July 11th, 2008


Yesterday I got fingerprinted. It is something that I needed to do to work with the kids at the youth writing festival and it turned out to be the most interesting part of my day.

I have complicated feelings about the police. I have seen cops harassing homeless people, but I have also seen them try to get them help. I have known cops who were drunks and wife beaters. Some of those same cops worked to save kidnapped children. I think the police system provides some people with the opportunity to express what is best in themselves and others the power to execute the worst in themselves with impunity. I approach all things police-related with caution. It’s silly, really, since I tend toward the Goody Two Shoes end of the spectrum.

But I did walk in through the police department door with a certain amount of trepidation. I expected hassle and runaround. What I found was extremely kind people who dealt with me carefully. Now, I admit, I was at the Alameda police station, which does not appear to be a busy place. There was one murder in Alameda last year, on Halloween, and the one before that was in 2004. It might have been different had I gone to the police station in a more crime-infested location.

The man who took my fingerprints worked extremely carefully. He wrote with a fine-point pen in block letters. He had some kind of fancy liquid paper gizmo for his errors. He spoke slowly, his politeness an antidote to the chaotic noise of the rest of my day.

The live scan machine has been in use for about 15 years. I washed my hands and dried them thoroughly, as instructed. The operator took my right thumb and pressed it in place for a flat scan. Then the rest of my fingers. Then thumb and fingers rolled across another part of the machine. Then the other hand. All gently and firmly.

On the screen, I saw the ridges and swirls of my fingers. I leave those marks on everything I touch. I hope I touch as gently and as firmly as the technician.