I first met Thomas many years ago at the police department where I worked in Illinois. I was pulling into the parking lot and saw a grown man standing outside the department window by our Sergeants office, talking to someone through the open window. Now mind you, this is not on the sidewalk, it's through the bushes.
“What's up Sarge? Who was that?” I asked as I walked in. “Oh that's right, you haven’t met Thomas yet. Come on I’ll introduce you.”
Thomas was about 45 years old and was mentally challenged. He had a cell phone, rode a bike and even held a job. Thomas was very much like a pre or early teen. He had his likes and dislikes and one of his likes was, and still is, the word "tummy".
I heard that this goes back to something his mother once said to him about an upset tummy when he was a child, and the word stuck. Thomas is extremely intelligent in his own way.
Thomas' day starts out with riding his bike to a local grocery store where he does an excellent job stocking shelves and bagging groceries and various other tasks. He has worked there for as long as anyone can remember and after work, he rides his bike downtown in the afternoon and acts as an ad hoc mail carrier stopping at businesses to collect their out-going mail and taking it around the corner to the local Post Office.
Everyone knows and loves Thomas. The community as a whole keeps a collective eye on him. I am often waved down by neighbors out walking who tell me, “Oh by the way officer, we just saw Thomas over at the park eating a sandwich on the bench. He's doing well and having fun,” they would add. “He was sitting and talking to Mr. and Mrs. Smith when we left.”
Knowing where he was, I would often drive over and say hi.
He likes rummage and garage sales and brings in his purchases for us to look at.
One of Thomas' favorite things to do is to hang out at the police department. Most days his afternoons and evenings are spent at the department after his daily ride around the neighborhood.
He knows each of us, our names and much about us.
He loves to eat lunch with us on his days off or after work.
He tells us all about his TV watching and what's happening with the characters of the show.
He likes the family sitcoms of the 50's, 60's and 70's. I Love Lucy, The Brady Bunch, Hazel and the like. But he really loves the Oprah Winfrey show, even sporting his prized "Oprah" crew jacket that one of our officers got for him back when the Oprah show was broadcast from HARPO Studios in Chicago.
On many of his visits, he brings bags of candy, cupcakes or donuts from his grocery store that he buys with his earnings after he gets off work. Sometimes he even brings along the four-foot stuffed bear from his childhood.
Our department and officers play an active role in Thomas' life. Many times you can find a squad car parked out in front of his house while officers are in eating lunch or a dinner of pizza which the officers have brought over. We take a real interest in him and his life. We hear about his day, his job and engage in real conversation with him.
One day while looking for something in our department garage, I came across some hair clippers. I was going to move them, wondering why they were there but quickly learned that I should not. “Those are for Thomas”, I was told. You see Thomas has only been to a barber shop once many, many, years ago as a young man. It did not go well. Now, one of our own Sergeants has been Thomas' barber ever since!
Once or twice a month Thomas can be found in his "barber" chair in the garage having a great time, chatting with his Sergeant barber, while getting his trim.
Thomas loves the police and loves to interact with us. He even has police patches from all over that he has collected from officers passing through, or from the officers who have heard of him and his love for them.
I mentioned once in an earlier article that we, those of us in law enforcement, are just like your other neighbors. This is demonstrated when Thomas’ mother calls the police department, not to report that her son is missing, but to leave a message that it was time to come home for supper; just like a neighbor might call any other neighbor asking someone to tell their child the same thing.
Thomas' family has been residents of our community for many decades. I believe Thomas' still lives in the same house where he was born. Thomas' father died many years ago and Thomas has been raised solely by his mother.
Thomas' mother is an institution in her own right. She works in a local business and everyone knows and loves her, even calling her the "Queen" because of her British background.
Sadly, she passed away right before Mothers Day this year, which was right before Thomas' birthday. She had fallen at work and died while still in the hospital a few days later.
As a community, we were all very concerned about Thomas. What was to happen to him, where would he go, what would he do, who would take care of him?
The day she fell and was taken to the hospital, one of our off-duty officers came in on his own to cover the street while our Chief of Police, Sergeant, and an officer went over to find and talk to Thomas.
We spent the entire time with him until his legal guardian; who was his aunt, flew in and arrived from out East. On-duty and off-duty officers gave of their own time to be with him and see to his needs. Even an officer from another jurisdiction, who once worked for us many years earlier, came in to help out.
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For the next few weeks following the funeral, the Chief, Sergeants, and Officers of my Department were a daily part of Thomas life. They sometimes even pulled an overnight with him because our goal was to provide a sense of stability for him until things got settled. Even retired officers came by or called him daily to check.
His aunt insisted that our department was part of the conversations regarding future plans for Thomas. Not from a legal perspective, but one from love and concern for him.
The details of the plans cannot be made public, but his doctors, care givers, and the legal department have approved the solution to the situation regarding his future, and happily, Thomas can again be seen all over town, especially when he makes his frequent trips to visit the police department just like before.
We recently celebrated his birthday at his house, supplying the cake and food, just like we had been doing for decades. The evening shift was not to be undone and they also had their own cake and party for him that night as well.
I am happy to say that I am still flagged down and told, “We saw Thomas over here or there and he is doing great today!”
Oh, and in case you’re wondering.... after all that cake? Thomas' tummy was fine and he was very happy to tell us so!
Al Hobbs is a Law Enforcement Correspondent for DrydenWire and writes on a wide-range of topics on Law Enforcement, but focuses mostly on the human element of being a cop in his weekly segment titled: "Behind The Badge". Al brings a unique writing style that allows him to connect with his readers. You can read his introduction to DrydenWire here.
Al is a retired police detective from the metro Chicago area. He has been a Law Enforcement Officer at the City, County, State and Federal level in excess of 35 years. His career has taken him all over the nation and the world. Al has been involved in all aspects of criminal investigation as well as general police duties. He is once again on the street as an active LEO for a North Shore community, just North of Chicago in Illinois.