Badge of Courage


Now a patrolman in the Reading Police Department, Alvernia CJ grad Francisco Contreras ’13 reflects on his path to a career, for a special DECADE edition of Alvernia Magazine.

Most people have jobs, but I don’t.

Most people dislike their jobs, but I don’t.

I have a career. I earned it. And now I love it.

Each day I go into work is different. It is a career that has good days and one that mirrors the perils of life, but either way, I have been taught and trained well enough to endure it. It is never easy to deal with cases of abuse and violence, but for some reason, this was a career path that I wanted to follow.

When I first came to the United States, it was a lonely existence. Getting home from school also meant having to spend evenings alone as my father went to work. Though it was lonely, it was prime time for all the FBI crime shows on television. These shows had a way of capturing my entire attention and I finally realized my desire to be just like those police officers or FBI agents on the shows. I wanted so badly just to be like those heroes in the shows, but knew it wouldn’t be easy.

As I drew closer to the end of my high school career, it became more difficult to make decisions. My father was not exactly supportive of my wish to pursue higher education. He lived a life where the end of high school meant the beginning of a long and tedious job at a factory to secure finances. But no matter how much he detested the idea of college, my mind was made up.

From a young age, I became well acquainted with the harsh reality of an impoverished existence. To make ends meet, my uncle worked exhausting jobs just to put bread on the table. He gave up his own dreams to provide for his family, and no matter how tired he was, he would find time to teach me math because he felt education was the only answer to a happy and comfortable life. He always wanted to be a math teacher and had the brains to make it, but life had different plans.

I think his deepest regret was having given up his education. I remember he would always say, “Francisco, I am incredibly smart, but also incredibly dumb” for having given up so easily on his dream. His selflessness influenced me greatly and he remains my inspiration to this day. I wanted to make him proud of me just as I was proud of him, so off to college I went.

Going to Alvernia was the beginning of a new life for me and I made sure to make the most of my time at the university. The beauty of my Alvernia experience came in engaging with strict and prepared professors who also knew what it meant to be a human with responsibilities. They made me feel as though I belonged somewhere and encouraged me to do my best, which in turn made me feel like I was in a real family after so much loneliness, and I was not going to let them down.

Graduating from college brought about a new beginning for both my family and me. My younger siblings all decided to walk paths that will bear them great fruit, from joining the military to pursuing careers in the medical field. As the one who set this process in motion, my happiness soars. But I am not satisfied just yet. I still want to become an FBI agent.

Thanks to the Alvernia community, I was able to graduate and secure a spot with the Reading Police Department. It seemed as though everything was falling into place, and I could not have been more excited. Then the reality of the job hit me one day.

One evening, my training officer and I were on patrol when we were called to the scene of a shooting. The victim was in terrible condition, and no matter how much it hurt, my training kicked in and I took his statement before he died. I learned that not all stories have feel-good endings, and it left a mark on me.

But I made that statement count by using it to bring his transgressor to justice. The experience made me realize this is where I belong.

Leaving the Dominican Republic 13 years ago was a difficult transition, but with my degree, I am finally doing what I love. I have been working as a patrolman with the Reading Police Department for almost a year and a half now. I’ve fought many battles, but they’ve earned me courage, respect and a way to help the world as it had helped me. I found a place I love with a career that brings meaning to my life. Thirteen years later, and I made it.