How a Cop and Reformed Inmate Are Spreading Hope Together
Photographer / Amy Payne
Don’t let your past define you. Those are words that Rameil Pitamber, 25, lives by. It’s a mantra he has practiced since he was 17 and made a terrible, life-changing decision that could have cost him his entire future. He was a junior in high school in 2013 when he robbed a Little Caesars restaurant at gunpoint and was taken to county jail.
“I was depressed, angry and numb,” Pitamber says. “I wanted to fit in and be tough so I hung out with the wrong crowd.”
As Pitamber sat in jail awaiting his fate, he hoped for the best – house arrest. However, that’s not what happened.
“When I called my mom, she broke down crying and said, ‘You’re not coming home,’” recalls Pitamber, who was convicted of felony armed robbery and criminal confinement, and ultimately sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Hearing his mom’s sobs as she heard his sentence was a sobering moment he’ll never forget. That’s when he vowed never to put her in that position again.
“I made the decision in that cell that I would never come back to prison again,” he says. “I would make better choices.”
Brian Nugent, deputy chief of investigations with the Avon Police Department, was Pitamber’s arresting officer. Nugent, now in his seventeenth year with the department, was intrigued by law enforcement when he was a little boy growing up in Tell City, Indiana.
“My dad was trying to teach my mom how to drive a stick shift and they got pulled over,” Nugent says. “I remember the officer’s kind engagement. I never felt fear.”
Later in life, he became friends with the town’s police chief. Their positive interaction caused Nugent to pursue a career in law enforcement.
Pitamber was released early for good behavior, but after living for four years in a segregated prison, he was highly uncomfortable around white people. There was one white man, however, that he felt he could trust, and as fate would have it, he ran into that man at a Goodwill store in 2017, soon after he was released.
“Rameil asked if I remembered him, which I definitely did, because to see a teen take responsibility seems to be more of a rare occasion these days,” Nugent says.
Pitamber thanked Nugent for how he treated him, then leaned in and gave his arresting officer a hug.
“I was overwhelmed with emotion and usually I’m not that emotional,” Nugent says.
Soon the two met up for dinner. At that meal, Nugent brought along the booking photo he had taken of Pitamber the night he was arrested.
“I asked him, ‘What do you see when you look at that young man?’” Nugent says.
“A lost kid,” Pitamber replied.
While in prison, Pitamber did a good deal of reading, praying and soul searching. He decided the best way to move forward was to take full responsibility for his actions and make a concerted effort to do better going forward. Nevertheless, post-prison life was still a challenge for him.
“I was broken and my self-esteem was shot,” Pitamber says. “I was extremely insecure about being an ex-felon and how the world would view me.”
At their dinner, Pitamber asked Nugent to mentor him. Nugent was humbled by the request.
“Deep down, Rameil has a real endearing perspective,” Nugent says. “I just had to teach him to get out of his own way and let people see how genuine he is.”
The two began meeting once every month or two to discuss business struggles or personal development issues. Nugent talked about everything from the importance of matching one’s belt and shoes, to parallel parking tips. Nugent makes it clear, however, that their friendship is not a one-way street.
“It isn’t just an outward mentorship where I was helping a young man get back on track,” Nugent says. “Rameil has poured back into my life in many ways.”
Though Pitamber is close with his mother, he had a difficult childhood riddled with sexual abuse, alcoholism and drugs, which led to many poor decisions as he internalized negative emotions. He could have easily let the hurt consume him, but instead he chose to forgive the person who molested him. He also chose to take responsibility for his actions, turn his life around and share his message of hope with those who will listen.
The two men have participated in a number of public speaking engagements. When people hear Pitamber talk, they are often overcome with emotion, which indicates that they are connecting with his story.
“I think people appreciate his courage, because to sit on a stage and talk about what is arguably the worst decision he’s ever made in his entire life, and then to go on to share the trauma he experienced as a young child – that takes guts,” Nugent says. “A lot of us would fear judgment. I admire Rameil’s courage to be a voice for others.”
In June of 2019, Pitamber was asked to speak in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He talked about how it is possible to move past pain, and go on to live a productive life. He also said that it’s healthier not to live like a victim, but rather to adopt a sense of ownership.
“If you don’t own your own choices and experiences, how do you learn your lessons?” Pitamber says. “How do you grow?”
Nugent recalls watching Pitamber talk openly and honestly, knowing that others in the room likely lived through similar traumas but didn’t have the comfort or confidence to talk about their own issues.
“You grow the most when you’re vulnerable,” Nugent says. “That’s when you’re most open-minded. What better platform to learn from than at your weakest moment? Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength.”
Pitamber studied heating, ventilation and air conditioning skills at Ivy Tech Community College, and is now building his own business, Midwest Air Heating & Cooling, LLC. He hopes to expand the business, earn his real estate license and continue to book speaking engagements.
“I want to speak to the youth at every school in Indiana to talk about stereotypes and racial relationships,” Pitamber says.
He’s also considering running for a City Council seat in Indianapolis.
“In the middle of all that, I’d like to find love,” he says with a chuckle.
For now, Pitamber’s top priority is helping people. If you ask Nugent, he’s doing a splendid job, and he speaks from personal experience.
“Rameil has made me a better man, a better cop, a better person and a better leader,” Nugent says.