Photo by Kaleceia Douglas.
Q: Were you born and raised in the City of Poughkeepsie?
A: I moved to Poughkeepsie from Rhinebeck when I was ten. I was born in San Francisco, and then my family moved to New York, then to Virginia for a couple of years, and then to Rhinebeck for a couple of years. Most of my life has been in Poughkeepsie, I’m forty-four now. I went to Smith Elementary, to Poughkeepsie middle school, some Poughkeepsie Day School, and for all of high school I went to Poughkeepsie High. I’m class of 1996.
Q: What brought your family from Rhinebeck to Poughkeepsie?
A:. I think it was an opportunity to get a decent sized house that was affordable. It was the first time each kid had their own room.
Q: How would you describe the City of Poughkeepsie to someone who hasn’t been here before?
A: I’d say that Poughkeepsie is a big city in a little bag, a big place in a little box. Geographically small, big for what it is, good and bad and all of it.
Q: Can you elaborate on that?
In my opinion, it has everything a big city has. Every type of housing. It has industry. It has a big hotel and a civic center. Places to see shows and art. Connections to metropolitan transportation. Major offices because it’s the county seat. There’s wealth and poverty, violence, crime, vagrancy, some heavy drug problems.
Also, my perspective is going to be different from most people, because I see Poughkeepsie through work. So I can’t see the piece you see, or the piece that someone else sees. I see everything.
Q: I think you’re talking about your view as a police officer. What was it like to be a police officer in the city where you grew up?
A: It’s been a big honor, honestly. I’ve known many of the people and families that I’ve served, grown up with a lot of the people. So it’s very familial, and makes Poughkeepsie feel like a really, really small town. When I decided to become an officer, I figured I might as well be in the town where I grew up.
Q: Why is that?
A:. I had kind of a vested interest. It was familiar to me. I want this place to do well. I want to be a part of that, part of something positive. You should have high hopes to make a difference in the place where you’re from, if it’s treated you well. And it has.
Q: There are lots of ways to make a difference where you’re from. Why the police?
This is a much less glamorous answer than maybe some other people would say, but the job was kind of a long game for me. I was twenty-three when I took the test to be an officert, and twenty-four when I got hired. I saw it as a good opportunity to have a pension by the time I was in my early forties. Then I would be able to pursue art and music, which is really what I want to do. That’s what I went to college for, and then I had to drop out after a year because of money issues.
I was out on my own after graduating from high school. Other than when I was in school, I was never was without a job for more than two weeks. Eventually I was working nowhere jobs. I decided I wanted a career where they were going to take care of me, and where I was going to get something back for what I put in. And to do it in Poughkeepsie, I might as well do some good around here.
Q: What did you learn about yourself from being a police officer?
A: I learned about the type of person I want to be. I really enjoy building bridges rather than burning them, and maintaining relationships. I learned about the importance of being connected to people, for them as much as for yourself. I learned how good it feels to be useful to other people. It’s such a two-way thing. Poughkeepsie is a big relationship town.
Q: How would you describe your neighborhood growing up?
A: I lived all the way at the top of the hill on Corlies Avenue, near King Street Park. So the cool thing, particularly up top there, is that it was pretty peaceful. Not too much traffic. It felt like a safe neighborhood. There’s a patch of woods up there, that’s still mostly undeveloped. So I was in a city with a patch of woods to play in. I was a huge skateboarder all through my teens, so it was great being on top of the hill, just to get on your board and cruise down the hill. I skated all over Poughkeepsie.
There were a lot of working families, even some IBM’ers before it shut down. I had a best friend who just lived a block away, and a girlfriend who lived two blocks down the road. That’s how I know Tim McQueen [NOTE: McQueen is the Poughkeepsie resident who suggested an interview with Bennett.] He lived right down the street from me. We’ve been friends since freshman year of high school. We were in band together.
Q: As you got older, into high school, what was your sense of the City of Poughkeepsie?
A: Well most of that would’ve revolved around school. Or I was either at a friend’s house or home. I had a great time in high school. There was a lot of harmony, people got along. I felt like the education I got was really great. I had a lot of fun there, I had a good bunch of friends.
Q: What would you say is an important thing you’ve come to understand about the City of Poughkeepsie over the years?
A: Poughkeepsie is a place where things really are remembered. There’s no just taking actions or making decisions unilaterally without everybody knowing and remembering. It’s a place where what you’re doing today is definitely going to be a part of the dialogue tomorrow. Many people grow up here and stay. There are a lot of multi-generational families here.. They know who you are. They know whether you came from here or you came from somewhere else. The city has a memory. It not a place where you can come and mess around and disappear into the crowd. It’s not a town of secrets.
