(Copyright 2024 Point/Plover Metro Wire)

Column: Remember the heroes who work without flashing lights

By Dan Kontos

Admit it, when you hear the recognizable wail or yelp of an emergency vehicle siren, you stop and look. I know I do. It’s natural.

When you catch a glimpse of a fast moving squad car, fire engine, or ambulance, do you wonder what kind of emergency they are going to? Who is in trouble and requires urgent help? Do you ever try to put yourself in their shoes, and wonder what it must be like to race off to someone else’s crisis so you can aid them in their time of need?

Hometown heroes, plainly put. These men and women risk their own safety to come to our assistance in what could be the worst day of our lives. For them, it’s just another day at the office.

But not all heroes are equipped with flashing lights and piercing sirens. For some, you never get to see them. You can’t watch as they streak by, racing to save someone else. But they’re no less important to our safety, and our community.

Just the other day, while many of us were sleeping, or at least winding down our day, a life was saved. Not at someone’s house, or out on the highway, but behind impenetrable walls, tucked out of sight of the public and away from common scrutiny.

You see, one evening, a local man, and by all accounts a good and decent man, got himself into a little bit of trouble. Ok, a lot of trouble, when alcohol, emotions, and the dark side of life overcame common sense for a while. It happens.

Local law enforcement was called, and this man was taken into custody. Off to jail for the evening in order to calm the situation down, to have him account for his actions, and yes, to sober up.

The Portage County Jail is not a generally pleasant place, especially for those who are being held there. Jails can be very oppressive for those being held there. There is no getting around that. They are obviously designed to be secure, controlling, and generally safe. Portage County has been saddled with one of the worst jails in the State. I’ve detailed that all before many times. A fact that just adds on to the atmosphere of unpleasantness.

So when a drunken, upset, and embarrassed man is brought there, it can mess with his head a bit. Add to that the searches, the orange uniform, and the endless questions. Everything from personal information, like name, address, employment, and the like, to possible diseases and suicidal thoughts. Then it’s off to a solo holding cell for you to sleep it off and wait for the morning.

With a mattress slightly more comfortable then the concrete bed it covers, a wool blanket, and a pillow that would make Mike Lindell cry, you hear the slamming of a thick steel door, and know that you have no way to get out of this mess for now, as you look up to see the camera that watches your every move. Getting depressed yet?

Meanwhile, the staff of the jail go about their business. They distribute medications and food, book and release other inmates, schedule activities for the next day, physically check-in on secured prisoners, and a myriad of other administrative and mundane tasks that need to be done to maintain the safety and security of that mediocre facility.

All seems to be routine that evening, until the new guest allows himself to be overcome with grief and a sense of hopelessness. He sees a way out. Not wanting to wait to face his fate in the morning, he slips off his shirt, and in a desperate attempt to end the agony, he decides to tie his clothing off to an object to hang himself and end his life.

Meanwhile, what would be another humdrum evening is changed, as an alert corrections officer sees this on camera. Staff move in and save the man from himself. Crisis averted, and another life saved.

But why haven’t we heard of this, you may ask? Well, honestly, it’s not anything that reputable news outlets report on. The mental crisis of a person, as long as it doesn’t endanger someone else, is usually left to the privacy of that person. That, and it happens much more frequently than you may guess.

County leaders may not be happy for me saying this, but the design of the current jail only adds to the problem. It is a wonder that more people have not died in that facility. Oh, the phone calls I will get…

Look, this isn’t about the inadequacies of the jail. I’ll have more on that later. Trust me. This is about the staff. The men and women who serve, protect, and save every day. The professional corrections officers, armed only with their wits, and a few tools at their disposal, not only run a pretty tight ship, but quarantine our society from some pretty bad actors.

These heroes don’t get flashing lights. We don’t stop to see, then race by to help someone. We may not even really stop to consider their existence at all. But they are there, vitally serving our society in almost complete anonymity.

They work, day-in and day-out, in an environment that is less than perfect. They deal with the worst in society, as well as some decent folks who have found themselves in tough spots. Corrections officers are masters of interpersonal relations, experts in de-escalation, and when they have to be, pretty tough hombres. 

My hats off to them. Unsung heroes. I wish I could do more than just talk the talk, but wanted them to know that they are appreciated.

Perhaps the new members of the County Board will take the time to get to know these essential employees, and see what they have to deal with when deciding the fate of the new jail. The monkey is now squarely on your back. Congratulations on your election.

So, with that, let’s meet in the opinion section to talk about all of it, boldly, honestly, with an appreciation for all our public servants, and with a healthy respect for each other. Until then, remember that God loves you, and so do I.