My first name resulted from a typo on my birth certificate. It was supposed to be Mylinda, but it ended up being separated into a first name “My” and middle name “Linda.”
I grew up in a small apartment in Tampa’s College Hill housing projects. My mom, a single mother, raised five children while on welfare. We didn’t have a father in the home. Two sisters and two brothers; I’m the second eldest. We all worked together to take care of one another.
In the projects, we didn’t have a lot of toys, so we’d play a version of baseball using a broomstick and a jackstone ball, which is about a quarter of the size of a tennis ball. We also played kickball, hide and seek, and four square. We made up games — things that didn’t cost money.
From my mother, I learned drive, determination, independence, and focus.
Because of the tough conditions in which we lived, I learned to think on my feet. She and I went to college together. Although I was proud that she chose to seek a college education, it was really different sitting in class with my mom. It seems funny now, but it was not fun at the time! We were both in the same program at the University of South Florida. I was getting a criminal justice degree; she was getting a sociology degree. I would show up for class, and who would be there? Her! I recall one instance in which I was sitting in class in my police uniform, and when the teacher asked a question, my mother — from the opposite side of the classroom — looked over at me and asked, “Did you not do your homework?” I said, “Mom! You can’t do that!”
Nothing in particular happened to make me want to enter law enforcement. I’ve always known that this is what I wanted to do. I can specifically recall that at age 10, I wanted to be a police officer. It was just in me, and I’ve never wanted to do anything else. I later found out that I had a host of family members in law enforcement, but I didn’t know that at the time.
My first job shortly out of high school was with the University of South Florida Police Department. When I walked in the door of the department, I was ready. I wanted my badge, my hat, my gun, and my car. And, of course, they laughed because I didn’t fit the mold: too young to carry a gun, too tiny to handle anybody. But they saw I had heart and that I really wanted to do this, so they gave me a job writing parking tickets. They wanted me to slow down a bit! My little heart was broken.
I went and talked with my grandmother because writing parking tickets was not what I wanted to do. She said, “Listen, you take that parking ticket book, and you find out how many tickets the other ladies are writing. Then, you double that.” That’s not what I wanted to hear, but she was absolutely right. She said, “Let the work you do speak for you. If you do a good job, they’ll see that, and then you’ll move.” And that’s exactly what happened.
While writing parking tickets, I helped the FBI solve a bank robbery. Every day, I went into the office and looked at what was called the BOLO Board — Be On the Lookout For. One day, I saw someone I grew up with. I mentioned that to my captain, and he contacted the FBI. Based on the information I provided, they solved the bank robbery! I still have the FBI’s letter of commendation.
The agents asked about my future plans. I explained that I was very interested in becoming a police officer, and they asked me about the FBI. That got me thinking about working for the FBI.
When I turned 21, I was promoted to the position of police officer, and the USFPD sent me to the police academy. In 1980, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office offered me a position as a deputy sheriff. My first daughter, Nitika, was born before I went to work for the USFPD. My second daughter, Ronnee, was born a few years after I started working at the sheriff’s office.
In 1985, I was hired as a special agent with the FBI. Although it was difficult moving around the country as a divorced mother with two children, it was a most exciting time. This was what I had always wanted to do. Throughout my tenure with the FBI, at each of my eight assignments, the communities in which we lived treated my kids and me like family.
I earned a master of science degree in criminal justice from Grambling State University in Louisiana after joining the FBI.
I was assigned to the Memphis Field Office in 2005. I oversee all federal criminal violations that occur within the Memphis Division, which covers two-thirds of Tennessee and includes six offices: Memphis, Jackson, Nashville, Cookeville, Clarksville, and Columbia. I oversee programs that involve counterterrorism, counterintelligence, cyber crime, public corruption, civil rights, white-collar crimes, criminal enterprise, and violent crimes. I live vicariously through the agents now, because I miss the thrill of casework, taking it all the way from initiating the investigation through the trial and subsequent conviction.
When 9/11 hit the movers had just arrived at my home in Alexandria, Virginia. I had been promoted to assistant special agent in charge of the Newark, New Jersey, field office, and I was relocating. When the first plane hit, I thought it was a terrible accident. But when the second plane hit, I knew it was serious. I contacted the Newark office, who told me to get there as soon as possible.
Being part of the FBI is not just a job or a profession. It is a lifestyle, 24/7.
Sting operation names originate from the agents. They submit names to the two assistant special agents in charge and me. If it passes muster, it is sent to headquarters for approval. If it has not been used before, we’re allowed to use it.
