THE HONOR SYSTEM FOR PAROLEES BY DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
I have lately encountered many parolees chatting in the back of the city bus that goes up and down Kansas City’s Main Street. I was listening in on a lively discussion just yesterday, and heard a convict say that he did not like the “honor system” very much, that serving ones time out in prison was better than living in the half-way house.
Another con said that was nonsense, because if a man serves his whole time and has no place to go when he gets out, he is dumped on the street in the cold with nothing but a few bucks, and when that is gone, he has no choice but to steal, maybe mug some old man or woman walking out of the convenience store, or hold up the store itself. But if he is in the honor system, he has a place to stay, and some help with finding work.
“That’s right,” remarked another fellow, “and don’t run away, because that will get you a couple more years on your sentence.”
Although I have never served time, I could not help but join in the discussion. I said I was running into many parolees downtown, and wondered why there were so many.
A parolee declared that the prison business and the honor system business are very profitable businesses. He said lots of legitimate companies feed off crime. The state has twenty-some prisons, he figured, and in this state you can get thrown into prison for almost anything.
Lots of people are sent up for some minor first offense, he declared, and said he drew a four-year sentence after his estranged wife called him and told him to come get his property out of the house. After he did just that, he claimed he was arrested for violating the restraining order prohibiting him from coming within so many feet of her. Apparently a neighbor had called the police. She testified for him at the trial. It was his first offense, but he mouthed off to the judge, so he was sent up. What upset him the most was the loss of his $50,000 job as a computer programmer; the company will not take him back. At least that was his story.
“Well, what are some of the rules for parole?” I asked him.
“First of all, you can’t leave the state.”
“Even worse,” chimed in another man, “you can’t drink or do no drugs.”
“What? Not even a beer?” I asked.
“There’s a way to work it, a way to have a drink once in awhile, but better not do drugs,” a heavily tattooed man chimed in. “The tests vary to pick up different kinds of drugs. If you have been smoking or otherwise using nicotine, you have to take cessation classes.”
“You’re kidding!” I said.
“No, that’s the God’s truth, but smoking cigarettes can be worked into the schedule.”
“Is there any help getting jobs?”
“There are half-way houses at first, then housing assistance if you qualify.”
“Good grief!” I exclaimed. “I think I qualify for parole. I don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do any drugs except caffeine, can’t seem to get out of the state, and I could use some shelter and work. Where do I apply?”
“You have to commit a crime first, get busted, serve some time, and then you get the benefits.”
David Arthur Walters
Kansas City 2004