Paul Kevin Curtis and I have nothing in common. Well, we have one thing in common. We both had to fix doors broken in by federal officials.In case you don’t recognize his name, Paul Kevin Curtis is the forty-five- year-old Elvis impersonator from Mississippi charged by the FBI with sending a threatening letter to President Obama that was contaminated with ricin.
Although he was released last week and charges later dropped, Curtis is arguing that the government should repair his home, which was badly damaged. His lawyer reported that the agents removed art from the walls, broke the frames and tore the artwork. NPR declared that they had smashed his door.
Smashing down doors…isn’t that what they do on Law and Order? I’ll bet that when you saw a bunch of cops break down a door by kicking it open or slamming it with a shoulder or a battering ram, you didn’t even blink. I’ll bet you never thought about the work, effort and expense to repair a door with its broken lock, shattered trim, and distorted and split frame. It’s just what the good guys do, right? Before it happened to me, I never thought about it either.
When federal officials invaded my home on August 2, 2005, at first they didn’t destroy anything. They were generally respectful.
When they initially charged into the house, I was in shock. I barely realized I was dressed in immodest clothing. But as time went on, I became more and more annoyed that they wouldn’t permit me to change into street clothes.
“I don’t want to sit here in my nightgown. Why can’t I get dressed now?” I ask repeatedly to almost every agent that walks by the living room sofa.
“Not right now, but pretty soon,” says one young agent, as he rushes by.
“Not just yet,” says a tall woman, lugging a heavy box toward the door.
“I don’t think so, but I’ll check,” says one of the Westport police officers.
They have been searching through every closet and desk, every corner, every file cabinet. They inspect and remove two years worth of photo CDs I’ve created of my grandson, representing his entire life.
I snap to and boldly stand up and march from the living room, through the kitchen, past the laundry and finally to my bedroom where I quickly shut and lock the door. My husband’s wide closet with bi-fold mirrored doors are now closed. I assume they’ve finished examining that space.
Immediately I feel safe in this spacious and peaceful room. Light peach walls, muted blue and peach printed draperies and a large pink and gray flowered oriental rug comfort me. The sliding glass door, on one side, connects to a wrap-around narrow deck that overlooks the back lawn and garden. I’m surrounded by butternut, ash, oak and maple trees. The yellowing leaves of the prized Japanese primroses wilt next to the blue-green hosta.
Quietly, I stand in my large walk-in closet and close the door. The closet walls are covered with framed photos of my children from their younger days. Clothing is organized on built-in shelves and racks. The hamper is upholstered in a soft-pink flowered print and a small matching seat rests by the wall next to the scale. Shoes are scattered around the floor at the end of the closet. I put my cold hands on my face.
I hear a thud and a crack as six men and women, along with Special Agent Ken Labrie, smash the door lock and split the painted wood trim. The force of his body splinters the board away from the wall. The six intruders thunder across the bedroom. Their shoes scuffle on the floor when they hit the wood floor off the rug, near the closet. All of the air is sucked out as they tear open the closet door and throw themselves into the small space where I’m standing. I’m naked.
“What the fuck are you doing? Get out of here!” I shout at them. I’m shocked, afraid and humiliated.
I hold my nightgown, still in my hand, in front of me as best I can. They stop. Their mouths are open. They look aghast.
“I just want to get dressed. Don’t you understand that?” I say. My throat hurts from screaming at them.
The men make an effort not to look at my bare breasts and try to focus on my face. My mouth tastes metallic. The men leave silently. One woman remains. I get dressed with her standing there, while she averts her eyes. I am about to faint.
My father repaired the door so it was usable and glued the split wood down, but it never closed easily after that. In the humid summer months, I couldn’t shut it all the way. Not until 2012, was it completely fixed, with the trim replaced and two muscular men using all their strength to square it up again.
That’s what the Mississippi man and I have in common. I’ll bet that he, like me, will have to pay to repair the damage himself.