There was a time when Tiffany Hall did all she could to avoid Long Beach Police Officer Jim Foster, even frantically knocking on the door of a stranger’s home pleading “Help me, the police are coming. Can I go out your back door?” She got away, that time.
Run-ins with Foster were the norm for Hall in the early 2000s when she was on the streets and addicted to crack cocaine and PCP, but the usual outcome placed her in handcuffs cursing and pleading to be released from the back of his cruiser on the way to the police station.
Clean for nine years, Hall was greeted by Lieutenant Foster on May 18 not with cuffs, but with a hug. After shaking the hand of California State University, Dominguez Hills Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Spagna during the university’s 2018 commencement in the StubHub Center Soccer Stadium, Hall then made her way off the stage–performing a celebratory dance on the way–and into Foster’s arms.
“I was so happy that Lieutenant Foster came to see me graduate. He is my hero. He saved my life,” said Hall, who was conferred her bachelor’s in human services.” Getting a college degree was something he always told me I could do. Now I’ve done it–something for myself. I didn’t know it at first but he was my protector, my angel. I just thank God for him.”
After the hug, Foster called Hall an American success story.
“She worked so hard to get here. I’m just incredibly proud of her,” he said. “She went through so much in her past and it’s great to see how much she has overcome.”
Hall was addicted to drugs from the age of 12 into her early 30s. By the age of 14, Hall had her first of two sons and was living on and off the streets. She began selling drugs and became hooked on crack, was involved with gangs, and inevitably got picked up by police.
Raised in a house that was constantly raided due to the drugs that were ever-present, Hall was taught to never trust or show respect for the police. Her first interaction with Foster was in 2002. He would stop her on the street, often for warrants or probation violations. It was during those rides when Foster would tell Hall that she could do a lot better, and would encourage her to give up the life she was leading, go to school, or just find something more positive to do.
“From the get-go my interactions with Lt. Foster were very respectful. He would stop me, tell a joke and laugh, then say ”˜You know Tiffany, I have to take you to jail,’ and then pull out the handcuffs,” said Hall. “He would never get out of his car and push his weight around, or try to intimidate or disrespect anyone. I respected him for that, even though I would sometimes curse at him all the way to the station.”
Foster’s advice didn’t begin to sink in for years as Hall continued on her self-destructive path. All her friends were drug addicts and many were in gangs. There was the time she was stabbed nine times. “Good thing I was wearing thick clothes,” declared Hall, who has a 25-page rap sheet.
Hall and her child did move in with her father for a period of time. He was a Vietnam veteran, and along with Foster was the only positive influence in her life. At the age of 17, she began going to school and had a job, but it was also the year she started smoking PCP so that didn’t work out, neither did living with her father.
“My father was a minister and a machinist, but he worked a lot. He taught me that you treat people the way you want to be treated, and that you have to work for what you want and need, but I gave him a hard time, was disobedient toward him and was disrupting the household,” said Hall. “He wasn’t going to stand for that and all the cursing.”
Hall continued selling and taking drugs in Long Beach’s most neglected neighborhoods, and continued to end up in the backseat of Foster’s patrol car, but he still saw something in her.
July 4, 2005 would be the last time Hall was arrested by Lt. Foster, and the last time she saw him until they reunited in April 2018. That day in 2005, her grandmother was killed by her sister’s boyfriend.
“Lt. Foster told me to go home or he would arrest me. I didn’t, so he arrested me again,” she said. “Now I understand why he was always arresting me. He knew I was reaching out for something, but I just couldn’t get it because I was hooked on drugs. I was self-medicating.”
For the next few years Hall spent time in and out of jail. At 23 she had quit smoking PCP but still was struggling and hanging out with the wrong people. She wasn’t selling drugs anymore, but was asked by a friend to get him some. She was subsequently arrested for drug sales and facing a 10-year sentence in prison, but was only sentenced to eight and a half months. Hall was arrested again, but this time went back to prison for two and a half years. After her final arrest she ended up in a drug rehabilitation program.
“In the cell I would think about what Lt. Foster always told me–about getting my act together and how I was the kind of person who could do well,” she recalled. “That’s when I made the decision that it would be my last time in a police car. I started to feel better about myself. Just like Lt. Foster said I would.”
The drug treatment program was a success for Hall. She went on to cosmetology school in 2010 and began finding work, but yearned for more education. She went on to earn associate degrees in both liberal arts and natural science, then transferred to CSUDH.
She now plans to pursue a master’s degree in social work at CSUDH, and eventually become a social worker. This summer Hall will be taking courses related to drugs and alcohol that will count toward her graduate degree.
“When you’re working in social work you often come in contact with people who have had some type of history with drug addiction. So it’s important for me to be educated in that way,” she explained. “I’m also a recovering drug addict, so having the book knowledge to go along with those experiences will be very powerful.”