Friday, March 09, 2007

Normal People

I'm not all together sure why this week seemed so difficult to me. It may be because everyone in the office was feeling the same sort of stress. Yesterday, we actually all stood in the hallway at 11:30 in the morning eating Rocky Road Ice Cream because we needed something nice in our life just that minute. It had been that kind of week. While not all of our offender clients are messing up, a significant number are. In one week, we have had to put 4 in jail from our office.

Some probation officers might scoff at this, for I'm sure there are other offices where the rules are stricter and every week is like this one. Of the four that went to jail, two were mine. I also put four more into drug treatment. That means there were probably 20 who were directed into drug treatment this week by our office.

But I think the thing that has made me tired, were those 30 or so (from a caseload which is now thankfully down to 130 -- due to "graduation" or transfer -- even in jail they are still mine until convicted) who could not seem to show up when scheduled. They just popped in whenever they felt like it. This means I ended up changing my plans for work for the week. I didn't get done the reports that I wanted to get done and off my desk and returned to the court as planned. And I'm think I'm tired because I had to expend too much energy reprimanding people who did stupid things like move without reporting, change jobs without reporting, getting a traffic ticket and not telling me for a month (even though they are supposed to report tickets or arrests and job and home changes within 72 hours).

I must also now find time early next week to sit down and write and mail off the Major Violation Reports that I must file with the Commonwealth's Attorney and the Courts on the people on my caseload who were put into jail this week.

And as of 5 p.m. Friday, I have finally accepted that I have one man who is has chosen to completely ignore his supervision rules and will have to be arrested by the police/deputies in the field next week if they can find him.

Probation and Parole Supervision Rules is not designed to be hard. Normal, law-abiding people actually follow all the rules of probation/parole every day of their lives without another person supervising them.

  • They obey laws.
  • If they get a ticket, they pay it promptly (and report it to their boss or insurance company or spouse within a couple of days).
  • If they move, they plan for it and make arrangements so people know where they went (like credit card companies, mail delivery people, their spouse, their parents, etc.).
  • If they change jobs or get promotions, layoffs or demotions, they let people know and in most cases, plan for it if they have control or warning of it coming.
  • If they are getting treatment for something serious, they show up for their appointments (appointments for probationers with their officers or substance abuse counselors are like doctor appointments for we aim to fix what is wrong (i.e. criminal thinking behaviors).)
  • Normal people don't use illegal drugs or abuse prescription drugs
  • Normal people don't drink to a point that it interferes with their ability to function at work or school or in their own homes and they don't drink or do drugs in public.
  • Normal folks may own a gun to hunt with. But they don't have need of one otherwise. Felons just have to accept that they can't have one unless the Governor of Virginia decides they have been completely restored to sanity and provides for restoration of their rights.
  • Finally, normal people don't disappear off the face of the planet even when they mess up in one of the areas above. They face up to their errors and accept the consequences. In my world, people who run from their responsibilities are known as "absconders."
While a person is under probation/parole supervision their probation/parole officer must be considered almost a member of the family (not a loved one, perhaps, but a close one) and they must be "kept in the loop" on everything that happens.

My successful clients involve me in their struggles and their successes and I worry about them and celebrate as well. Successful clients talk to me a lot on the phone. They show up five minutes early for appointments and appear for all of them. They pay their fines, fees and restitution every month... even if all they can afford is $5.00. They stay clean and sober. They find a job -- any job -- and get on the books and pay their taxes and look for better jobs but don't quit until they have a better one. They plan their lives. They are honest with the people in their life. They show up for work every day as expected and provide an honest day's work. Most importantly, they know they are fighting a war inside of themselves that is screaming for them to return to their old way of thinking and they just keep shutting it down because they know it is just insanity. They can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And they know in their heart that this time, it's not a train.

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