Walking across the parking lot, I squinted up at the machine gun tower looming over the “Rock,” as the Falkenburg Road Jail is known among criminal elements.
Only there was no machine gun tower, and I felt a little less like Edward G. Robinson trying for a breakout, or in this instance, a break-in.
There was plenty of barbed wire, and the white walls baking in the sun were an ominous vista for anyone approaching. If the government was in charge of designing Wal-Marts, I suppose this is what one would look like.
I'm told Falkenburg is designed to hold more than 3,000 prisoners. And since this is Hillsborough County, I figure they need every bed.
Inside the door, a half-dozen deputies eyed me, but everyone was very nice. One woman asked me if I was there for the awards ceremony. I'm not sure why anyone would be there who wasn't invited.
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A couple of deputies led me to a room where about 40 chairs were set up with names on them. A couple of dozen men were standing in a corner. I noticed most of them had shaved heads, although they were also wearing suits. I figured maybe they were being released from jail, but the guy standing next to me said they were all detectives. It was hard to tell.
After waiting for about an hour, a woman in uniform stepped up, told us to all sit down and then gave us instructions on how to receive an award, which is more complicated than you might think.
First, she said we had to march in order and in single file to another room and sit exactly in order. There was more, but I was beginning to wonder what the penalty was if you failed “award getting.” I'm not good in solitary confinement without cable TV.
We were led off to another room with cameras set up and about a hundred or so spectators. Sheriff David Gee came in from a side door with who I assumed were the jail's muckety-mucks. I wasn't sure what I was there for but suspected it was for being old and still employed, which turned out to be pretty close.
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All right, we've had a little fun with the jail, which is seldom all that funny and is staffed with employees who possess great discipline.
The truth is the quarterly awards program was impressive.
You hear now and then about some law enforcement person going above and beyond in his or her “line of duty.”
But when you hear dozens of those stories lumped together at once and realize that what these people do on a daily basis can be the difference between life and death, you say a little prayer that there are people such as this on our side.
Those guys with the shaved heads ... several times during the presentation you heard about how they performed CPR and saved lives in the field or put themselves in harm's way to protect fellow officers or the rest of us.
Each one got a certificate to hang up on the wall, but how do you measure a certificate against the willingness and the skills needed to protect and defend us in an increasingly violent world?
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Everyone's favorite award recipient was Deputy Christina Ammons. It was back in March that she responded to a call about a bull drowning in a pond. When she arrived, the elderly bull was lying in a pond with its head bobbing up and down in the alligator-infested pond.
Ammons called for help and then waded out to the bull, holding its head above water.
For more than two hours she stayed with the animal as other deputies kept lookout for gators until fire rescue personnel hauled the bull out of the pond.
Maybe you don't get stories like that every day, but you do get those individual acts of selflessness that an award cannot possibly cover.
These are tough people doing tough work and are deserving of our respect.