“So you feel overwhelmed?” Ernie asks. “Would that be fair to say?”
“OK” Ernie says. “Would you agree with me if I said, honestly, you don’t want to kill yourself, you just want this pain to go away?”
Jessica nods, gulping. She explains that she used to cut her legs, “just so I could feel better.” She openly accuses her boyfriend of sleeping with another woman when she is out of the house and of making her and the kids stay away from morning until 6 p.m.
She’s a gushing faucet of pain, but Ernie keeps his focus.
“OK, all right,” he says. “I can see that point of view. What I’m worried about is the way that you handle these types of stressors in your life. When you’re up against a crisis like this, and something happens, how are you equipped to deal with it?”
Jessica explains that she usually leaves and goes to a friend’s house, that she could never afford counseling and is afraid of its conditions.
“They tell me that if I’m going to harm myself…” her voice dwindles off. And then, “I don’t want them to take my kids away.”
Ernie responds swiftly.
“Let me put that fear at ease, OK? Hear me: There’s no way at all that I’m going to even consider taking your children away from you. All I want to do is get you help so you’re equipped to deal with life when it comes at you like this.”
The conviction in Ernie’s promise seems to break through to Jessica.
“Well, then, if someone’s going to check me, can I be honest with you and show you what I did?”
Ernie nods, having waited, it seems, for this breakthrough. Jessica stands up, takes off her outer shirt and lifts the camisole underneath. Ernie sighs heavily. Her chest is covered by a jigsaw puzzle of 50 bleeding gashes, some of them deep.
“Did you show the patrol officers this?”
“No,” Jessica says.
Ernie’s eyes narrow as he leans closer. “Let me see this for a second. They may want to suture these and put a couple of stitches in there. We need to get help. This is something we don't want you to do. They can take care of this at the crisis center.”
Then he looks into her eyes.
“Listen to me, Jessica. I’m heartbroken. If you were my wife, my sister, I’d be heartbroken.”
Her eyes well up, hearing a truth about her value that’s been buried. And then...
“This is normal for me,” she says limply.
“Originally, I didn’t want to get into this line of work,” Ernie says back in the patrol car, after Jessica has been checked in to the crisis center, called Restoration.
“Dealing with a mentally unstable consumer was my biggest fear. I’d been a patrol officer for 13 years when a buddy signed me up for this training, called CIT. I just said yes because to do it would mean I’d get a weekend off.”
CIT was at that time new to San Antonio, having been introduced in 2005 as part of an initiative Bexar County was undertaking to stave off fines from an overcrowded jail.