Police use poetry to express emotions, stress of the job


Clarke Canfield
Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine — Officer Alissa Poisson graces the January page of the 2009 Portland police calendar, baring her...soul.

The calendar features poems and photographs by members of the police department in Maine's largest city.

Poetry has given Poisson an emotional outlet while opening her eyes to the world around her. In "The Things I Carry," a poem on the January page, Poisson writes about her feelings as she equips herself for each shift with a .45-caliber Glock, a knife, pepper spray, handcuffs, a baton and two clips of bullets.

"In this job, you try to keep your emotions in a box," she said. "It's a hard job and if you get too emotional, it becomes even harder."

The Police Poetry & Photo Calendar is part of the Arts & Equity Initiative, which aims to improve municipal government through the arts.

Portland is the pilot city for the nonprofit program, which hopes to expand next year and pair municipal employees elsewhere with artists to help them learn their crafts.

Marty Pottenger, the program's executive director, said she's been in touch with people in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Antonio, New Orleans and San Jose, Calif., about launching similar programs in those cities.

In Portland, city employees across a range of departments have tapped into their creative sides through printmaking, creative writing, block etchings and collage-making. Their works are on display at City Hall, in a mechanic's garage, at a city health care facility and even at a recycling center.

Getting police to write introspective poems was particularly challenging.

Officers are brave by nature, but it takes a different kind of courage to write a poem for the world to see, Pottenger said.

"They're baring their feelings," she said. "It's like showing off the inside rather than the outside."

At first, officers rolled their eyes at the idea. Some even recited lewd poems for a laugh.

But the attitude changed last spring after a respected sergeant, Rob Johnsey, was killed when his service weapon accidentally discharged while he was cleaning it. At his funeral, mourners learned that Johnsey wrote poetry.

That's when the idea for a calendar was born. Not only would it serve as apoetic outlet, it would also be a fundraiser, with proceeds going to Johnsey's family. The $15 calendar is on sale at local book stores and on the Internet.

The poems largely focus on what it's like to be an officer.

"We like it, the uniform, the badge, the justice," Lt. Mike Sauschuck wrote in the poem "Fishbowl." "We hate it, the computer, the pen, the law."

In another poem, "Making Sense," he wrote about a fellow officer being shot while making an arrest. The poetry, he said, lets the public see beyond the stereotypical image of police.

"We have emotions and feelings like everybody else," Sauschuck said.

In "Halloween 2008," another officer wrote about his son asking him questions.

"Hey Dad, can I ride on your shoulders? Hey Dad, shoot any bad guys today?" the poem reads. "Hey Dad, can I have candy? Hey Dad, put any bad guys in jail?"

Sauschuck's wife, Detective Mary Sauschuck, took a photograph from a Maine Criminal Justice Academy graduation ceremony for the calendar.

"It allows people to see us as people and not just a badge and a gun," she said.

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