I’ve shared quite a few stories from jail, but once being locked up was done, my experience with the criminal justice system was hardly over. Jail is really just the middle part. At first you have the court system to wind your way through. That took me 22 months. Then, jail was 6 months. The final part, probation, is 36 months in my case. As of this writing, I’m now less than 10 months away from it being done.

When I was in jail, I learned that many inmates took longer sentences so probation would not be part of their lives upon leaving lock-up. I couldn’t understand why they’d make that decision. Isn’t a month in jail and two years of probation a better deal than three months in jail? At least you’re free.

When I first visited my lawyer, he suggested that we pitch a long-term probationary period of like 8 years to the DA and judge, while trying to keep me out of jail completely. That didn’t happen, and looking back now, I’m glad.

The judge, at your sentencing, also creates the terms of your conditional release, better known as probation. There’s the boilerplate stuff, like no committing other crimes, but then they will tailor things to your specific case. For instance, I was not allowed to move home with my family after jail until I passed a polygraph stating I’d never put my hands on a child. I knew I’d pass it with flying colors, but I still had to live with my parents for about three months after I got out while waiting for it to be scheduled. And while I knew I would pass, I was anxiety-ridden over the possibility of a false positive.

I was also forced to join a weekly sex offenders’ support group. Once I was deemed ready, which took about a year, I was moved to a monthly support group. I’ve grown to enjoy the group, so I’ll probably continue when I’m off probation, but as for now, if I don’t attend this group, which costs $40 per session (that’s $160/monthly in the weekly group – a large amount for some of the guys) I can be put back into jail.

That’s really the thing about probation, while it’s not difficult, there are so many strings attached that it’s like a black cloud hanging over my head. The specter of being sent back to jail always looms.

I first had to report every two weeks to the probation officer who handled sex offenses. He was supposed to have 30 people to oversee, but had closer to 80. After proving I was trustworthy over seven or eight months, I was transferred to a different PO that handled every kind of criminal.

POs are allowed to drop by and do a search of your house at any time. My first PO visited once in the beginning and my second PO did the same. I think their caseloads are just so large that they don’t have the time to make visits to people they don’t believe are at a high risk of recidivism.

My PO only sees me at the office once a month now, and most of the time his only question to me is, “Do you need anything from me this month?” and the answer is no. I’m guessing that they can tell that I am the kind of person who made a terrible mistake, follow the rules they provided me and am not going to be any trouble. I couldn’t just say that in the beginning, I had to prove it to them over time.

Most of the people I came in contact with in jail, and in the waiting room of probation, are there for drug violations that happened while they were on probation. They have a true addiction and despite getting nailed for having drugs at some point, the risk of being put back in jail is nothing compared to the demon of addiction, so they use again. Most who violate their probation are nabbed via a dirty urine test.

These are the people who will take a sentence of three months in jail and no probation instead of one month in jail and two years of probation. If they are not on probation, they can’t violate probation. Most have no interest in curbing their habit, or available support to even try, so skipping probation is the safest way to legally return to their habit. Nobody will be testing their urine.

While it was far worse in the beginning, I still get nervous on the days I go to probation. The PO has the right to determine I did something wrong (even if it’s not illegal for the rest of you) and bring me to jail. I haven’t even come close, but knowing that could happen ruins my day.

I did six months in jail and got three years of probation. Knowing what I know now, if I could have done an extra month in jail for those three years, I would have said yes. It would have meant no nerve-wracking polygraphs, no asking for permission when I want to leave the state, no court-mandated support groups, no $10 monthly fee for simply being on probation, no sick feelings when the first Monday of the month rolls around.

I now feel like I’m just playing out the clock, but much like I breathed a sigh of relief the day I left jail, I’m going to exhale just as deeply my last day of probation.

 

6 comments

  1. Just curious… is the probationary process at all intrusive on your family? Can they interview your wife or kids or are they pretty much left out of it. (I hope its the latter because if it can make you nervous I’m sure it causes them anxiety too.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m guessing they could interview them, but it’s not intrusive at all with my case. They’re so overworked that I think with people like me, they just kind of assume I’m doing the right thing, which is true. My family had to do various interviews after I was arrested, and I know some of the questions they asked were very personal and intrusive. At this point, aside from the inconvenience of not being able to cook with alcohol, it doesn’t seem to weigh on my wife at all and I don’t even know if the kids are paying enough attention to know what’s going on with me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m wondering why, when you’ve fulfilled all the requirements of the court to pay for your crime, is the offense kept on your record for the rest of your life? If you’ve paid the penalty in full it seems like the mistake you made should at least not be public-accessible information. I have a friend who, even 15 years after finishing his jail time and subsequent probation, can’t get hired for a decent job because he’s still considered a “felon.” Doesn’t seem fair to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s not only just kept on your record, but the way it works in Maine, I have to check in with the police in my town quarterly since I am on the sexual offender registry in this state. Every state has one, but the rules for being on and what tier is up to the state. In Maine, I’ve been told over 90% are like me, with a lifetime on the registry. That’s because I had more than one charge I was convicted of. They don’t do this for drug dealers or even people convicted of manslaughter. The only way this system will change will be through the courts. I believe it eventually will change, but until then, not much I can do about it except follow along dutifully.

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  3. Our system isn’t quite as pick and mix as it seems to be in the US; you just get the probation you’re given based on your sentence. I do agree with you, though, that the nagging worry that I’ll do something that seems harmless with ring some unforeseen alarm bell – I casually mentioned going to the movies and now I have to inform them prior to every film I see. That said, it feels the same here about the probation service being overloaded; my meetings are supposed to be an hour but they never manage anything like that. Like you, I’m doing my best to be a good lad and hoping they will become less and less interested in me as time goes on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m starting to be more curious about what my life will be like after. Hopefully I’ll never need an out-of-the-house job again because in Maine, they can look at your criminal background in hiring. Not every state is like that. I’ve been told loans are tough to come by, as are apartments. It’s actually easier to buy a house because they don’t do a background check. I don’t have to check in to go see a movie, thankfully, but until I’m off probation I can’t have things like Netflix or Hulu at my house because that’s considered internet.

      Liked by 1 person

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