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Gray ’15: Kiss Me, I’m Home

By Nick Gray ’15

I spent this past summer picking cocaine, methamphetamines, marijuana, and bath salts out of the US mail system. Before this past summer, I’d spent hours browsing testimonials of people who had interned with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Alcohol Tabaco and Firearms (ATF), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), who I was interning with, and the responses varied greatly: “They’re making me file. ALL SUMMER.”, to “Kiss me. I’m home.”

Gray ’15, a Philadelphia native, explores opportunities in his hometown and sees a new side of it

The USPIS Philadelphia Division was a 40 minute commute that I was glad to take. My average day was spent doing things like this:

  • Doing surveillance on a woman in North Philly, who’d been stealing identities in her apartment. We took license plate numbers, circled the house for possible routes of escape (in the case of a warranted search), and speculated on her daily schedule.
  • Working with drug dogs and their handlers to sniff out (no pun intended) packages in the mail.
  • Documenting, weighing, and packaging the quarter million dollars’ worth of drugs that we (the interns) helped find.
  • Browsing the evidence room (I almost cried when I got to hold a Romanian AK-47).
  • Hearing perspectives from federal agents ranging from 23 year veterans to people that started the year before.

On more extraordinary days, I got to sit and talk to Federal Judges, District Attorneys, Secret Service Agents, Air Marshals (We had a shooting competition. Naturally, I lost.), Postal Police, members of the Philly Police Department, DEA Agents, K9 units, State Troopers, and members of ATF. I got to participate in and help facilitate federal agent training and in the process, almost beat a veteran in a shooting competition and got arrested four times in felony vehicle stops which included accusing an Inspector of racial discrimination. I also got a course in using riot shields, how to correctly use a firearm while holding the shield, and I took part in a virtual simulation on responding to calls as a law enforcement officer (I saved a young woman then killed multiple innocents). The simulation left my hands trembling, hands sweating, and my heart cold and pounding. I tried to imagine the real thing.

I did not have to imagine for long. When cocaine or methamphetamines were found, we did what they called a “controlled delivery.” The drugs would be delivered as planned but with heavy surveillance. For this, we were allowed to ride along equipped with bulletproof vests. We got to watch as the package was delivered, then seconds, minutes, or even hours later, the door being blown off the hinges by a ram and the pouring in of federal agents armed with MP-5s. After, we were allowed to watch on-site interrogations and search the house for additional evidence. We also had the pleasure of being cursed out by locals for “entering without warrants” and “racial discrimination” (this is where my training came in handy).

As exciting as all of this was, it was fairly hopeless too. Drugs, cocaine especially, were sent, over and over, to the same rough neighborhoods, to which we came to “control delivery” and whisk away peoples brothers, husbands, and sons. I had the privilege of working with George Clark, a Postal Inspector in the Philly Division. Clark gave me an outlet into another side of law enforcement. He allowed me to assist him in the investigation of a man who had, over the course of three years, stolen nearly half a million dollars from banks like PNC, TD, and various others. He’d also managed to involve the post office by buying money orders with the stolen money. He accomplished this feat with a pen, legitimate checks he’d gained from vulnerable people, and the power of persuasion. We spent about a week pouring over his criminal record and reports we had of his past thefts. We found his favorite place, favorite day, favorite time, and waited for him across the street in an undercover car. Sure enough, he was there at 7:02 AM buying money orders with stolen money.

“Nick, get in there and get his description.” Clark said.

“What?”

Last time I heard, the guy was looking at about a quarter century in prison. The internship was over before we could snag him.

This internship began, where all great things begin: Career Services. I attended the Law Enforcement Lunch they hosted before that summer and went to speak with two ladies from the USPIS based out of Indy. Students had swarmed the FBI, DEA, and Secret Service, but these two Inspectors did not have a single taker. They were very friendly and much more flexible than the other agencies. I called their supervisor, Ken Miller, who told me they weren’t accepting interns that summer. I was disappointed.

 

“Guess I’ll just go home this summer.” I said.

“Where’s home?”

“Philly.”

“You know what”, he said, “I know a Scott Guretse in Philly, an Inspector. Here’s his email, check it out.”

 

Kiss me, I was home.

Inside the Mind of the Interviewee

By Spencer Peters ’14

Whew. Breathe in, out, in, out.  This leather feels weird on the fabric of my suit; it’s making me sweat. No. Could the sweat be showing through?

