The Avenger

Bristol TN Police Department / Bristol TN 911

My Superhero, is my best friend, partner on a daily basis at work, and I consider her to be a sister. Penny Durham has helped me survive through one of the hardest times in my life. She and I work for the City of Bristol TN 911/Police Department, and have worked together for many years. She has literally seen me through one of the toughest times of my life, but also one of the most embarrassing times. Penny is a wonderful caring and giving person. She has been my rock, confident, friend, counselor, and so much more. She has stuck by my side and been there for me every step of the way.

Here is a little bit about her background and how that helped me so much more. Penny started her career first in EMS as an EMT, she then worked for a Sheriff’s Department as deputy, court security, transportation, and finished her career with them as a corrections officer in the jail. She then transferred to our agency and became a 911 dispatcher. Our agency is small and we dispatch police, fire, and EMS. I am telling you this, because all of her travels in life gave her the knowledge to help me through my tough time.

I have been a 911 dispatcher for 16 years. I have always had so much respect for all emergency responders. I get to see and interact more with police, because our center is within the police department. This is why my life event was embarrassing. In September of 2019 my now EX-HUSBAND was arrested for sale and distribution of methamphetamine. I had absolutely no clue that he was involved in such a horrible crime. Now that it is over, I know that it could have been worse, but nonetheless, at the time my whole world crumbled and so did so many of my family members. I received a phone call that I initially thought was a prank. I had received a phone call from the DEA. I thought it was a friend and they were playing a prank on me. It was a nice day, my son and I had just gone shopping for my father-in-law’s birthday present and we were just about home. After I asked a bunch of questions, got very ill with the caller, said a few things I wish I hadn’t, after asking questions only dispatchers or other law enforcement would know, I pulled over into someone’s gravel driveway. The last question I asked was, “okay, if you are DEA, what is your ORI?” When they gave the answer effortlessly, I knew it was true. They told me that my husband had been taken down at gun point and arrested, and gave me the information that I needed to appear at the Federal Courthouse that day. Some of my first words to the agents when they told me where he was being held, was that I didn’t care and to tell him he was DIVORCED that minute.

The only thing I knew to do was continue home, called my mom to come and watch my son, called his parents to tell them, called my lieutenant to let my agency know, and MY AVENGER, PENNY. I called her and she was at my house in minutes. I was so nervous, mad, and hurt all at the same time. How could someone do this to his family? How could he have put us in so much danger? How could I have been so dumb? All these questions flowed out and she never left my side. She was a lifesaver. She knew how the system worked, she knew what to say, what not to say, how to keep me calm, how to keep me from getting arrested, etc. All the emotions that I couldn’t control, she controlled mine. She was my eyes and ears in that courtroom. I don’t really remember much of what they said. All I remember is he was charged with selling and distributing over 50 grams and he had a firearm on him when he was arrested.

Long story short, I was scared to death about drug dealers, thankful he hadn’t cost me my job, and most importantly, he could have cost me my SON. My son is my life he is also what keeps me going. He is my little Avenger. I know this seems like such a long story, but it is. She has stuck by my side through everything. Court dates, moving, divorce, emotional breakdowns, having to miss work, being there for me when I had to finally let my ex have visitation days before he was sentenced. She kept me busy on our days off, especially when I didn’t have my son. Penny also would take time out of her day to just talk or text me. She went above and beyond what most friends would. She even volunteers to take my on-call days or switch with me to accommodate me and my son. My ex was finally sentenced and sent to federal prison for 10 years. Not only did she get me through that life event, but this past September 2020 my Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. Just when things started to look up, they went back down, who did I call? It wasn’t Ghost Busters, it was Penny.

While I sat at my console today, I typed this long story up (she has no clue I am doing this). This story does not do her justice. Knowing and loving her does her justice. She is beautiful inside and out. She wasn’t the only one there for me, there was a lot of family, co-workers, and other friends, but she was the ONE, the one there all the time. As I sit here today, she is by my side. She is my Avenger, she helped me through the dark times, and I help her through hers, but when the day is over at work, our friendship isn’t. We will always be the best of friends, family, and co-workers. We always have each other’s backs. She just said this morning that her leaving her other job to come to this one, was the best decision she made, because of our friendship. I don’t know what me or my son would have done without her. I sit here as most of the rest of you do, listening to other people’s problems, crises, or just trivial calls. It is hard to sit and try to deal with the rest of the world when yours is crumbling around you. Guess what? Mine just cracked, it didn’t shatter, because I had and continue to have a great support system. PENNY!! I wish I could go on and on, I could, its all too easy to talk about her. She doesn’t like to admit it, and neither do I, but we are much softer than what people think. We are good-hearted people. We love our co-workers and even if we may gripe about our officers, EMS, fire, etc. … no one else can! We stay because we do like it, we stay so that our hearts can help others, and we will continue to do the best we can until the end. This job is not for everyone. I say on a daily basis, is this day over? But if we didn’t have it to come back to, our second home, we would just mettle and find other ways to help people. That’s the way we are designed, to help others even when we need it ourselves.

I don’t want to dismiss any of my supervisors at this department. We are all a big family and they have been so great through all of this drama. They never judged, they supported me and helped me in my time of need. That’s what family does. I really couldn’t be anywhere else, only family could stand my ways…..

Thank you for listening to my story, take the time to let this dispatcher, my Avenger, Penny know how great she is! Sometimes, maybe just once in a while, everyone needs to hear how great they are and appreciated! The ones who do not demand recognition are the good ones!! The keepers! So I am keeping my Avenger, my Superhero!! PENNY!!

Photo attached is me and Penny in Destin, FL. She is the short brown-haired girl!!

Charlsie Shaffer