People being released from prison face the daunting task or trying to complete their probation – problem free – and manage to stay out America’s jails and prisons.
The District of Columbia is no different when it comes to being stuck at trying to find ways to keep most people from going back to prison. People go back to prison for one of two reasons: re-arrest or a probation/parole violation?
What should a person do if faced with a violation? The most obvious answer would be to simply avoid violations, all together. But how do you do that?
John Davies, a returning citizen who did five years in federal prison [when he lives in Ohio] but now lives in northeast D.C., said its easy to go to jail, but staying out takes a lot of control.
“Staying out of jail is more than just doing what the probation officer says,” he said, “because you have to learn how to balance so many things: making the adjustment back, finding employment, and when you find a gig you have to work hard at keeping it.”
Davies said he went to prison about fifteen years ago on drug and assault charges. After he was released he had two years of probation to complete, which he did, and hasn’t gone back. When he was first placed on probation he had a hard time because he butted heads with his probation officer. Eventually, he said he was threatened with a probation violation and that’s when things hit home for him.
“When I walked out of my P.O.’s office I was very worried because I knew he wanted to send me back…I just knew it I didn’t have a job after eight months of being out, and quite honestly, I wasn’t really looking all that hard,” he mentioned, “but what changed for me was thinking that if I went back to prison, I wouldn’t have a job to look for, and I wouldn’t have anyone taking care of my girlfriend and our two kids. They would be alone again, and I would’ve failed them again.”
Davies said he went to a resource center in the city he was living in at the time and told them he was an ex-offender and he wanted help. He didn’t want to go to jail and he didn’t want to let his family down.
The center referred him to a church and their faith-based re-entry program. He attributes his success at staying out of jail to that program.
“They offered he a chance to show me how to be accountable for my actions and halfway through the 10 week program, I got a job,” he said. He added that his probation officer was so pleased to see that he found work. “I learned that keeping my probation officer happy was the ticket I needed.”
1. Follow the terms of your probation or parole
It’s simple: if you don’t report, don’t pay your fine, or don’t complete whatever conditions you might have as part of your release, then, you can pretty much assure your return to jail or prison. If you want to go back to jail – just keep doing what you’re doing. And if your freedom is really important, then, re-read the above title.
You should be sure to go wherever your probation/parole officer requests or demands. You’d be surprised the number of people who book their return ticket to incarceration just because they fail to report. There’s no reason not to report. If you never report in, you will be sent to jail. If you stop reporting, you will be sent to jail.
3. Change your People, Places, Things, and Ideas
Davies said that the hardest thing to do was to change the people he hung out with, places he hung out at, things he had done, and ideas that he thought; but it was also very necessary. “It took some real work, but I survived,” he said. “I replaced all those things with things that were more positive, and more focused on staying free – with restrictions.” He said he understood that his old people, places, things, and ideas are the things that brought him to prison.
4. Know the law
Your legal team shouldn’t be the one that knows about the law. You don’t have to be on Johnny Cochran status, but you should be aware of what laws and ordinances exist in your area. When you’re on probation ignorance of the law is no excuse. The knew the rules of the street when you were breaking the law, why not take the time to review the rules on the books.
5. Keep a paper trail
If you’re paying fines, making visits, and doing all that the P.O. ask of you – what would you do if that P.O. said, “I wanna see proof that you’re doing what you’re suppose to be doing.” Keeping up with this stuff is your responsibility. This would be a great way to shine. Think of it this way: if someone owed you money, I’m sure you’d make note of that, so why not keep track of something that can easily keep you on the streets.
6. Don’t target yourself
Most probation/parole officers – well, law enforcement officers in general – often say, “Give a person enough rope, and they’ll hang themselves.” If you’re on probation or parole, do you really need to be out at midnight hitting the club? Do you really need to be hanging at your buddy’s place while he’s getting high? If you said yes to both of those points – you might consider reconsidering.
7. Ask questions about what is expected of you while on probation or parole
Don’t be afraid to ask your P.O. questions, this is your freedom we’re talking about. You’ll more than likely get a listing of things you can and cannot do…go over that list and speak to your P.O. if you don’t understand something. There are no dumb questions when your freedom is on the line, except the one you didn’t ask.
8. Keep the doors of communication open, not closed and not halfway
If something drastic happens, call them immediately. Your P.O. should be programmed as part of your speed dial. If you’re not having much luck finding a job, or if you happen to lose your job – you should communicate this immediately. And if you get arrested for a misdemeanor, well…that’s a no-brainer. Always always always call and always vocalize what’s going on because good rapport with your P.O. can make it harder for them to issue a warrant for probation violations. What you do in the beginning can help you a lot in the end.
9. Pay your fines
You could go back to jail or prison if you don’t make your monthly payments [restitution, probation fee, or whatever they may have]. If you don’t have a job or a means to pay see Number 8, and react accordingly.
10. Stay away from drugs
Drugs and probation is like oil and water; they don’t mix. If you’re having to take urines and you’re doing drugs, like smoking weed, it’s going to show up, and you’ll definitely be violated or be given even more strict supervision. If you don’t get violated and sent back to jail, you might end up in a sanctions house, or even worse: a halfway house. Getting violated can’t possibly be that exciting.
A violation is a pretty serious thing. Basically, you telling the judge and the other law enforcement people that they may have a poor decision in letting me loose. When that trust is broken, it’s hard to get back. Think about all the days, weeks, months and years you’ve been free. Think about all the times you’ve been out with your special someone, played sports or dominos with your friends, just all and all done pretty much whatever you’ve wanted. Do you want to give that up because you couldn’t follow a few suggestions?
Just remember, one out of every 100 Americans is locked up in jail or prison. Which group do you want to be a part of?