Public servants of Stokes: Sheriff Mike Joyce makes history Read more: The Stokes News – Public servants of Stokes Sheriff Mike Joyce makes history

Dec 1st, 2008 | By | Category: Uncategorized

It’s no secret that Sheriff Mike Joyce loves baseball. In fact, he can probably tell you who holds the record for almost any category of statistics in the greatest game ever played. Nolan Ryan may hold the record for most career strikeouts, Hank Aaron for most career runs batted in, and Rickey Henderson for most career stolen bases, but now Sheriff Joyce can claim a record of his own.

Now in his fifth term of office as the highest ranking law enforcement official in Stokes County, Joyce is the longest sitting sheriff in this county’s history. He was sworn into office on the first Monday in December, 1990. As of December 1, 2008, when he entered his 19th year as sheriff, Joyce smashed the record previously held by Sheriff John Taylor who served Stokes County in that position for 18 years.

Yet Joyce doesn’t take his longtime status for granted. “When you get to thinking you own a job, that’s when it’s time to go,” he says wisely, “and the people will probably send you on your way.” He looks at his position as a four-year contract that people can either renew or reject when election time rolls around.

So far the people of Stokes County have chosen to renew the contract of the man who once dreamed of being a professional baseball player. Joyce had a successful career as a pitcher for Pine Hall High School and went on to play adult league baseball for a Pine Hall team in the Stokes-Rockingham League. The professional career never materialized, so he went to work for Washington Mills in Mayodan. “You never know what life has in store for you,” he philosophizes.

Joyce, however, had had a longtime interest in law enforcement. His parents worked at the Stokes County Jail where he often came up to visit them on the weekends. A deputy took him out on the job, fueling Joyce’s desire to enter that line of work. Eventually Joyce became a deputy part-time.

The decision to leave Washington Mills was, in a sense, a step of faith. The plant manager came to Joyce and tried to discourage the career change. “He told me I was making a mistake,” the sheriff recalls. The company had been bought out, and the manager was expecting great things for Washington Mills. He advised Joyce to stay put, predicting that the sheriff who wanted Joyce to come on board with Stokes County would be defeated in the next election, leaving Joyce with no job.

Nevertheless, Joyce made the decision to enter law enforcement fulltime. The grim predictions came true. The sheriff was not re-elected, and Joyce lost his job, but still he never looked back. He went to work for the Walnut Cove Police Department where he stayed for 16 years. Washington Mills ended up shutting down, but Joyce still remembers his stint there with fondness and notes, “I learned a lot of supervisory skills there.”

This appreciation for his past experiences is true to form for Joyce’s attitude about life. “You’ve got to remember where you come from,” he states with conviction. “You need to remember how you got there.” He recently spoke at a DARE graduation at Pine Hall Elementary School, illustrating that he certainly hasn’t forgotten his roots.

Another part of Joyce’s remembering how he got there has to do with the people of Stokes County. Even after all of these years in office, he still believes it is of utmost importance that he stays in contact with the people of the county and their needs. With that in mind, Joyce spends every Friday going around the county, mingling with his constituents. He picks a different section of Stokes each week and visits businesses in the area, with no political motives in mind. He has done this his entire time in office.

Joyce says he “picks up all kinds of information” on his Friday jaunts throughout the county. Once while visiting a business in King, he met a man who told him who had robbed a bank in Rural Hall. Sure enough, when Joyce called law enforcement officials in Forsyth County, they were able to match the name with a surveillance video picture and nab the robber.

Quite a few criminals have been nabbed in Stokes County as well, under Joyce’s watch. When he first came into office, he and his staff made promises—one of which was to tighten the noose on drug dealing in the county. “We’ve kept that promise,” Joyce says.

They targeted three major areas where drug sellers were approaching gang status, with sometimes as many as 25-30 dealers armed with weapons standing on the streets at night. Those areas were all in Walnut Cove—The T (Walnut Tree neighborhood), The Hill (near Peter Rabbit’s on Pine Hall Road), and Martin’s Trailer Park on Old Highway 65 across from Walnut Tree. Drug sting operations were begun, with evidence being collected on many different dealers before any were arrested. Then Joyce and his men moved in. “We arrested ‘em all at once to spread a bigger net,” he explains.

“When we went in to take ‘em down,” Joyce remembers, “we had to block roads.” He specifically recalls one big bust where, once the roads were opened again, people from the neighborhood kept riding by, yelling their thanks and giving thumbs up signs. It’s no wonder, given that during Joyce’s time in office, there have been more than $599,000 in drug seizures and over 3,200 drug-related arrests. Often those criminals are released, but Joyce can’t take the blame for what the court system decides. “We’ve done our part,” he says of his staff’s success in catching the dealers.

The leniency on the part of what Joyce calls “the system” is one of the things that disturbs him the most. “We work in a system that seems to be more for the criminal than for the victim,” he believes. Joyce doesn’t blame the district attorneys or judges. He thinks change will only come “when people get fed up enough and tell the people who make the laws.”

Joyce cites an example of a man who killed his wife in Stokes County back in the 1980’s and was given an 80-year sentence. The system released the man after only 15 years, and since then, the convicted murderer has been sentenced again for threatening to kill his new wife. Cases such as this strengthen Joyce’s resolve to work toward what he says is the most satisfying part of his job—“when you see justice done.”

Joyce is humbled by the fact that he has now surpassed the total times in office of two of Stokes County’s most popular sheriffs—John Taylor who served from 1928-46 and Harvey Johnson who was in office from 1950-66. “They were well-respected people,” Joyce states.

Will he run again in 2010? Joyce smiles and admits, “I’ve got a lot of thinking to do. I haven’t made a decision yet.”

Until then, he plans to continue to strive for excellence in law enforcement. “We just want to try to do the best job we can,” Joyce avows. He stresses the “we” and says, “It’s a group effort,” giving credit to the officers, jail personnel, staff, the people who work the roads, and his wife and family who have given huge support to him. “It’s really not about me,” he emphasizes. “It’s about God and the people of this county giving me the opportunity to serve them these years.”

One of the most famous baseball movies of all time is “Field of Dreams.” In that movie, a young man named Archibald “Moonlight” Graham dreams of playing professional baseball—“the chance to squint at a sky so blue it hurts your eyes just to look at it, to feel the tingle in your arm as you connect with the ball, to run the bases, stretch a double into a triple, and flop face first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. That’s my wish.” Archie Graham makes it to the majors for about five minutes—not even long enough to get one at-bat. He returns to his hometown and becomes a doctor who is beloved by the entire region for over half a century.

Ray Cansella (Kevin Costner) agonizes over Graham’s coming so close to a dream that was never realized. “Some men would call that a tragedy,” he insists.

The wise old doctor replies, “Son, if I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes, then that would’ve been a tragedy.“

Many would argue that the analogy is a good one for Sheriff Mike Joyce’s life. Law enforcement may not have been the “field of his dreams,” but he has striven to fulfill his destiny with loyalty and integrity. A tragedy, perhaps, for Joyce that he didn’t get to play major league baseball, but a tragedy indeed, for the citizens of Stokes County, if he had.

Read more: The Stokes News – Public servants of Stokes Sheriff Mike Joyce makes history

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