By
Harry C. Alford

“18 Years, 18 Years” or so the Song Says – Part I

I have been holding this back for nearly eleven years. But now I am of another mind because my Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin has a specialty in Correctional Administration. In retrospect, I didn’t go to jail. It was a “field trip”. Some might say “Poor Harry it must have been terrible”. In fact, it was very insightful.

We had just finished our Fall Summit in lovely rural Costa Rica. We were going back to Washington, Dulles airport by way of Houston, Bush International. It was concluded at the Summit that whatever we do and whatever we can, all energy and funding must be devoted to the rebuilding of New Orleans after the Katrina deluge. One of our board members had just lost her $800,000 home flooded from floor to ceiling. I started the journey back home with nothing else on my mind.

We landed in Houston to go through Customs and get on the second plane to head home. As the female agent scanned my passport I noticed a twitch on her face. Then she sent me on to baggage check (final step). The gentleman manning that post quickly said “Sir please enter into that room”. My wife, Kay, and I go in as another agent joined us. They took our bags and immediately started going through them. I said “Do you suspect contraband?” He replied “We have an active warrant for your arrest from Detroit, MI.” I said “I haven’t lived in Detroit since 1981.” His response, “It seems to be about child support”.

In times like this Kay becomes as strong as a rock. She said “Give me everything but your driver’s license and fifty dollars. I’ll call our attorney first thing in the morning and get to work on getting you out.” She did not disappoint. Our attorney worked at a national, prestigious firm. He got their Houston office to handle the case.

What this was all about was incompetence on the Detroit Child Support system. My daughter (from a 2 year marriage) was emancipated from my Child Support at the age of 18. Her mother applied for a four year extension (college) which was granted. The big issue here is that they didn’t have an address to notify me. The forwarding address of the old residence had expired. Thus, they had me owing $16,000 in arrears. The Detroit Prosecutor saw this as a good “Notch” on her “belt”. Kay told our assigned attorney she could wire the funds immediately. They both said that will do the “trick”. That was on a Friday. My attorney contacted the Detroit people and faxed a copy of the wire documents. She was told that the Detroit Child Support office closed early on Friday. That meant they wouldn’t be able to report the payment until the next business day – Monday. That means I am going to spend four nights in the Houston “Big House”.

Dang! I should have paid more attention to that phone call I received about 5 years earlier. It was a guy who was hardly literate who claimed that he was representing the Wayne County, MI Sheriff’s Office. He claimed that if I didn’t send in $10,000 immediately he was going to put out a warrant for my arrest. I thought “another phone scam” and ignored it. My bad, I should have had our lawyer verify it. In between then and now I must have had 15 – 20 international flights with not a single glitch going through customs. When we got through this I called Detroit and verified any balance. The comical employee stated, “Let’s see Mr. Alford it appears you owe $7.85. It seems to be administrative fee and payment within a week will close the account out. Can you handle that (as she chuckled)”? I said “You will have it tomorrow”. Ironically, I would soon start receiving child support threats from a real phone scam artist in Texas. I could never detect the address to report it to authorities.

So, here I am walking through the Houston Bush International Airport wearing handcuffs. Luckily I was not detected. The officer taking me to the Houston City Jail was very nice. When we pulled up I detected chicanery. He goes, “Look, they are going to give you a very thorough search. If there are any in your shoes or socks or anywhere else on you, please take them out and put them on the ground. I am serious! They will find them.” I assured him that I didn’t do . What he was doing was to see if I actually had some which would mean he didn’t thoroughly search me. He was looking out for himself.

So here goes Harry C. Alford Jr. walking into a jail house for the first time in his life. I thought could I get my intimidating look on for the new friends I was about to meet? How about my left jab followed by my knockout right cross? Dear Lord, help me!

Mr. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Website: www.nationalbcc.org Email: halford@nationalbcc.org