What It Takes: Lessons from his parents have guided ex-D.C. police chief
As D.C. police chief, Isaac Fulwood Jr. had a reputation for suffering neither fools nor ne'er-do-wells gladly. These days, as U.S. Parole Commission chairman, Fulwood, 70, goes about his work in a more empathetic way, working to find solutions to help offenders who have done their time successfully reintegrate into society. His 40 years in law enforcement include 29 years as a member of the Metropolitan Police Department, three as the agency's 25th chief.
After his retirement in 1992, he oversaw youth programs in the city, served as a military consultant and worked as a senior marketing rep for a Pepsi-Cola franchise. In 2004, he was appointed a U.S. Parole commissioner by President George W. Bush. Last year, President Obama designated him chairman, and Fulwood oversees a five-member commission that operates on a $15 million budget with 85 employees and 15,000 people under supervision, including federal offenders, military prisoners and transfer treaty prisoners. He lives in Washington with Ruth, his wife of 48 years. They have two grown children and two grandchildren.
WHY HE'S SUCCESSFUL
Fulwood credits a strong family support system and the strict guidance of his parents, Betsy and Isaac Sr., for instilling in him the confidence that he could achieve any goal. "My father also believed very strongly that successful people must have a very strong Christian underpinning, a belief in something bigger than man because man has the tendency to fail you. My father died when he was 79 years old. He was a construction worker. He believed that you couldn't get sick, you had to go to work, that hard work was the hallmark of everything. He taught that to me."
Fulwood was raised in Southeast Washington and graduated from Eastern High School. "My first job was delivering groceries. ... I made $9 a week working four or five days a week after school. I learned about working at a very young age because of that job."
Walking a foot beat in the early days of his police career. "The police department was pretty segregated at that time. There weren't a lot of opportunities for blacks. My first job was in the old Number 5 Precinct. I walked a foot beat. They didn't let blacks drive in patrol cars ... It was hard walking that beat in the winter ... We had to do traffic crossings, and sometimes they would put us in there and not come back to get us for seven or eight hours, when they were supposed to relieve us after an hour. That was due to racism."
Working as chief of operations for the MPD. "You are responsible for the day-to-day operations. It's much more hands-on than the chief's job and much more fun. In the chief's job, you are in charge, but you are all over the place. You have to go before Congress, appear before the mayor and City Council, be the face of the department. In operations, you are the wheel and nobody bothers you."
Accepting then-Mayor Marion Barry's offer to become D.C. police chief. "I got called to the mayor's office ... I can remember not answering. ... I left and went back to my office and called my wife and told her. Two minutes later, Carol Thompson, who was the city administrator, called and said, 'The mayor would like an answer.' I said, 'Yeah, okay, absolutely.' "