felt ashamed of my body. But as time went on, I didn’t lose weight—I gained it.

At thirty-three, I was five foot, two inches tall and weighed over 300 pounds. Needless to say, I hadn’t become a police officer. And of course, there was no way I could. I was too old, too heavy—it was too ridiculous to even consider. But deep down, it was really what I wanted to do. Whenever I saw a cop, I felt the old thrill and the same longing I’d had as a child.

One day I looked into the mirror, and I truly saw myself as I was—a person with a good heart, with worthy dreams, who had given up on herself. It was a bittersweet moment; I felt a new tenderness, a new love for myself as well as a new honesty. I faced the woman in the mirror and asked, “How will you ever know what you can do if you don’t try?”

I decided to go for it. I took the first step: the civil service exam. But test-taking has never been a strength of mine, and I failed. While it is possible to join the police force without passing the civil service exam, it is decidedly more difficult. It would have been easy to give up then, but I was determined to pursue my dream.

So, I contacted the police department in my community. I told the chief of police about my desire to join the force, and he asked to meet with me. I was very nervous about the face-to-face meeting. I kept reminding myself that what mattered was how I carried myself, my sincerity and my belief in myself. Still, I was consumed with fear and thought: He’ll take one look at me and then politely tell me, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you!”

But it didn’t happen that way at all. He simply accepted me, inviting me to join the police auxiliary group.

I had to get a uniform. Anticipating this task unnerved me. I would sit in my car, day after day, waiting for just the right moment to make my entrance into the police station. How would I be viewed? Would I be respected or ridiculed?

Finally, I summoned enough courage to act. Walking as tall as I could, I went inside. I wouldn’t let them see my fear.With sweaty palms, I tried on uniforms, but I couldn’t find any that fit me. Eventually I had to go to a tailor and have a uniform altered. How uncomfortable this was for me. While the tailor, an older man, was measuring and tucking my uniform, I could feel the temperature rising in the dressing room. I was consumed with humiliation.

I started to attend the monthly auxiliary meetings and got to know the group, all of whom were men, most of them retirees. A couple of them, like me, were working toward becoming a police officer. We met monthly, watching different movies on safety and going shooting at the range.

Soon the chief recommended me for the thirteen-week training program at the North East Regional Police Institute (NERPI). This school was demanding, both academically and physically. You had to learn criminal law, take CPR exams and learn to use handcuffs, mace spray and bayonets. I wasn’t sure if I could do it—I had never stepped so far outside of my comfort zone. How will you know what you can do—if you never try? The thought went through my mind again, giving me just the push I needed. I would endure the fear and make myself do it.

At the school, over 90 percent of the police candidates were men under the age of twenty-five, fit and muscular. I was totally intimidated and kept to myself, trying not to imagine what those guys must have thought of me.

But the day I’d been dreading finally arrived. Working in pairs, we were going to learn how to use handcuffs. I pretended not to notice when I was the last one to be chosen as a partner. Then one person put his hands behind his back, while the partner received instructions on how to handcuff the other’s wrists together. The instructor walked around, checking out each team and critiquing them in front of the entire class. Because of my size, I couldn’t get my wrists together the right way so that my partner could handcuff me. The instructor was making his way over to us, and I was so anxious, the sweat was pouring down my face. I could tell my partner was uncomfortable, too, as he tried his best to coach me on ways to get my wrists closer. I prayed to somehow become invisible. But the instructor did not pass over us. Instead, he pointed out our problem to the entire class.

When it was over, I realized that my embarrassment had been terribly uncomfortable but not fatal. The fear had been worse than the actual event. I realized it was up to me to manage the fear. The amazing thing was, I knew that I could. It was a turning point for me.

I made it through the thirteen weeks. Although test-taking and risk-taking were my constant companions, I passed all final exams, written and otherwise, with flying colors.

Now it was time to interview with a police department that didn’t require the civil service test be taken or passed. Six officers conducted my interview. I began telling my story, with all the passion for the law that had always been inside of me. I held my head high and talked about making a difference in the world.

In the end, I was offered a position as police dispatcher. I wasn’t exactly a policewoman, but the funny thing was, it didn’t matter anymore. What mattered was that I had gone for my dreams in the face of tremendous odds. I had broken every boundary I’d held about what I could do and not do.

“How are you going to know what you can do until you try?” has become my motto. Since that time, I have let myself dream freely and pursue the dreams that really move me. I have become a motivational speaker, gone whitewater rafting, ridden motorcycles—I’m even planning to go parachuting soon.

It is truly amazing what you can do—if you’ll only try.

Chris Mullins

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