FEATURE STORIES

Agent of Peace


by Chris Morris
June 2008

 

It permeates our society. From blockbuster films, television shows, novels, even in religion and our social mores: good conquers bad.

On the television show, “Cops,” criminals are arrested and hauled off in police cruisers in dramatic fashion. We see tempers flaring, fights ensuing, and another successful arrest.

Justice is served and that is the end of the story for us.

But what happens after the cameras go off? For some officers, the story ends shortly after the arrested individual is booked.

For other officers, the arrest isn’t enough. They understand that behind those blurred faces are real people that we happen to see at their worst; people who need help. Cincinnati Police Officer Tim Eppstein doesn’t just want to clean up the streets; he wants to help people change their lives.

Eppstein says, “Rehabilitation starts with the arrest.” The drive to jail is important because it sets the tone for how the arrested individual will spend his or her time incarcerated.

Some officers have belittled people they’ve arrested, according to Eppstein. However, he says that he will look at the individual and ask, “Why did you do it?” In doing this, he is trying to empathize and show he cares.

Often, he says they respond with a full confession. But, for Eppstein, the important thing is that “they start their own rehabilitation process by taking responsibility for what they’ve done.”
Showing concern for their well-being is important. “It also turns the police officer from being the guy that puts them in there to the guy that’s helping them,” says Eppstein.

By doing this, it allows inmates to seriously consider what they’ve done. Instead of sitting in prison feeling victimized, some will reflect on what they’ve done and try to improve. “It turns a wasted time in jail to a thoughtful time for them,” Eppstein says.

Once an officer arrives with an arrested person at the Hamilton County (Ohio) Justice Center and the individual is processed, the officer is dismissed. Often the incarcerated person shouts something profane at the officer. But Eppstein says that by showing concern, he is often thanked for helping them.

When Eppstein was in college at Mount St. Joseph, he met Robert Schroeder. “We got into a debate about matter and form in a class (Philosophy of Consciousness) and carried the discussion outside. We’ve been best friends ever since,” says Schroeder.

Eppstein’s humanitarian attitude toward life resonates with all who meet him. “Tim truly is a man for others,” says Schroeder. “His compassion and commitment to service form the heart of his worldview and has in the past, and continues to energize the many good works he does for his family, friends, and the community.

After graduating from the Mount in 1996 with a degree in Theology, Eppstein went to the University of Cincinnati to get his masters in Community Mentoring. It was there that he met his friend and mentor, Chris Tuell.

Tuell has a Ph.D. in Counseling and teaches classes at the University of Cincinnati in the Addiction Studies program. Tuell was also Clinical Director at the Warren County (Ohio) – Mary-Haven – Juvenile Justice Center. Mary-Haven is a four month probation program where juveniles work in the process of earning their release.

Eppstein’s attitude is what sets him apart from others. Tuell notes, “He’s a very caring, sensitive individual. He was able to relate especially to the offending population, to juveniles, in a way that they can understand and respond to him.”

Schroeder also says, “Tim sees the dignity in others and treats the people he meets as he would want to be treated. This is Tim’s genius. He recognizes and affirms the good in those he encounters and respects their uniqueness – even the seemingly least deserving among us.”

It is this attitude that allowed Eppstein to approach his work at Mary-Haven in a unique way. Eppstein worked at Camp Joy, which is an outdoor education center that focuses on experiential learning. Eppstein understands the importance of team-building and confidence building and applied it to juvenile offenders.

“I would create a problem for the kids to solve and I would allow them to work together to solve the problem,” says Eppstein. Through this process the juveniles learned the value of teamwork and that their actions affected others both positively and negatively.

“It really taught life skills but also just basic relationships through experiential challenges,” says Eppstein. “They can be very insightful but also very good for building self-esteem.”

Tim is a bridge builder who has an amazing talent for bringing people of different backgrounds and abilities together. He affirms the great potential for unity in diversity,” says Schroeder.

Another approach Eppstein applied is borrowed from one of the first steps in Alcoholics Anonymous: acknowledging a Higher Power. For Eppstein, it didn’t matter which Higher Power they discovered, so long as they found one. He often had inmates read “Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse, which discusses the path to Buddha.

This allowed the kids to understand that “you can have a respect for a greater plan and see the value of faith and purpose,” he says.

“Certainly, it’s one that we don’t see as much in the field,” notes Tuell about Eppstein’s approach.
Since then, Eppstein has not had much contact with the juveniles he worked with but occasionally he will run into one of them.

“In fact,” he says, “one of them was doing some construction work downtown in Over the Rhine (Cincinnati). I thought it was great that, one, he was working, and two, running a productive business. I was very impressed and pleased that one of my kids was contributing to the community and working fulltime.”
Today, Eppstein patrols the streets as a community liaison in District One. But he still looks for opportunities to impact peoples’ lives for the better. He is definitely in a unique position as an officer.
“He’s a unique individual that actually has a Masters degree in Counseling as a police officer, so I think that’s a great combination,” says Tuell.

Often Eppstein deals with the homeless during his patrols. His compassion shines through in a story he shares.

Several times, he found a homeless man living behind a dilapidated and condemned building. The hillside behind it had collapsed and was unsafe. Eppstein addressed the man several times trying to persuade him to get help. After many attempts, he finally arrested the man for trespassing.

“I arrested him not as a punishment, but as a ‘Hey, I’m serious, you can’t stay there anymore’ kind of thing,” Eppstein says. He even visited this man in Queensgate jail, trying to establish a plan for him so he wouldn’t wind up living behind the building again.

Eppstein maintains a positive attitude toward his duties because he views his work as helping the community. For him, protecting the community is as important as helping criminal offenders change their lives.

“Viewing people as people – as opposed to everybody being a criminal – and assuming that and thinking they can be rehabilitated are great things in regard to keeping from being cynical,” he says.

“Every experience, even a bad one, can be a positive one if you learn from it,” he says. “If I can talk to a person or get them to look at things differently, even as a criminal, then I’ve made that negative thing into a potentially positive thing.”

Eppstein’s attitude not only affects the community at large, but also his co-workers. Through his teaching at the police academy for the past five years and by living as an example, he feels that his compassionate approach is becoming more commonplace.

His positive attitude has changed many lives, including his. “I have to be honest: I married a great girl, way out of my league,” says Eppstein. “I think I was able to do that because of my attitude and my positivity, my outlook. It’s attractive and I drew an attractive person to me that has a lot of traits I have.”

Schroeder says, “He is a caring friend, a loving family man, as well as a leader and agent of peace and positive change in society. All you need to do is watch Tim to know this. His life is his testimony.”

“Tim has a passion for wanting to help people,” says Tuell.

Though his job has changed over the years, his attitude has remained consistent. In any capacity he looks for the good in people and continues to change and inspire those around him.

 

"Rehabilitation starts with the arrest."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Viewing people as people – as opposed to everybody being a criminal – and assuming that and thinking they can be rehabilitated are great things in regard to keeping from being cynical.”