As recovering Long Beach, California, drug addict Tiffany Hall prepared for her graduation from university, she might well have wondered whether her special guest would turn up. After all, police lieutenant Jim Foster had put her in jail more than once.
The port city of Long Beach is part of the Los Angeles urban area. Formerly known for its oil production, it remains a busy center for manufacturing. Indeed, car parts, electronics and furniture are just some of the things made today in Long Beach.
However, the bustle of the docks and local industries does have a downside. Long Beach is among the U.S.’ most polluted cities, with the wind bringing in dirty air from L.A. to its west to add to the pollution created by one of the world’s largest ports.
Despite the pollution, though, Long Beach is still a pleasant place to live in. The weather is lovely, for example, with plenty of sunshine year round. In addition, the city spends more than any other in Southern California on its parks. There’s a growing problem with drug addiction in Long Beach, however.
Nearly half a million souls inhabit Long Beach, and of them more than 40,000 take drugs regularly. Most could be considered addicts of one type or another, in fact. And among them was Tiffany Hall, often found on the streets of some of Long Beach’s roughest areas.
Hall’s struggle with drug addiction often brought her into contact with the local police. As a result, she was no stranger to the inside of a cell. Her problems with drugs had often seen her locked up for a spell, in fact.
Eventually, though, Hall decided that she had to turn her life around. In 2009 she suffered her final arrest and while sitting in jail yet again, she reflected on some advice that she’d been given. And it was then that Hall resolved to change.
The person who had given her that advice had been police lieutenant Jim Foster. Becoming a cop was something of a family tradition in the Foster family, with his dad and granddad both having donned the blue. But Foster had more to offer than simply locking Hall up.
On every occasion Foster came across Hall, he had given her encouragement. He’d suggested that a better life awaited her. If she could kick the drugs, Foster explained, she could get some education and find new opportunities. He urged her to do better because, he told the Long Beach Post, she had a “unique spirit.”
What’s more, it seems that Hall eventually took Foster’s advice to heart. Having knuckled down to a new world of learning, she graduated in 2018 from California State University. There, Hall had studied human services at the school’s Dominguez Hills campus.
And there was a special guest present to see Hall pick up her degree. Yes, she had invited Foster, and he was in the audience to celebrate the way she’d left behind her old life. Long Beach’s “justice lab,” an initiative that aims to help keep people out of jail, had brought them back together.
Hall hadn’t seen Foster for some years, and it might well have been a novelty for her to have entered a police station willingly. But she’d done just that in order to hand Foster an invite to the ceremony at which she would graduate.
While Hall was at the station, she spoke about Foster at a press conference. “I want to thank Lt. Jim Foster for his respect and his compassion and the empathy that he showed to me and anyone he came in contact with,” she said, according to ABC News. And for his part, Foster was delighted to accept the invitation.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Foster explained. He admitted that transformations such as Hall’s were high points in his work. “The biggest joy of my professional career is from time to time having contact with people who have found their way out of horrible circumstances,” he said.
With that in mind, Foster talked about his memories of Hall. He recalled her pep, her wit and her spirit. “She had a tough outer shell but a very soft inner person,” Foster told the Long Beach Post.
For her part, Hall remembered the kindness she had been treated with. “He showed me respect,” she told the Long Beach Post. “He treated me like I was human and not like I was nobody, and I thank you for that, and I got a lot of respect for you.”
An example of that respect had been displayed when Foster had come across Hall on a special date: her birthday. She said that he had put on a performance of dancing and singing “Happy Birthday,” and had then told Hall that he’d be back the next day to arrest her instead.
Nowadays, Hall’s days of lawbreaking are long behind her. “I obey all laws today,” she said at her graduation. “You can’t even get me to jaywalk.” It all seems to be part of her can-do attitude. “If you keep looking behind you, you’ll never be able to see what’s in front of you,” she explained.
Hall plans to move on to a career in which she can help people in situations like the one she formerly found herself in. Her aim is to train as a social worker once she has finished grad school. Ultimately, she’d like to give back to others what she was given by Foster.
As for Foster himself, watching Hall succeed brought him immense pride. He said, “I couldn’t be prouder of the fact that Tiffany has pulled herself out of some very tough circumstances.” Indeed, it seems that she really had put the years since he’d last seen her to very good use.