First Person Singular: Gregory Campbell, deputy chief inspector, U.S. Postal Inspection Service


Gregory Campbell, deputy chief inspector, U.S. Postal Inspection Service. (Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
March 14, 2013

In the neighborhood that I grew up in, in the city of Compton, where the Crips and Bloods gangs first started, I didn’t have a good opinion or experience with police. They would drive by our neighborhood as we were playing in the street and search us, or make us put our hands on their cars. After driving around L.A. on a hot summer day, putting our hands on their hoods would actually get blisters on our hands. Or they would put some kids in the back of their car and take them to another gang neighborhood and then let them out. You had to literally run home. Running home from a neighboring city could cost you your life. I would have
felt safer in jail; at least I knew I had family there.

I have family members who are Crips and Bloods. As a kid, I saw family members killed in drive-by shootings.
I had family members locked up, even today, doing life in prison for murder or drugs or gangs. My godsister — my family raised her as a kid, and we treat her like our biological sister — she has tattooed on her arm, “F--- the Police.” And that’s my sister. I love her. That’s just the hatred that some of my family members have toward law enforcement, but I saw something different. She has her reasons for hating the police. I have mine for saying, “If you want to change the system, then you become a part of the system.” I had an intuition, at a very young age, that going to jail, being killed, was not the way to change things. And so, from middle school on, I wanted to work in law enforcement.

There is no more of a captive audience than having somebody in a jail cell. I took advantage of every single one of those opportunities. They were angry with me as to why somebody that looked like them could lock them up, and I would take advantage of that time to tell them my story. Every time I arrested somebody that looked like me, I told them: “You’re going to have to pay the cost, ’cause you committed a crime. But you’ll also have a second chance once you get out of here.”

I’m not out working the streets anymore. I don’t work undercover. I’m an executive. I became a deputy [inspector] in 2009, but every chance I get, I try to mentor young people. I go into prisons, and I’ll speak at elementary schools. I don’t tell them I’m in law enforcement until the end, because I don’t want to lose the message. I tell them my story, and they see someone who looks like them. At the very end, I tell them what I do for a living. And I tell them: “I am able to help people. Not hurt them.”

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