After four years in prison,

by francine Hardaway on February 1, 2006

After four years in prison, my former foster son Jerry, now 24, was finally released in early November. They let him out on intensive parole before the end of his sentence because of his good behavior while in prison.

He had been a difficult adolescent, experimenting with using and selling crack, failing in school, and causing himself to be thrown out of my house. Once on the street, he had to resort to crime to support his habit. Disappointed and at a loss for what to do, I let events run their course, and not surprisingly he was picked up and convicted of several felonies. All of them were versions of breaking and entering, or theft. Jerry has no potential for violence. He�s not even a talented criminal. He was just a desperate kid with nowhere to go after I threw him out.

As soon as I realized he was actually going to be imprisoned, I promised him I would be there for him, and that I would help him use the time productively if he wished to do so. I figured it was a good time to get him an education. From the inside of the prison, he was more willing to listen to me than before. He took all the addiction programs the Department of Corrections offers, and got a G.E.D. He read every book I sent him, and I sent him business books, inspirational books, and classics. He also took every college class they offered in the prison, from English 101 to Electrical Repair to Operating Heavy Equipment � for all of which I gladly paid, even though he ended up with 38 hours of mismatched credits that don�t prepare him for a degree.

He was a captive audience, bored to death and afraid of the other prisoners. After a few years and about five moves around the state of Arizona prison system, he had amassed quite a library, and an informal group of inmates welcomed him into a weekly �business group.� They liked his access to business books, and they thought he had a contribution to make. I found this out when one of his fellow inmates was released and called me. That man enrolled in one of my Fasttrac programs and completed it.

He was fortunate; he had a wife and family waiting for him on the outside, and his wife came to the classes with him. But even so, he has had a terrible time readjusting to the world.

My foster son was not so lucky. His father committed suicide right after I met him, and his mother still lives with a man she smokes crack with every night. I�ve heard she has calmed down a bit, but she doesn�t have much to offer him in the way of resources, since she doesn�t work herself, and never finished 8th grade.

And when prisoners are released, the corrections system gives them nothing.

Luckily, Jerry�s birth mom and her boyfriend picked him up at the prison, because Corrections didn�t give him enough money for a bus ticket to Phoenix from Sierra Vista. She drove him to the Parole Officer and left him there, because didn�t want her to know where he lived. She has a habit of asking her kids for money.

After the first visit to his Parole Officer, he took the city bus to the halfway house where I had paid the first month�s rent for him.

Although I was trying not to get involved, I took him out and bought him clothes, a jacket and shoes. He had left prison with one t-shirt and one pair of pants. We were pretty excited about the new start, and he no longer fought me about what to wear. Instead of those baggy jeans and sweatshirts that made him look like a thug, I outfitted him in Dockers and Ralph Lauren golf shirts.

Anxious to begin working and paying his restitution, not wanting to be dependent on me, Jerry ignored the jobs I had lined up for him with friends of mine and went to work with a woman who was an unlicensed painting contractor. She paid him $10/hour and drove him to and from their jobs, because her husband had been a friend of Jerry�s in prison. For three weeks, he thought he had made a successful new beginning without relying on me.

And then the woman ran out of work and laid him off. This was just before Christmas.
I was in Half Moon Bay.

He called me in a panic: if his parole officer found out he had been laid off, he�d be sent back to prison. If he fell behind on his rent, he�d be kicked out of the halfway house. If he was found homeless he could also be sent back to prison. He has to see his parole officer once a week, and take random drug tests whenever his �color� comes up at the testing center. He has to have money to get to the parole officer.

I calmed him down. I told him he�d be fine after the start of the New Year, and that I would pay the rent until then. I told him most contractors were slow around Christmas. I asked him to call one of my friends and line up another job.

He did. But that was the beginning, not the end, of the nightmare of his assimilation back into society.

He called my friend, who did offer to hire him, but whose company is in Fountain Hills. So Jerry needed a car. Through an elaborate three-way trade, I got him my daughter�s boyfriend�s car, which the boyfriend drove to Phoenix from California for me.

The car, a 1988 Suburban, just made it to Phoenix before its brakes gave out. Jerry called me from a gas station where he had to pull over when he discovered he had no brakes. He was on his way to register the car when it happened. The gas station wouldn�t take a credit card over the phone. I was in north Scottsdale; he was in west Phoenix. He didn�t have $90.

I called a friend of mine who is usually in west Phoenix on business. She was home in bed with the flu, but dispatched her husband to the gas station with the $90 to get Jerry on his way.

When he got to the DMV, he discovered the car needed to be emissions tested, even though it had just passed a test in California. Once again, I had to meet him and give him money for the emissions test, and then for the registration. It took three days and a brake job to get the car registered. In the mean time, Jerry couldn�t work, because he couldn�t legally show the car to his Parole Officer and get permission to drive it until it was registered and insured.

By this time, we are well into January, and Jerry hasn�t been able to work since early December, so I pay another month at the halfway house. I also arrange with Basha�s to have groceries delivered once a week. The last thing in the world I want now is for him to lose hope and go back to stealing or drugs.

We are finally ready to have him start work the following Monday.

But on Sunday, his roommate�s daughter has a car accident, and is taken to a hospital in Mesa where she dies. Jerry�s roommate, whose food Jerry eats when the groceries run out, asks him for a ride to Mesa, and Jerry takes him. On the way back on the freeway, the car suddenly refuses to go into gear. Jerry has to pull over again, and he calls me in tears from the side of the freeway because a policeman has come up to him and asked him for his license and registration and insurance. Although he has them all, he is scared because the Parole Officer has told him that if he has ANY contact with police, he will go right back to prison.

I reassure him that this cannot be what the Parole Officer means, although I�m not certain of that myself. I tell him to have the car towed to our mechanic, Cliff.

On Monday Jerry cannot go to work. He goes to see Cliff, who tells us that the car needs a transmission, which he can get from a junkyard, but which will still cost $1200 with labor and some other minor work the car needs. I trust Cliff, whom I have known for twenty years, so we proceed.

The car is ready on Wednesday, but now the man who has hired him is out of town and asks him to wait until the next Monday to show up for work.

Finally, last Monday he begins. At noon, he is paged by his Parole Officer, who wants to see him. He leaves the job for the day. The Parole Officer tells him that he must go to a counseling appointment the following day and get a prescription for meds, because he has chosen not to take some addiction classes that met during his work day. The Parole Officer tells him he will be randomly tested more often because he is not taking these classes.

The Parole Officer has made an appointment with the mental health service for 11 AM the following day. Once again, Jerry cannot go to work.

Nor can he go to work on Wednesday, which is his regular day to see the Parole Officer.

Do you get the picture by now? There is no way this man can become a respectable, working member of society without a huge amount of support. And even if he has the support, he cannot assimilate while he is on parole, because the Parole Officer does not care about Jerry�s job, his car, or anything. He cares only that Jerry meet the obligations of his parole.

No wonder there is recidivism. I�m a resourceful woman who can afford to support him for a bit, although there is no reason on earth for me to do so � except that if I didn�t, he�d be on the streets again and then in prison again, costing us $35,000 a year as a society. And this time, he hasn�t even done anything wrong. I�m sure you can hear my frustration.

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