Minor Setback

It was a brisk Monday morning. The usual dark cloud emerged over my head as I took the dreaded walk down the seemingly endless blocks of industrial wasteland along 2nd Avenue in Gowanus to the site where I was mandated to report to parole.

This particular site, also an outpatient substance abuse treatment center, was the report site for people classified as category 1 and 2, which are the highest risk security level for people on parole and post-release supervision in Brooklyn.

I reluctantly pulled open the drab gray steel door and entered the lobby.

“Everything out of your pockets, belt and jacket off, hold hands up and walk through slowly,” demanded a red faced correction officer, with a black baseball gloved hand motioning towards a huge magnetometer metal detector.

This always served as a reminder that I am not really free. I live in a yard surrounded with barbed electric fence.

I humbly did as I was instructed, collected my belongings out of the bin and proceeded into the waiting room. 

“Good Morning Ma’am,” I greeted the receptionist. I turned and scanned the room of defeated faces and slumped shoulders for an empty seat.

“Sign In,” she replied dryly. Rolling her eyes, she clicked, and slid a pen and the sign in sheet through a slot in the bottom of the Plexiglas divider that protected her from the dangerous criminals in the waiting room.

I obliged her order and took a seat in the middle between an older woman fidgeting with documents with letterheads from several organizations and a bald Hispanic man reeking of cigarette smoke.

I looked down the row of slumped shoulders and out the window, into the parking lot. I began to day dream about the Bahamas cruise my fiancé and I had booked and were going on in a few weeks once I’ve made my last dreaded trip to Gowanus on April 11th to sign the release papers to signify my new beginning; a life finally free of justice system involvement, and restrictions and limitations, constant anxiety, humiliation and emasculation.

I thought about how different my life would be now that I didn’t have anyone to report to, request permission from, come to my home at random hours of the night and morning to see if I am in compliance with curfew. I wondered how it would feel to not have to wonder if the next trip to 15 2nd Avenue would include, another man, shoving a stick in my mouth, then standing over my shoulder, watching me urinate into a cup.

I looked forward to not having the anxiety of being unsure whether or not I would walk back out after my report. Over the years, wrestling this beast of the post-release supervision I watched many defeated faces, and slumped shoulders make the dreaded walk back to captivity, escorted in handcuffs by vested and armed parole officers, toward the exit leading toward the parking lot, or the back exit of whichever New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision parole report site, I was mandated to during my 5 year post-release supervision.

“I was only asking a question, because I’ve already been sitting here for almost two hours, and it’s not my report date. I just have to submit a document” said a frustrated gentleman to the receptionist behind the Plexiglas.

“And I’m not answering you,” dismissed the woman.

“I’ll go ask someone else,” responded the gentleman, as he headed towards the door where the C.O’s were posted.

Before the gentleman can make his way out the door, the woman rushed out and told the C.O’s that the gentleman approached the window disrespecting her, calling her names, and using profanity. He was ordered to return to the waiting area by the officers.

A large bald Parole Officer burst into the waiting room, an angry look on his face.

“Who was the one who was disrespecting my receptionist?” he barked.

Behind him were two other parole officers on alert also.

The familiarity of the us versus them, slave versus master dynamic began to take form. I glanced over at the gentleman, who looked nervous and, afraid.

Just as afraid, I looked up at the large bald Parole Officer and mustered, “That’s not what happened Sir. We were all out here and there are cameras. No one disrespected her.”

I couldn’t stand to allow someone innocent to face punishment for something falsified. Individuals under correctional supervision are stereotyped to be dangerous, or criminal. Therefore our lives are considered to have no value, making injustices against us, and sometimes homicides justifiable.

He looked uncomfortable being challenged and began to slowly retract. I was empowered and continued, “You weren’t even out here and you are ready to punish one of us because of what someone else said.”

“Alright well, just, nobody go to the window,” he said and turned and walked back inside.

A few moments passed then my parole officer came to retrieve me for our monthly report. I followed her along the corridor into her cubicle. “Have a seat,” she said.

I sat.

She clicked away into her keyboard, occasionally glancing at me over the monitor to ask a question that only required a yes or no. After a few minutes of this, she handed me a slip with my next report date written on it. I took the slip and turned to leave, and headed down the hall.

Next report: 4/23 the slip read. I felt a strong sense of anxiety and nausea overwhelm me. This can’t be right. I’m supposed to be getting off on the 11th, I thought to myself. I turned and headed back down the corridor, towards my parole officers cubicle.

“Excuse me,” I announced myself. “How come my next report date is past when I max out?”

“When do you max out?”

“I came out April 11th 2013. I had five years post. I should get off April. 11th”.

She clicked around on the keyboard and turned the monitor towards me. “No, you get off July 26th,”

My heard dropped. “But…How?” I stammered.

She explained that when I was arrested back in 2014 and detained in MDC for 3 months for a technical violation, that it froze my time on post release and once my post release supervision was revoked and restored, that time was added to the end of my sentence.

I explained that I was never given any of this information and that in fact, I was told by the public defender I had as my counsel while going through the parole revocation process that my max expiration date was still consistent with the date I’d received before.

Ultimately, my request to travel was denied because it was a Caribbean cruise, and per parole jurisdiction and travel restrictions, individuals under correctional supervision are not allowed to travel internationally under any circumstances.

This is an example of how punitive our criminal justice system is. I was arrested and prosecuted under the previous policy in New York State that automatically prosecutes 16 year-olds as adults. As a result of this, I was sentenced to 6 years prison and 5 years post release supervision. Since my release, I’ve been what one would call a “model parolee,” with over a decade removed since the time I was originally arrested, and I still am subjected to this system of injustice. 1 am #1in3.