I like that people share great stuff too. So when something good happens here, I think it really gets around.
Q: Does an example come to mind, of when something great happens it really gets around?
A: When someone’s doing well in their life and they’re achieving, everybody’s going to hear about that. I think people definitely feel a part of that. People here feel like a win for you is kind of a win for everybody.
Q: And have you felt that over the years?
A: Yeah, just being an officer. People that I grew up with kind of felt like they had a horse in the race, and that it made the police department more relatable and accessible.
Q: What do people misunderstand about the City of Poughkeepsie who don’t live here? Or what do you observe about what people say or presume about Poughkeepsie, that you know differently?
A: I think sometimes people only see the negatives and don’t take the time to see all the positives, the assets, the things that Poughkeepsie has to offer.
Q: What are some of your favorite places here in the city?
Let’s do food first, that’s really big for me. The Poughkeepsie Grind coffeehouse for sure. Emiliano’s Pizza, right next door there. Dimpy’s Deli on North Clover. Poughkeepsie is definitely a great spot for food. Anything you want you can get, and they probably do it very well.
That whole area by Main and Clover, honestly that’s one of my favorite parts of Poughkeepsie. Really from Perry Street down to the river on Main Street that’s my favorite commercial section of town.
Q: And what about outdoor spots?
A: Spratt Park definitely, I like to do the walking path there. And Waryas Park, to be down by the river, just to relax, play some guitar, meet friends. My old stomping grounds was King Street Park, just down the street from where I grew up.
Q: Where else have you lived in Poughkeepsie?
South Bridge Street next to the Seventh Day Adventist Church. I lived at Main and Clinton in the Governor Clinton Apartments back from 1999-2002. The building is run much better now than it was then. Then I moved to Mansion Street by the Italian Center. I eventually bought that house when I became an officer, and I lived in it for quite a few years. It was a great commute to work. Just go out the door and walk down the sidewalk.
Q: Are you married? Are you raising a family?
A: I’m on divorce number two. I have three kids. Two girls, one is eighteen and the other almost sixteen. I have a son who’s almost thirteen.
Q: Do your children live in Poughkeepsie?
A: They live nearby with their mom, and they stay with me on the weekends. For most of the last decade I’ve had them most of the time, this is a new arrangement basically for retirement. We get along fine, and we are raising a family together, just in separate homes.
Q: What’s the art and music you’re looking to pursue now that you’re retired from the police force?
A: Music has come pretty naturally to me, and that’s what I want to do. I’m a guitarist. Also a singer and a songwriter. I’ve done an internship to learn how to do audio engineering. I’m pretty heavily into it and that’s going to be my main drive. As far as visual arts, I’ve always been into that. My dad is a local artist. He wrote the book Calligraphy for Dummies, and I studied with him for years. My first job was actually when I was fourteen, working with the Mill Street Loft, for what they called Project ABLE. One of the big things we did was repaint and revitalize the pedestrian mall that used to be on the three hundred block of Main Street.
[NOTE: Bennett was interviewed in July 2022, more than three months into hiking the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. He spoke a little about that experience to date.]
I’m not in a rush to go and get another job. Right now I’m in kind of a get out of cop mode. Reconnect with people as just another guy, that’s really important to me. I’m here more in an existential way, not because I love to hike fifteen miles of mountains a day. And that’s usually about what it is, eleven to fifteen miles and a 40-pound pack.
Michael Bennett hiking the Appalachian Trail at Mt. Katahdin, Maine. Photo provided.
Q: How long were you training to do this?
A: I didn’t really train. I’ve always been kind of a day hiker. I’ve done a few small backpacking trips, just a day or two. You can’t train enough for this, you just have to let it bend you.
Q: Have you picked up your pace now that you’ve been out doing it for a while?
A: Just recently. At first I really took my time. I enjoyed going into different towns. I’ve visited lots of breweries and restaurants along the way.
You start out slow, do about six miles a day, then you have to recover. Today I’m taking what’s called a zero miles day, just a rest day. This experience is very strenuous, very tough. I’ve lost thirty pounds since I’ve been out here, from 210 to 180. You burn three to five thousand calories a day hiking, probably closer to five, and you can only eat so much.
I’m carrying everything that I need on my back. So it’s definitely giving me a different perspective. Gratitude, appreciation, and not overlooking the small things. Nuance and fine-tuning. So I think when I get back I will reassess big-time what I actually need, the things I need to hold onto. I’ll probably get a dumpster.