State officials say the number of inmates going out on programs like probation and parole has gone up. That means more offenders returning to their neighborhoods looking for opportunity. And it means more work for parole officers like Anthony Williams. In the second in a series on life after prison, WNPR’s Jeff Cohen reports.
Anthony Williams sits at his desk in a building you wouldn’t notice unless you had to. Outside his window is the Connecticut Convention Center, on his desk is a cardboard box filled with drug tests. And over his shoulder, a sign hangs on the wall with a little boat in a lot of blue water.
“That signs says destiny. The choices we make not the chances we take determine our destiny. You know, when the parolees come into our office, you know, I show this to them and you know inform them that you’re either going to make the right choice or you’re going to make the wrong choice. Destiny.”
Williams has been a parole officer with the state for four years. His caseload is filled with roughly 60 people out of jail but still under the supervision of the state department of correction. And they're not all from Hartford.
"Me, I cover Glastonbury, I cover Marlborough, I cover East Hartford. The same thing you see in Hartford, you see out there. If I didn't tell you, you wouldn't know. It's just hidden."
Regardless of the crime that gets someone arrested, gets them in jail, and eventually gets them to Williams, it’s his job to make sure parolees stay sober, try to find work, and don’t violate the terms of their parole. Screw up enough, and Williams can cuff you and take you right back to jail. But that’s not his goal.
“I like to see all my guys do good. You know I mean, I like to see that guys can come out and turn their life around. I mean, that’s what we’re here for. We want to see these guys reintegrate back into the community and be successful members of society. That's our goal."
Down the hall is Lance Edwards. He’s been a parole officer for 23 years and says the trick is to be fair, firm, and consistent. He tells some parolees that he needs to put them on his tax returns, because they act just like his kids.
“I’m a parole officer, I’m your mother, I’m your father, I’m your teacher, I’m your therapist, I’m your disciplinarian, I’m your doctor – because I have to find all things you’re having problems with and then put you in touch with the programs in the community that are going to benefit you. So I’m all these things rolled up into one.”
There are success stories. And then there are stories like this one that Edwards says will break your heart.
“I’d been dealing with him for three, four years, in and out of jail. And I think that least year he finally got it right. The convention center hired him…”
The boss at the convention center took a liking to him. And Edwards was going to help the parolee go to culinary school.
“He got off work, saw a friend of his, stopped to talk to him, drive by shooting, he got killed. After being on parole for five years, in and out of jail, finally got it right, and just being in the wrong place at the wrong time after getting off work.”
So sometimes there are people who trouble finds. And then there are others who find trouble themselves. This week, it’s a client both men know. He's been on parole for three years, he has less than a week to go, and he tests positive for PCP.
“Yeah, it gets you. It gets you upset that, you know, he’d wait till the last minute to mess up. What I say to him is that, you know, obviously you’re back to making poor choices. And I’m going to be seeing you again.”
Williams spends a lot of his time in the office, visiting with parolees. But it’s also his job to get in his car and go to where parolees live and work. Today, he’s on his way to a job placement center called Chrysalis. To get there, he drives through the city where he grew up.
“I grew up in Westbrook Village and I grew up on the Sigourney street area. Off Albany Avenue. It’s what I know, where I grew up. I feel comfortable when I’m working in Hartford. And for the most part guys respect that because they know there’s only so much that you can pull over my eyes without me knowing, you know."
Inside and at the computer is Vincent Drake. He says he’s 49, has a bachelor’s degree, and has served more than seven years in jail of a fifteen-year sentence for dealing drugs.
“I wanted fast money, I wanted lots of money and I wanted power. But that landed me in prison."
He’s working on job applications here because he doesn’t have the right computer software at home.
"I should have worked 40 hours like the normal person did, and I never would have went to jail. But now since I started working these last six months, getting a paycheck, and working hard, that’s the way to go.”
“You don’t have to look over your shoulder, people trying to rob you, people trying to kill you, looking out for the cops and all the other stuff. When I could just work for 40 hours and live good.”
Parolees like Drake have a few ways they can spend their time. Studying, working, looking for work, or cleaning up the state's highways. One thing they can't do is just hang out on the street.
“Right now we’re on Albany Avenue. A high crime area. Parolees know, you know, hanging out during the days, hanging out period is unacceptable, but especially during the day because you’re supposed to be out trying to find a job. So, you know, we’re just trying to look and see who’s out here, you know, who’s not doing what they’re supposed to do, you know…”
“Mr. Holmes! How you doing, sir? Did you take care of that…?”
“So you’re all set?”
“I’m all set.”
“Alright. So I’ll see you Monday.
"Going home, right?”
“Yeah. No. I’m about to go to the library then I’m going home.”
“Alright. No hanging out?”
“No, not at all.”
“See, that’s one of my guys who's been having a little issues lately with substance abuse.”
“I tell guys all the time, it’s not my job to put you in jail. You know. For some reason you know most parolees come out of jail thinking that, ‘My parole officer want to put me in jail. All he wants to do is put me in jail.’ I just can’t put you in jail. You have to give me a reason to put you in jail.”
And for Williams, it all goes back to the sign on his office wall about destiny, chance, and choice.
For WNPR, I'm Jeff Cohen.