Behind his vibrant blue eyes and engaging personality, Cliff Johnson conceals the dark and gloomy path that eventually led him to becoming Filer’s police chief. “I learned early on that no matter where you come from, life is what you make of it. It’s all about choices,” he says.
Adopting this philosophy did not come easy for Johnson. With his mother in prison, he was raised by alcoholic grandparents on a constant run from the law. Instead of moving across town they traversed states in search of anonymity. However, his “Papaw” and “Big Mama” were not adept at concealing their whereabouts.
One day I stepped off the school bus to find my grandma huddled in a ditch, drunk and in her nightgown by the side of the road after burning the house to the ground,” Johnson recalls.
Such erratic behaviors led to arrests, and the state began placing Johnson in foster homes to await his grandparents’ release from jail. These frequent encounters with the police ignited Cliff’s boyhood fantasy of becoming an officer.
“Even though the rest of my family hated their guts and livers, the police always treated me well and I developed a huge respect for them.”
However, the opportunity for Johnson to realize his dream would not arise for many more years. Instead, his sporadic lifestyle continued, cycling through various foster homes and relatives. Though it would have been easy for him to sink into the alcoholic lifestyle by which he was enveloped, Johnson wanted more for himself.
“I figured out that it just all depended on me,” he says. “Life could be what I wanted it to.”
Around the time he was 15, Johnson knew it was time for a change. His family’s problems had escalated, and he knew that continuing on with them was no longer an option. After briefly considering a clandestine life in the woods, he settled on taking refuge among relatives in Colorado.
He successfully made the transition, and Johnson began to establish a new life. He eventually met and married Elaine. The couple settled in downtown Seattle, where they took over management of a motel.
Not being accustomed with big city life, Johnson was appalled at the level of crime taking place and couldn’t understand why so little was being done about it.
“I was constantly on the phone reporting things I had witnessed,” he says. Through these recurrent calls, Johnson became acquainted with several detectives and eventually began aiding the police force as an undercover informant.
“I had a few very close calls in doing that,” Johnson admits, “but the adrenaline rush that I got being involved was so fun that I knew I wanted to be a cop.”
Eventually, management experience led Cliff and Elaine to Idaho where they took control of La Casa Grande hotel in Filer. Once again, problems encountered in their hotel connected Johnson with the police and many of these acquaintances led to friendships.
Soon, several officers began allowing Johnson to ride along with them at night, once more flaring his fascination with law enforcement. In 1989 Johnson made his passion official. After serving as Filer’s first reserve policeman for two years, he attended the police academy and joined the ranks of Idaho’s finest.
During routine patrols, Johnson often shared his childhood stories with other officers. After hearing about his past, many encouraged him to write a book about it.
Johnson admits, “I thought about it for a long time and was skeptical about it at first because I didn’t know anything about computers.”
However, Johnson became a skilled user of technology and decided to give writing a try. After completing several short stories, he directed his attention to penning his first work of length, “Wrong Side of the River.” Instead of finding a publisher, Johnson decided to start his own independent publishing company, Misty Peak. It took five years to perfect the book and Johnson released it to the public in 2004, receiving exceptional reviews. Since then, he has dedicated many weekends to attend book signings.
Now Johnson is looking forward to his retirement, which will provide the time he needs to continue work on a sequel and to travel the country in promotion of his works. His publishing company, Misty Peak, is beginning to represent other authors as well. Johnson says that when the time is right, you’ll find him behind the wheel of a Winnebago, headed for the southland of his childhood.
For more information visit: Misty Peak