To de-stress I work out most mornings at 5 o’clock. When I’m out of town, I find a gym wherever I am.
My biggest fear is that I missed so much with my children as they were growing up that I’ll have regrets later on. Many times, there were events my daughters had that I couldn’t attend because of work commitments. Nikita and Ronnee both grew up independent, focused, and strong.
When I take vacation time I enjoy international travel. I seldom use all of my allotted time because I enjoy what I do so much, I am afraid I’m going to miss something!
I was greatly influenced by my grandmother. She was not an educated woman, but she was the smartest person I’ve known.
The most dangerous part of my job is not knowing what’s going to happen from day to day. I’m very fortunate. I’ve been in law enforcement for almost 35 years, and there has not been an incident where I’ve been seriously injured. I’ve never shot anyone nor has anyone ever shot at me, but it could happen. Sadly, I have lost a family member — my former spouse — in the line of duty.
I have never regretted my decision to become a law enforcement officer.
A police academy memory happened the first night, which was Feb. 3, 1985. Each student was asked to stand up and talk about their plans with the FBI. I stood up and said, “By February 3, 2005, I plan on being an agent in charge of a field office.” The students laughed, and I took that to heart. On Feb. 1, 2005, I received a phone call from the FBI director, assigning me to be the agent in charge of the Memphis field office — two days to spare!
Crossword puzzles were my Friday night date when my kids were growing up.
My favorite gadget is my BlackBerry! I don’t know what I did before this device came out! When I first started out in law enforcement, we didn’t have cell phones or computers — but we survived. This BlackBerry is my lifeline!
When Ronnee was born I was a detective with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. I was in the delivery room on the phone with the assistant district attorney, who — at my insistence — was talking me through an arrest that was being made on an investigation I had worked throughout my pregnancy. I didn’t want to miss the grand finale — the arrest! So they’re delivering the baby, and I’ve got the assistant D.A. on the line. He was so uncomfortable! All he wanted to do was get off the phone! My daughter was born by cesarean section on a Wednesday night; I was back at work on Saturday.
My favorite FBI/cop show … I don’t watch them and never have. I sometimes watch Law and Order. I wouldn’t say it’s realistic because everything happens in an hour. I don’t compare it to what I do; I just like the show.
The coolest FBI technology is well, I need to make a call to find out if I have clearance to discuss it. No, I’m sorry. It’s classified. But let me tell you, it’s very exciting technology, and it has proven very successful with not only the FBI but also with our partner law enforcement agencies.
The closest I came to getting shot was in 1980 while working undercover with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. While making a significant undercover drug purchase, my undercover identity was “blown.” The person with whom I was negotiating the deal called out my official name, the name of one of my brothers, and the name of the projects where I lived as a child. He jumped into his vehicle and attempted to run over me with his vehicle. My cousin, who was one of the backup officers that night, saw what was occurring and ended up shooting the person.
The closest I came to shooting someone was during that same incident.
I most remember being a poor little girl growing up in the projects. I was determined to escape the old neighborhood, but I did not want to forget where or how I grew up. I’m 53 now, and I still go back to visit even though the projects are torn down. The people who believed in me and helped me along the way — I still go back to visit. I also wanted to make sure that my children were exposed to the neighborhood and how I grew up. They were not exposed to that lifestyle, but they needed to know that I was.
The biggest misperception many people have about the FBI is that we are heartless and all about putting people in jail. What you may not hear about are the cases in which we disprove allegations of criminal activity.
One of the worst days of my life was the day we had to drain a moving body of water to look for the body of a small child. We didn’t find the child, but it bothered me that such a small child may have been harmed.
As the first woman and first African-American in this position, I have had a lot of firsts along the way, but I prefer not to focus on race or gender. Instead, I focus on doing the best job I can while representing the FBI in a positive manner.
What I like about Memphis is the people, the city. I love the city! In the movie An Affair to Remember, there’s a line, “The Empire State Building is the nearest thing to heaven on Earth.” Well, I feel that way about Memphis. I have moved eight times over the past 25 years with the FBI. My favorite assignment thus far is Memphis, Tennessee.
Before I die, I would like to visit the seven continents. I’ve traveled to five, and I probably won’t do Antarctica, so that leaves Australia.
My final 2 cents is to our young people: Keep your eyes on the prize. Find that one thing that you really enjoy doing. Make that your prize. Talk with someone who has achieved that accomplishment. Set specific, measurable, and obtainable goals and objectives toward achieving that coveted prize. If you do this and are successful, you’ll understand how it feels to do what I do. I found my prize!