The Perp Walk

Since today is cold, windy, and generally crummy (ahh, the joys of November in the Upper Midwest), and I feel like talking about adoption, I think I should touch on the lighter side of the process. There’s a lighter side, you ask? Why yes, there is. There are things that, while happening, were thisclose to sending us off for a mental health evaluation, but with the benefit of time, we can look back upon and laugh. Hopefully. So enjoy a few laughs at our expense as our tale of woe unfolds…

Adoption involves paperwork. A lot of paperwork. In Wisconsin, we are blessed with an even greater pile to work our way through, as Wisconsin requires you to have a licensed foster home in order to house your child from placement until the adoption has been finalized. Where are the fire extinguishers located? Has your water been tested? Sign this affidavit that you will have licensed daycare for your child, should daycare be needed. Take a car seat safety course, a SIDS awareness class, background checks, driving record checks, provide copies of your homeowner, auto and health insurance policies, fill out this criminal records search form…well, you get the idea.

In 2006, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act was passed (in my opinion, much needed legislation), which added one more bit of paperwork/bureaucracy to the adoption process. You see, prior to this law, all the background checks were done on a local and state level, thus, someone who had a record in another state could fall through the cracks. This law required a FBI background check (fingerprints through the database) for potential adoptive parents. No problem, right?


You see, in September of 2007 when we began our adoption process (on a RUSH RUSH RUSH because our son was due in January), I learned a little fact that would come back to haunt me. Wisconsin had requested, and been granted, and extension in enacting the Adam Walsh Act. Meaning? The state would not begin conducting the federal background checks for adoptions until 2008. Well, guess what? We were adopting out of state, where they required the check.

You can see where this is going. You’re a savvy reader, and I have utmost faith in your reasoning and forward thinking nature.

Apparently, we were the FIRST and ONLY couple this EVER happened to. Calls to our adoption agency (across the border in Minnesota, where they didn’t have this problem), local agencies, the Wisconsin Adoption Information Center (oh, the irony) and even our local field office of the FBI were all met with baffled “Umm’s” “Aaahh’s” and “Gee, I really don’t know, can I get back to you’s” (Still waiting for the call back, by the way). After a day of pounding my head against the wall (okay, I took scheduled breaks, but still…) I finally used the magical Google, and found the FBI forms online. Even found the address for rush processing. I printed out the forms and after a call to our local sheriff’s department, my husband and I went in to get our prints taken.

Problem solved, right?

Oh, no, dear reader. No, no.

At the county jail—fun!—my husband already pat-searched and on his way back to get his prints taken, the voice of GOD crackles through the officer’s walkie-talkie. And by God, I mean, the head honcho, whom I had just spoken to on the phone not an hour earlier.

“Wait, what are they doing here?” he demands.

“They need to be fingerprinted for an adoption,” says the officer.

Oh, boy. My officer has stopped the pat-search mid-pat, my husband and his officer frozen at the big, scary metal door. This can’t be good.

“What do you mean?” head honcho asks. You can hear the head scratching through the walkie-talkie. I swear. Some gears grinding, too.

“They’re adopting a baby,” the first officer says, slowly, like that will help.

“I just talked to him on the phone.” I say, a little too much irritation in my voice as I point to the radio on his shoulder.

“She says she just talked to you on the phone.”


“Hang on, I’m coming down.”

Oh, great.

After several agonizing minutes, watching the comings and goings at the county jail, down comes A Very Irritated Man. The Voice.

“So, what is it you need?” he asks.

I stare at him for a moment, my mouth agape. My gaze falls to the cardstock fingerprint forms in my hand. I sigh, look over at my husband who gives a helpful eye roll, and finally return my attention to Mr. Very Irritated.

“We need our fingerprints taken. For an adoption. See?” I hold up the forms. “I printed these out. You said to come in.”

“I can’t just give fingerprints out to anyone,” he insists, shaking his head.

“But they’re my fingers. Attached to my hands. I’m not asking you for his fingerprints,” I say as I point to a nearby (presumed) miscreant. “I mean, it’s just ink, right? What’s to stop us from going to Office Max, getting an ink pad, and going to town on the thing?”

Oops. Too far, Michelle. Too far.

“No,” he says. Firm. Resolute. “I can’t do this without some sort of authorization.” He shakes his head like he’s dealing with children. “You have an attorney, right?”

“Uh, yeah, we do. Two of them, actually. One here, and one where we’re adopting. Out of state.” I hear the words coming out of my mouth, but still can’t believe them. Am I imagining this whole thing? Is this really what has come to pass?

“Well, pick one and have them get in touch with me.” And with that, he turns and walks away.

“Sorry,” the other officers say, quietly, as we leave.

We don’t speak as we make our way back to our car, too stunned for words.

“Did that just happen?” my husband asks as he buckles his seatbelt and starts the car.

“Yeah, I think it did.”

As we drive past the first gas station on our way home, he observes, “If we go rob that place, they’d fingerprint us without a problem.”

Yes, yes they would.


2 thoughts on “The Perp Walk

  1. It takes a lot to make me do more than smile, but this had me giggling for sure. I could feel your pain – our mess was trying to get a background check from another country! It’s awesome that you can see the humor in it, though. Blessings!

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