On Monday, I went to Utah County jail to interview an undocumented inmate who is involved with an intriguing child-abuse case. When I walked into the jail, Aaron Tarin, an immigration attorney I profiled several years ago, referred to me jokingly as "the spawn of Satan" to a jail employee.
Her arched eyebrow as she regarded me throughout my visit stayed with me, and that night I mentioned to my eldest daughter, Elli, my vague concern that I, too, might have ended up behind bars if things in some inexplicable way had gone awry.
Elli thought this was very amusing. She picked up my iPhone, dialed 911 but did not press the call button. She dramatically requested the police as I ate my dinner and watched her dazzling features with bemusement. Her cheek, however, connected with the call square and so she hurriedly disconnected.
Suddenly the phone rang. It was dispatch, wanting to know if everything was all right? I verified that I was not under duress, gave my personal information to the kindly voice, who seemed to understand my predicament, and hung up.
Elli stared at me with huge eyes welling with tears. "I'm so sorry," she burst out, repeatedly, her lower lip trembling, fear crawling over her beautiful features.
I stared at her, unable to decide whether to punish her or take her into my arms. It disturbed me that she was so fearful. Was it of the authorities, as I suspected, or of being punished? The former was apparently the answer. I don't want her to be afraid of the police. I want her to respect the job they do, the power they wield, but also to remember that she has rights as an American citizen and as a human being. Quite how I teach her all that is another question.
I took her in my arms and felt her tears soak through my shirt. Later that night, she read to me from a book I had read as a child, the first Famous Five adventure Five On a Treasure Island, and as I listened to the story of children playing their detective games on the southern coast of England, I couldn't help but wish that we would always remain like this, father and daughter, her voice and her innocence holding the world at bay.