Book Review: In Safe Hands

March 2, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

The cover of 'In Safe Hands,' a collection of short anecdotal stories from the life and times of a U.S. Customs officer. (Michael Cunningham)
The cover of 'In Safe Hands,' a collection of short anecdotal stories from the life and times of a U.S. Customs officer. (Michael Cunningham)

Purchase book online. Proceeds go to charity listed in the book.

If anyone thinks that working in the United States Custom and Border Protection is a boring job, a read of Michael Cunningham's new book "In Safe Hands" will offer a very different perspective.

In the book, Cunningham, who served with the USCBP for over 25 years, shares some of the interesting tales from his years of service. Often laced with humorous anecdotes, "In Safe Hands" is a must-read for those interested in the stories of those who serve with U.S. Customs.

Even better, with all proceeds from the book going to his daughter's charity and non-profit, JR Safety Crib Sheets , which makes crib sheets that allow children to sleep safely.

The book is laden with gripping real-life stories. For example, his eighth story, "Ecstasy in Winter Wonderland," chronicles the boarding and capture of a ship that brings in the drug Ecstasy to the United States. Finding nothing on their first boarding of the craft but suspicious of the crew, Cunningham and his men return for a second trip that finds Ecstasy on the ship, resulting in the largest seizure in the state of all-time. The tale of apprehending and bringing the crew under control is electrifying.

In "Khat," Cunningham documents how he and his team nail a pair of Khat drug smugglers who come in from London. After apprehending one of the pair, they are able to track down his partner to a nearby hotel, apprehending them both and seizing the Khat.

But not all of "In Safe Hands" has thrillers or chases worthy of an action movie—there are several lighter stories as well. For instance, the stories about John Donovan, Walter Black, and Captain Drummond are all heart-warming stories of "characters"—as Cunningham puts it—the author met and worked with through his long career.

And then there are the human interest stories. For instance, "Mung Chua Giang Sinh" tells the story of two retired Vietnam veterans who have returned to the United States and run a hospitalization service for poor Vietnamese children. Cunningham, who is a Vietnam veteran himself, tells the story of these Vietnam veterans, the hospital, as well as the stories of young children who would have had no hope of help otherwise.

In all of the stories, the theme that comes to light most often is Cunningham's interest in doing the right thing, including putting himself into positions that would have been very difficult for other people. For instance, in "NCIC," Cunningham and his team allow a young mother and her army husband to return home after a minor transgression of missed payments threaten to send the woman to another state. Some quick thinking allows for the family to return home, allowing them to make up for the payment transgression but still able to spend time with family.

Perhaps most telling is Cunningham's last story in the book, "Youran's flight to freedom." The story, which combines both thriller and human interest and Mr. Cunningham's determination to do the right thing, documents a 14-year-old Chinese girl named Youran, who, on her way to visit universities in the United States, attempts to escape to live with her uncle and aunt in New Jersey. Youran and her parents practice Falun Gong, a meditation practice that is persecuted in China by the Chinese Communist regime. She and her mother, who have been persecuted for their faith, wish for a better future for Youran by sending her overseas.

But fate takes a twist while Youran's aunt attempts to rescue her, resulting in her being abducted by her chaperons and nearly put on an early flight back to China, where she would have most likely been persecuted. But Mr. Cunningham's insistence to do right results in him placing a call to the New York airport, where the flight controller locates the flight and the girl, and is able to rescue her to safety.

The book ends with letters from Youran as well as her uncle and aunt thanking Mr. Cunningham for his help, a fitting end to tales of courage and hope.

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