Retired SWAT officer pens novel
“The Long Road Home” is a fictionalized account of Sandy Wall's many years as a Houston police officer and SWAT operator
Retired Houston police officer Sandy Wall has always been a storyteller. If you have attended one of his SWAT classes, then you have heard one or two terrific stories.
To fill the long days of boredom after he retired, Sandy started to write down those stories.
That process led him to publish a novel, “The Long Road Home,” a fictionalized account of his many years with the Houston Police Department including his hurdles as an academy cadet, his adventures as a patrol officer, his time working the jail and narcotics, and his ascension to the SWAT team.
“It was truly a labor of love,” Sandy says of his writing journey that began with him typing his stories as vignettes into a computer file.
He gave the drafts to his wife, Theresa, a teacher for 23 years, to read.
“She ripped them apart,” Sandy laughs. He then rewrote each story, incorporating her edits and suggestions, giving the story back to Theresa to read, until the third or fourth time through when she handed them back with a smiley face on the pages.
After that three-year process, Sandy decided he had to figure out how to connect the individual stories. He decided to fictionalize his stories around a main character aptly named Andy Wallace.
Fictionalizing the stories allowed him to avoid the legalities of writing a true-life book and allowed him to take creative liberties with the content. And add a few stories that happened to friends and colleagues.
His biggest hurdle was crafting the individual vignettes into a storyline that would carry through a full-length novel.
“I did change a few stories to fit the book’s storyline,” Sandy said.
Storylines also came from Sandy’s personal life. Andy Wallace’s brother went to prison in the book and Sandy’s real brother met the same fate in real life.
Sandy’s target audience is both cops and civilians who are interested in reading cop stories. The book realistically portrays what officers must deal with, witness, and process during the course of their careers.
Officers will be reminded of their own stories and civilian readers will learn what it’s really like out there on the mean streets of Houston. They will see policing through the eyes of a real Houston cop. And gain insight into the perils of being a SWAT operator.
Like Sandy did in real life, his fictional character, Andy Wallace, puts the horrors and traumas of what a cop bears witness to on the job in what Sandy calls “a box” in a remote part of his brain.
Sandy tucked away those horrors and didn’t want to talk about them, not even when his wife asked him to. He didn’t want to talk about those scenes because he didn’t want to relive it. Inevitably, a reminder would spark a memory, or someone would say something, and that opened his box. Memories would come pouring out that again would bother him.
The title of the book, “The Long Road Home,” comes from Sandy’s real drive home every day after work. He lived well outside of Houston, out in the country, and the drive took hours. Sandy used that long drive to make sense of what he experienced on the job, keep the lid on the box in his brain, and as a buffer between his work and family life.
There were times when the box got way too full.
Sandy admits that he was too arrogant and proud to open that box when he had to attend mandatory sessions with the department psychologist. Sandy often wonders if he had opened the box that he might have coped better. Back then, officer wellness wasn’t in anyone’s vocabulary. The prevailing culture was to suck it up and deal with it.
In the book, Sandy has his character, Andy Wallace, experience the same emotional turmoil and struggles with keeping the lid on that box that he did.
As part of the writing and rewriting process, Theresa read chapters aloud to Sandy. Hearing the traumatic stories drew Sandy to tears.
He delves into how a cop copes with the aftermath of life-and-death situations, horrific and violent scenes, and being forced to use deadly force, with realism and honesty.
Sandy says, “I’m lucky I’m still here. Could have ended badly in so many ways.”
“The Long Road Home” chronicles the realities of police work. Sharing the book with your family and friends is a great way to educate them about what you face on the job.
The book will make you laugh, cry, and relive your own experiences.
In a story titled “The Donut Caper” Sandy relates a story about a SWAT call-up where officers had to wait in a convenience store for hours while hostage negotiators talked to a suspect with a hostage. The SWAT team got hungry and started to pass around packages of powdered sugar donuts. They then needed something to wash the donuts down. An officer covered Sandy (Andy) as he shimmied across the floor to the refrigerator to retrieve cartons of milk.
After the suspect was taken into custody, the SWAT team emerged with white powder on their faces and had some explaining to do. They were guilted into returning to the store to pay for what they had consumed.
“The Long Road Home” is an excellent accounting of a Houston police officer’s career. Sandy writes with a fantastic narrative voice that captures the reader’s attention from page one. “The Long Road Home” is also a historical account of the life of a Houston cop and is well worth the read.
Sandy Wall served for years as the president of the Texas Tactical Police Officers Association. Following Columbine, Sandy advocated for patrol officers not to wait for SWAT's arrival when responding to an active shooter. He was instrumental in developing the tactics and active shooter training that all officers now receive.
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Watch an interview with Sandy Wall here: