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Parole Didn’t Integrate Me Into Society. It Kept Me Out of It.

I didn’t want to be a fugitive, but parole supervision destabilized my life and kept me homeless.

A parole recipient pauses on his way to catch the bus as he looks for work on November 18, 2010, in Los Angeles, California.

I have lived as a fugitive, as far outside the law as possible, and as a parolee on the strictest level of supervision available, outside of physical incarceration. I can say with the utmost confidence that it is much easier to obtain and sustain the basic adult necessities required to be a tax paying, positively contributing member of polite society as a fugitive from justice than as a compliant ward of the Department of Corrections.

Apartments and jobs abound as a fugitive if you wear a clean white shirt, can craft a decent email and are fairly articulate in interviews. Being beguiling and clever can get you places, slipping through the cracks of lazy background checks and eager property and hiring managers. The opportunities were relatively boundless for a registered sex offender, not having a parole officer hot on your tail who was determined to squash out any leads in terms of housing and employment.

As a fugitive, I was making the most money I’ve ever made in my adult life, legally, paying my taxes and contributing to my employer’s retirement plan and my own IRA. Out of prudence, I was riding my bike to work or taking Ubers, ideally doing my best to avoid detection through routine traffic stops. I lived in a mid-century condo with my partner complete with wood floors, radiant heating, private off-street parking and a laundry room onsite. It was just below one of the most affluent and historic parts of town.

On supervision, before I ran, I couldn’t get my parole officer to approve residences designed for those with felony convictions, low-rent and subsidized downtown, let alone get her to approve any jobs to even pay for life. I was living in motel rooms, and working behind her back just to pay for them, burning through savings accounts in the process. Never in a million years would I have been approved to live in the condo that I lived in as a fugitive, and sure enough, when I went back on supervision, the condo address was denied by my parole officer as unsuitable. Other than her arbitrary restrictions, there is a time element that makes securing stable housing virtually impossible: It took her six weeks to tell me I couldn’t live there. If I wasn’t already on the lease, I can’t imagine a landlord holding a unit for six weeks as someone waits on the Department of Corrections to see if they can move in.

In the nine months since I’ve been back on active supervision, I haven’t had one job or permanent residence approved by my parole officer. The plausible deniability crutch she falls back on is public safety, but the reality is she allows me to live in a motel (as she has no authority over temporary shelters) that houses minors, drugs and alcohol, so it’s hard not to see her denial of employment and housing as anything other than continued punishment for my crimes.

She makes sure to call every single potential employer, sometimes before I have even interviewed, to warn them what a piece of shit I am and that I can’t be around minors. My criminal history has nothing to do with minors; I have no previous unreported incidents involving minors; I’ve even passed a “full-disclosure” polygraph that grills you over potential deviant thoughts regarding minors, but that doesn’t deter my parole officer from making sure I never work at any place where minors may be. This means she has denied me from working at fast food restaurants, grocery stores, moving companies, and more.

This state of unemployment is pretty common for the individuals under her purview. Of the eight people in my treatment group, only two of them have jobs, and they both work at the same place; some vaguely industrial sounding employer just prohibitively far enough outside city limits that makes working there without reliable transportation extremely unlikely. The only two jobs my parole officer has ever approved me for — a call center and a retail distribution warehouse (no minors but plenty of toys) — compelled me to obtain a car because they are located outside my county where I am under supervision. The former lasted two-and-a-half days before I had to quit because I was going to miss an arbitrary check-in time with the front desk of probation and parole, and the latter was just a temporary gig through an employment agency that ended once the actual employer ran a background check on me.

There are expenses to being on parole and probation that I am expected to handle regardless of my income and employment situation. Before the pandemic, I even had to pay to be on supervision, but thankfully the nominal fee was wiped out by COVID-19. However, there are still $150 polygraph fees, taken roughly every three months, and a $50-a-month treatment fee. The treatment is something I appreciate, both for the service itself and the prorated cost. I’ve seen other providers charge as much as $475 for an intake, something I didn’t want to risk paying out of pocket for, either as a fugitive or on parole. I didn’t actively seek out any treatment as a fugitive, because of the cost but also because I didn’t want to put the confidentiality agreement between therapist and client to any real test.

These widely accepted practices do not seem like they are in the best interest of public safety and yet, they persist because of my parole officer’s blanket draconian restrictions. In the treatment my parole officer enrolled me in, we learn about the “Big 8 Risk Factors for Criminal Behavior.” Some of them include lifestyle instability (unemployment and homelessness), family stressors, and antisocial values and beliefs — all factors parole actively exacerbates. Scoring my own risk profile is itself an exercise in resentment for authority, especially when I have to give myself demerits for unemployment, unstable housing, positive social supports and family connections, all elements our parole officer treats as a luxury and not an essential part of being human.

These restrictions are unevenly applied throughout the state. I have had people on the registry in neighboring counties call me on the phone and tell me, encouragingly, that the conditions we have here in my county are not ubiquitous across the state. One individual was shocked at the chronic homelessness and unemployment in my county because his experience was vastly different. In fact, he still keeps in contact with his former parole officer, even off supervision, because she was a great ally for him and others on the registry in his county, helping connect them with jobs, housing and positive connections in the community.

Anyone who argues against mass incarceration understands that the law is far from fair and equitably applied; it is these inconsistencies that undermine the criminal legal system and reveal its stench of illegitimacy. Only a tiny minority would argue that our treatment is just and in the best interest of society as a whole. Unfortunately, that minority includes my parole officer.

When I was sitting in county jail fighting my case, the same cast of characters would cycle in and out on sanction, the majority of them on my parole officer’s caseload. I did 18 months there, so I saw the same guys quite a bit. I used to think they were idiots. I used to think, why can’t they just abide and get their supervision over with? What I never thought about at that time was, why don’t they just run and never get caught? But absconding supervision just to survive was what I ended up doing.

I became a fugitive when my parole officer found out I wasn’t homeless, and I couldn’t afford to sit for 90 days in jail as punishment for that, so I ran. Literally I ran out of her office, when she confronted me on an early March day telling me to tell her the truth about where I’d been living. Guys abscond for all sorts of reasons, but usually it’s because they can’t get their basic necessities met on supervision. I would not want to be a fugitive ever again, but there is a certain appeal to being wanted.

There are more than a few guys I know who, after an extended period on the run, voluntarily turned themselves in when they had built up a big enough nest egg to get by on. Being on supervision forces me daily to answer the question: Do I want to survive, or do I want to comply? Because my parole officer makes them mutually exclusive.

I never actually ask myself the next logical question, I’m far too preoccupied with just surviving day to day, but what is the point of supervision if it just makes the community as a whole less safe?

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