It Started With Fingerprinting

Actually, it started two weeks ago, when I was interviewed by two Sonoma County Law Enforcement Chaplains who asked me why I wanted to become one of them.

"To tell you the truth," I said, "the whole idea terrifies me. But it's the sort of terror which compels further exploration."

They laughed. "You couldn't do this if you didn't feel that way," one replied.

Or maybe it started in 2000, when I interviewed a Sonoma Valley man who had just graduated from the 85-hour program in order to be able to sit with victims of crimes and accidents and help them cope when they'd otherwise be alone; or in 2001, when first responders in New York walked into two burning buildings, perhaps knowing they weren't coming out. I'd been writing about police and firefighters then for long enough to think I knew why they did that — and right then, I wanted to help those who help. But it wasn't until earlier this month that the opportunity arrived in the form of a newspaper blurb looking for chaplaincy candidates and urging the interested to fill out the form on

Anyway, whenever it started, this grey cool morning found me in Santa Rosa, at the county sheriff's headquarters, being fingerprinted with three other chaplain candidates.

The woman who runs the fingerprinting machine said she didn't like it at first. She was of the ink-and-roller school, and said she only adjusted to the new technology when they took her roller away. Now, she said, she couldn't imagine taking fingerprints any other way. The LiveScan fingerprinting machine is a digital camera, which takes a group shot apiece of the four fingers on each hand, and then one of each finger and thumb which the technician rolled gently across the cleanest glass plate I've ever seen.

"Just relax," she said.

There's a lesson in that, and one which I'll be thinking about next Tuesday evening the training begins in earnest with a weekly three-hour class until April. More about that subsequently, God willing.

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