Deputy Odis Stephenson is basically the face of the Wake County Justice Center. He wears the uniform of the Wake County Sheriff's Office, and his primary job is to keep the peace, but he does a lot more than that. He stands on the first floor of the courthouse greeting friends and strangers alike, answering questions, lending an ear, and dispensing priceless wisdom.
I have known the veteran lawman for years. I always stop to chat when I have a moment, or a few moments. If you know Odis, you know what I'm talking about. There are no short conversations.
On this particular day, we were talking about his grief over the anniversary of his sweet wife's death, his good fortune in finding love again with a new, kind lady, and his passion for reciting poetry.
During our five minute conversation, Odis helped a homeless man fill out paperwork to get an attorney while also lending him his reading glasses, directed no less than four people to the restrooms, and lectured two young people and their parents about making good choices. One of those encounters ended with the mother of a teenage girl hugging him.
What I love the most about his advice to the families was how simple it was, yet coming from an older, wiser person in uniform, I could tell it made a major impact on these young people.
"I can look at your face and know that you're a good person, and that your parents have raised you right," he said. "Now, you have a second chance. All you need to do is make good choices. When that voice gets inside your head telling you to do something other than that, don't listen to it. Wipe that slate clean. Make your parents proud. We've all made mistakes. Don't let them define you. Turn it all around right now."
I studied the teenagers' faces closely as they listened to him intently. The parents nodded their heads. And it struck me that in a busy, overburdened court system, no one else would say these words to these teens, not because they don't care, but because they don't have time. Judges and attorneys have to keep the cases moving in the courtroom.
Odis cares and has the time. I considered the fact that over the years he has probably given this speech to hundreds of young people, maybe more. As a parent of teenagers, I want to thank him from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to do this. He is an unsung hero in the village helping to guide youth by imparting a little bit of wisdom that if taken can make all the difference...
Stephenson is also an author, combining his pearls of wisdom with his life story in his book, "It Only Seems Like Yesterday."
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including some on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.