by Donna McCollum
When the Columbia shuttle debris first fell three years ago, East Texans were warned not to gather it for souvenirs. One person who ignored the order was an Angelina County Sheriff's Deputy. Jeffery Arriola pleaded guilty to theft and obstruction of a government investigation. He was placed on a year's probation and resigned from the sheriff's department.
Picking up the debris is a mistake Arriola will always regret, but he also credits it for giving him a new direction in life. Today, Arriola drives heavy equipment at a salvage yard, but this former marine and deputy of three years misses the squad car. "I put my heart and soul into it."
He maintains a collection of pins that remind him of his years of service in law enforcement. "These are the things I wore on my uniform," said Arriola, as he showed a deputy's name tag, a S.W.A.T. pin, and an angel pin for protection. "These things mean a lot to me. I still look at them from time to time, but I know I've got a different road to walk."
Arriola is thankful for his new career, but getting here was far from easy. His turning point came at a place where people aren't interested in his past, but his future. "New Life Worship Center is called the House of Bethesda, [meaning] the place of healing." This is where Arriola came to terms with his situation.
Arriola hadn't been in a church for seven years, but it's here where he admitted the truth. "I come to realize that really no one [else is to blame]. It was no one's fault but mine," said Arriola from the church sanctuary where he and his family worship each week.
Arriola calls his misjudgment of picking up the debris a silly mistake. Arriola said, "I lost everything, 800 or so hours of training over a piece of little burnt metal that's no bigger than your thumbnail. It took NASA three weeks to determine if it even came off the shuttle. Brand new, the piece cost $10."
Arriola lost a job he loved. More so, he lost the trust needed to resume a law enforcement career. Suicide was a consideration. "I actually had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder for this." The Samaritan Center helped Arriola out of a severe depression.
He now has learned,"We make choices every day, and we need to meditate on it before we do anything. We need to make sure that we put a lot of thought into something we do before we do it. In that situation, I didn't."
Arriola apologizes for any embarrassment he caused the community, but adds that everything happens for a reason. Jeff Arriola wants to share his testimony with churches and organizations. He's also thinking about a book. Arriola can be reached at the New Life Worship Center.