I recently attended the Anaheim Police Department Jr. Cadet academy graduation ceremony. As the current president of the Anaheim Cops 4 Kids board, I was lucky enough to score seating in the VIP area.
As the ceremony progressed, I was drawn to one parent in particular. Standing over 6 feet tall with facial tattoos and eyebrow piercings, she cheered enthusiastically.
I introduced myself and learned her name was Ukia Anderson. Her daughter, Eayana Rodriquez, was in the Jr. Cadet beginner class. Eayana was one of the cadets chosen to share her experiences in the program in front of about 2,500 attendees.
We listened together when Eayana walked up to the podium to speak.
Eayana confidently shared how she was scared at first. The physical exercise and discipline made her feel like she was “going to die.” But as time went on, she began to have fun.
She thanked Sgt. Jake Gallacher and Officer Leslie Vargas for being role models and encouraging her toward her goal to become a probation officer.
Ukia was beaming when her daughter received a special recognition award for placing in the military drill competition.
Ukia said having Eayana in the Jr. Cadet program was a big achievement for their family.
Ukia told me she’s a recovering drug addict. Her journey to sobriety was difficult for her and her family. Twice her children were removed from her custody and put into the foster care system.
Her older daughter started the Jr. Cadet program years ago, but Ukia made her quit because she was paranoid about police officers arresting her.
In 2011, after more than 15 arrests and time in the county jail, she’d had it. With the help of her probation officer and others Ukia entered a drug rehabilitation program and hasn’t looked back since.
Ukia’s been sober for three years and is working hard to become the mother her children deserve.
I asked her how she felt about working with police officers given the number of times she’s been arrested over the years.
She explained: “One thing sobriety has taught me was I had no one to blame for my problems but myself. The police were always just doing their job.”
Ukia gives a lot of credit to Gallacher and Vargas for working with Eayana. They have encouraged her at every opportunity.
When things were tough at Christmas, an Anaheim PD officer and his family adopted them and delivered food and presents to the family.
Ukia said Eayana will continue in Jr. Cadets and the rest of her children will sign up as soon as they can. She plans to return to school with a goal of getting a degree in counseling. She has a plan all laid out.
She has become a woman of strong faith and the whole family now attends church together on Sundays. They also attend family counseling.
I gave her some advice and shared my personal story with her. My own mother struggled with drug addiction when I was a child.
Your children are going to do just fine, I told her.
Sgt. Gallacher later told me, “Ukia is trying to be the best mom she can right now, and we are going to be there to help her in any way we can.”
Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org