Jaime Bruno’s Story sounds like the plot of an implausible novel, a tale with a twist so ironic (in the best, most benevolent sense of the word) it couldn’t possibly be true.
A young boy, the oldest of six children born to Mexican migrant workers, grows up in an impoverished south Texas border town just north of the Rio Grande.
His family of eight shares a 300-square-foot home and a powerful familial bond, his parents’ love, integrity and values creating a motivating force in the midst of an environment that breeds crime, corruption, and violence.
Not only does the young man beat the odds by escaping the deadly traps inherent in such surroundings, he goes on to become a Marine, a law enforcement officer, a narcotics detective, a college instructor, and a doctoral candidate. Bruno is living proof that unbelievable things can happen when you work hard and tirelessly pursue your goals; when you believe in yourself and the power of education to positively shape your destiny.
“I wouldn’t fit the criteria for success, for where I am today,” said Bruno, referring to his hardscrabble origins. “We grew up in probably the poorest county in the United States, but my parents always told me if I wanted to do something with my life, I had to stay in school and do well in school. My parents didn’t even graduate high school so they wanted something better for their children. They knew that education was the vehicle to a better life. My mother is still alive, but right before my father passed away, I told him I was going to continue to go to school and I wasn’t going to stop until I got a doctoral degree.”
Bruno is not only pursuing his postgraduate degree at AIC, he has also been teaching for the past few years at the graduate level in the area of forensic psychology. “Dr. Lina Racicot has been my mentor,” he said. “She saw my presentations in the community on substance abuse, learned about my professional experience, and she brought me on board to teach students from a real-life perspective.”
Bruno, who has been with the Springfield Police Department since 1995, has been a detective in the Narcotics Bureau for the past 18 years, seven of those spent in undercover work. Prior to joining the police force, Bruno was deployed to Kuwait during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield, later completing a second tour of combat duty in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope, where he earned a second award on his Combat Action Ribbon.
Detective Bruno is in demand as a speaker on heroin and opiate abuse, crime patterns and trends, and undercover operations. He has appeared before the Springfield, MA, Mayor’s Violence Prevention Committee, law students at Western New England University, at Westfield State University, and at the Center for Human Development at Springfield Technical Community College. He has conducted hundreds of hours of surveillance and made thousands of arrests, but as he noted, “We can’t continue to arrest individuals and not treat them.”
Education about and advocating for appropriate and accessible substance abuse treatment is where Bruno finds his deepest calling. “I’m on the mental health track in my program, and it’s tailored to what I was doing along with everything I’ve gone through trying to help people who are addicted. Opiate addiction plagues our cities and the whole northeast corridor. How can we better serve this population? How can we give families a better understanding of why loved ones become addicted? We need to uncover ways to assist this population. I consider teaching at AIC and studying for my doctorate to be another way to protect and serve, but now it’s in an academic environment.”
As a student, Bruno is intrigued by the opportunities to conduct research. As an educator, he is encouraged by the students he’s encountering. “There are individuals out there who care about people and they’re in school. We’re educating those who are going to be the next wave of educators themselves, social services professionals, law enforcement officers. I want to teach this new generation about the ongoing issues that devastate their cities and citizens, what confronts law enforcement across the country. Our program at AIC will equip these graduate students to become leaders, managers, educators, and supervisors in fields where they are going to get an understanding of a population that is currently underserved. It absolutely gives me hope when my students ask for references or they’re seeking an internship—it really fills me with hope that they are here to help.”
Hope in the possibility of real change in the face of discouraging odds is what keeps Bruno inspired and inspiring. “I’ve arrested thousands of people, but what strikes me the most going into my 19th year, the biggest reward is having people coming back to say ‘You arrested me, but it turned me around. You sent me away, but it saved my life.’ That’s the reward. I didn’t hear it often, but when I did, it was profound. Instead of just incarcerating individuals, I want to help people. How do we help the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters who are going through this? It is hell. That’s what drives me to get the doctoral degree, to continue the research.”
Every year, Bruno travels with his children either to Mexico or to the town where he grew up. “I show them where I came from and how lucky they are. I made it from there and came to Springfield, and here I am. Just as my parents told me, I tell my kids they have to do well in school and be respectful to their teachers, their elders, and others who are trying to help them.”
Once Bruno has completed his most recent research project at AIC—“We’re looking at recidivism and addiction along with other statistical data.”—he wants to begin work on a memoir. “My cousin, who has been in recovery for 10 years, was addicted to heroin. My experience, my story is very personal. I hope it will help a family, a family that finds itself in need, who finds itself struggling with a child who is addicted.”
And where does he see himself after that? Without hesitation, Bruno replies, “Teaching full-time at AIC. That’s my dream.”
-By Ellen Dooley