A Christmas Story

by francine Hardaway on December 6, 2006

My former foster child Jerry went to prison when he was nineteen on a series of felonies that were the result of a drug habit that was itself the result of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Jerry, until he found me and my late husband, lived with a father who was intermittently violent, addicted to crack and alcohol, and a mother� who was a crack whore. Thus for the first ten years of his life, Jerry thought it was HIS responsibility, as� the oldest boy, to find food for the family.

After the suicide of his father, jerry and his two sisters and brother were removed from the family by Child Protective Services, and put into a shelter. That’s how my physician husband and I became foster parents. I was mentoring the family and we couldn’t stand to see the kids go to a shelter, so we became licensed. (Get my book about this, “Foster Mom,” on Amazon).

Jerry lived with us from the time he was ten to the time he was 16.� He always had emotional problems, but� we thought we were on top of them. And then he lost another father figure, my wonderful husband, who died in 1997. After that, Jerry seemed to go into a tailspin, and soon was dealing drugs out of my house. I had no idea how to deal with that, so I called the social worker and had him moved to a group home. In retrospect, that was stupid of me, because it gave him the idea no one cared. He ran away from the group home back to his mother, the streets and crack, and committed a bunch of car thefts and robberies before he was sentenced to about four years in prison.

During prison, I supported him both financially and emotionally, sending him books and paying for classes.� He was very contrite, and determined to get the education he had interrupted.� He got a GED and 32 college credits in prison, and also became a man. He did not become hard.

Jerry got out on intensive parole over a year ago, and negotiated his way through the difficulties of finding a job, finding a place to live, and managing a car with my help. He owes $500,000 in restitution because he tried to go to trial once, and he lost.� The County is making him pay back his legal fees.

Intensive parole is like a huge obstacle course.� The P.O. is constantly looking for a reason to put you back in prison, and if you move wrong, you’re back in.� Most ex-prisoners just give up unless they have really good family supportm because it’s so hard.� Most apartment complexes won’t rent to felons, most employers won’t hire them. And yet to stay out of prison when you are on parole, you can’t be jobless or homeless for one minute.

But Jerry is one of a small percentage of people who managed to get off parole and back into society.� For the past year, he has had a job as a commercial painter. I bought him a junk car, and we’ve been holding it together with spit and baling wire.� Even at $10/hr, he can’t live on his salary because of the restitution.� He has no life; he went to work and came home, without a dime of extra money.

And then, just after Thanksgiving, he got laid off. His car was in danger of being re-possessed, and everything finally got to be too much for him,. He called me, a grown man, crying. “I never can catch a break,” he said. ” I try and try and try,and something always happens.”

I could see he was ready to pack it in and go back to prison, one way or another. I want to prove to him that sometimes there is, indeed, a payoff. So i hopped out of bed on my one good hip and met him for coffee. Over Starbucks, I did with him what I always do: I developed a business plan.� We are going to put him in business as a handyman, using the skills he developed in all those prison classes.� He can lay tile, repair dry wall, run wire, and paint.� He can repair a car. He can’t get a contractor’s license, but he can take those small jobs we all need done around our homes. He got excited.

So we decided he would go into business with a cell phone and a post office box.� But guess what?� We went to get him a post office box and he can’t get one because he needed to present a piece of mail addressed to himself and he didn’t have one. Another obstacle.� So I went home, wrote him a letter, and mailed it to him at his sister’s apartment, where he is living. Another delay.

Because we don’t have the post office box, we can’t get the business cards.� Once we get them, hs has to start the marketing. Once that works, he will have the business.� But what happens in the meantime?� As a felon, he can’t get food stamps, health care, or any social safety net help. See what I mean? No wonder these guys go back to prison. It’s so hard for a released felon to get from Point A to Point B that if he doesn’t have a foster mom who is still in his life, he can never make it.

And to top it off, it’s Christmas.

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