I’m wearing a nice grey suit with a white undershirt and a red tie.  I’m set. I look good.  An hour ago I slowly dressed myself in front of my bathroom mirror; choosing to tie my tie in a full double Windsor.  Was this right? Should I have gone with an Oriental knot, a half Windsor? A bow tie? Do I come across as whimsical, professional, carefree?

I’m racking my brain as I sit on the unfamiliar leather couch.  My suit pulls at the shoulders when I lean down to adjust my resume in my planner on the dark wooden table. I read the words over again and again. “John Abernathy” I say in a hushed voice as I read the bolded words in the center of the page.

I look across the room; the secretary sits with her black rimmed glasses peering down at her skilled hands that glide across the keyboard, incessantly typing.   She just types and types, oblivious to the fear coursing through my every vein.  I begin my mental tirade on her unforgiving posture and attitude when I’m summoned back to the room by the sound of her voice.

“Mr. Griffin will see you now.”

“Thank you so much,” automatically reverberates from my mouth.

She hits me with a flashing smile and I wonder if it’s a sarcastic, ‘dead man walking’ smile or one of genuine hope.  Before I can begin sorting them out in my head I grab my planner and for the first time notice how sweaty my hands are.  No. I only hope that they can dry on my twenty foot walk to the front of the desk of my possible future employer.

I find the oiled wood handle of the boss’s door, and turn very gently to stay steady.

The man rises and reaches out his hand.  I greet him with a strong dry handshake while I introduce myself.  Yes, 1 for 1 on the day with handshakes.

“So tell me about yourself John.”

Wow. I’ve been preparing for this question.  It’s the simplest one and most common too! I got this.

“Well I guess to start, my name is John Abernathy, I grew up in a very small town and graduated from an even smaller high school.  I’m currently enrolled at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, IN, majoring in chemistry and psychology.  I devote a lot of time to my studies and my fraternity.  I also play on the football team at Wabash College.  And now I’m here seeking a job with you.”

By the smile on his face as I finish, I can tell I’ve done my job of scratching the surface of who I am.  I’ve done the job required of the question.  I sit a little straighter in my chair and shift as to readjust in its uncomfortable seat.  I grab my provided water and sip a couple of ounces until he begins in on his next question.

“So John, what makes you the best candidate for this job.  I can see from your resume that you’ve done a lot in your three years in college.”

My three years in college. I’m a current junior.  How do I wrap those up into a coherent answer?  I started drinking in college and have had my share of beers and drunken stories? But why am I thinking about that. Focus. I’ve had significant playing time as safety on the football team, but he doesn’t care about that; he’s looking at my leadership positions.  This is mine to blow, so don’t.

“Well Mr. Griffin. In my three years I’ve had multiple leadership positions, from vice president in my fraternity to president of College Mentors for Kids, and Captain of the football team; I’ve had to supervise and put people on the same page to work efficiently.  If I can corral first grade boys fresh out of school, college athletes pushed to the brink, or fraternity guys who can’t agree on anything, I believe that I can be part of a team that wants to work together toward a common goal.  I would love being given the chance to try.”

Shaky performance but I think I stuck the landing. Now an image of Nastia Lukin runs through my head of her landing from the balance beam.

More questions like this trickle by over the course of an hour.  I pause to form my responses, sip water to calm my nerves, and constantly keep a straight back and professional posture, even if my back is on fire.

The last question comes up.

“What is your biggest strength?”

I stroke my ego in my head a bit. I can outrun anyone in my school at the 40.  I date the cutest girls out of anyone in the fraternity.  Also, I’m a beast when it comes to Call of Duty.  But that’s not what he’s after.  What is my biggest strength that would spoon feed this guy.

“Well, throughout my life, I’ve always been a very good problem solver.  And I don’t mean that in a traditional sense necessarily.  If a problem gets put in front of me, regardless of its content and difficulty, I can solve it; usually by unconventional and innovative ways.  But there has never been a work related problem that I haven’t been able to solve if I have time.  For example, I once was given two days to make a pamphlet for a networking event, complete with contact information and background on the organization.  I did this and it was a hit within the office.”

“Well that’s all I have for you John.  We’ll contact you with our decision next week.  Thank you for your time.”

“Thank you for the opportunity Mr. Griffin.  I’m looking forward to hearing from you.”

I walk out of the office with my head held high. I feel as if I could have done more to strengthen his opinion of me.  However, now it’s my turn to flash the secretary a smile and let her decide what it means.  I hug my planner to my side, button my coat, and walk into the elevator and press the ground floor button.  Smiling.