By Marian Bass
“You saved my life, Captain Bass!” This startling statement came from out of the blue from a woman I didn’t recognize as I was leaving a supermarket. She told me that several years ago, she was enrolled in my Introduction to Criminal Justice class at Erie Community College.
She had chosen the wrong companions, a poor choice that led to drugs, incarceration and the temporary loss of her children. She said my lectures had influenced her to turn her life around. I was both surprised and flattered.
At the time, as an adjunct professor, I was juggling my 8 a.m. class with my duties as commander of the Crime Prevention Bureau, which was composed of the Juvenile Bureau, the Police Women’s Bureau and the Sex Offense Squad of the Buffalo Police Department. Knowing that many young people do not have concerned others to guide and support them, the classes provided a captive audience that I could mentor. I gladly interspersed my material with motivational homilies. The days were challenging, to say the least. But the early lessons I learned about overcoming obstacles gave me confidence.
It was a time when women officers were assigned only civil service roles, so my lectures included information concerning my interaction with the public as the only woman director of a bureau in the Buffalo Police Department.
The Crime Prevention Bureau deals specifically with crimes involving women and children. Some of the cases are so notorious that they generate much media attention. I had an outstanding staff that was very effective in the field. We gained the attention of Ebony magazine, and recognition of the then titular head of the FBI, Patrick Gray. I was invited to participate in a crime prevention seminar at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va.
I was 15 when I graduated from Hutchison-Central High School. Motivational incentives to proceed academically did not exist then, nor did grants for “colored” girls. So much has changed. Opportunities abound for those able to take advantage of them. Professional resources and training that were once inconceivable are now the norm. Vintage forms of institutionalized racism appear more subtle.
But college tuition has more than tripled since I was a student, and many despair of ever finding the means to finance higher education without acquiring crippling debt. Ambition is great, but the road to professionalism can be rocky, indeed, if one has no experience, no money and no support system. Every struggling student deserves a chance to succeed.
I was pleased to discuss good citizenship and civic responsibility with my classes. Many were unaware that a police record is a permanent record and can have a very negative impact on the rest of your life. I prided myself on having great rapport with my students. All had high school diplomas, but some had such shabby educations they could barely read the text. They were the end product of an educational system that does not educate.
Some received stipends for enrolling. What confounded me was that a significant number of them would drop out before completing the semester. A covert investigation revealed that upon receipt of their final check, they were no longer interested. No matter that they were forfeiting valuable college credits. Such faulty, convoluted reasoning escapes me. They were deliberately scamming a system designed to save lives doomed to mediocrity and failure, not comprehending that they were the real losers.
As a police officer, I accumulated academic transcripts that paved the way to a professional promised land. I was also blessed to be the beneficiary of the wisdom of professionals with whom I developed lifelong relationships. Students must be serious about achieving and always strive for excellence. You can emblazon this in gold: Education is the key out of poverty.