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Probation -- Soft on Crime
“It’s not a joke.”
He looked back at me. “Yeah, it is a joke,” he said. “It has always been a useless crazy stupid asinine joke.”
He was holding a Probation Order and reading it again. He and I had been reading them and putting people back in jail when they didn’t follow these simple rules. We’d been doing it for years. The easiest rule was don’t break the rules.
“So he got arrested again?” I asked.
Not a Modern Prison Cell
“Yeah. Again. Grand Theft. You’d think he would’ve learned the first eight times to stop.
So now I’m gonna write him up and they – the judge – is gonna just put him right back on probation and you know what?”
“What?” I asked, but I already knew the answer.
“He’ll just do it again. He’ll just steal a car, smoke some dope, and refuse to get a job…” He trailed off. He threw the papers down on his car seat. “Dumb.”
We had met for lunch at a strip mall in a dumpy part of Deltona, Florida. He was getting ready to get back on the road and check-up on more of his probationers.
It was a miserable day. Hot and muggy and here we were in ties and dress shoes in a crumbling parking lot. We knew of at least two Probation Officers who had been choked to death with their ties by their Probationers, but we were still required to wear them. Most of time we ignored that rule and the dummies who made it.
“This isn’t doing any good,” he said.
“So why are we doing it?” I wondered about that now. I mean really, I did.
“I’m finished after this week,” he said. “Going back to the Force.”
“Sheriff’s Office. I use to work for the D.E.A., but that’s just as stupid.” He paused, looked at his cell phone. “We used to see train loads of coke pouring in through Mexico when I was in the D.E.A. When I saw that, I knew it was over.” I knew what he meant so I didn’t pursue it.
“Is it any better at the S.O.?” I asked.
“Maybe.” He thought for a moment. “We just catch them. Don’t care after that. Not anymore. Hell, I retire in seven years and am going to get out of Florida then. You should do the same.”
I opened my car door. Got ready to hit it too. “I never wanted to be a cop,” I said. “But I do like to figure things out. I like the investigative part of this gig. The people part of it, you know?”
“Hey, man – whatever floats your boat. It's just a paycheck to me. That's all I think about. And I try to ignore all the noise.”
He started his car and black cloud of smoke burst from the tail-pipe. The motor rumbled roughly. Most of us Probation Officers had crappy field cars back then. We didn’t want to waste our money with all the driving we did. So we bought 'beaters.' They paid us mileage, but it wasn’t enough. But we made it enough.
“I’m hitting it,” he said and he drove out of the parking lot and onto the main drag, which wasn’t much of a street at all.
The city of Deltona was designed by idiots and fools. It was like one giant housing development filled with aging houses, thin pot-holed streets, dirt roads and easily flooded yards. I shook my head every time I drove through. The area seemed to be a magnet for criminals and poor. Cops had a hell of a time with car chases. All the twists and turns and side roads.
Welcome to Deltona
I sat behind the wheel of my car and pulled out my travel paperwork. I wanted to see about 20 more probationers today. It was a new caseload I been handed. I was just doing what I always did two or three times a week. Checking on the bad guys. Pulling in their driveways and knocking on doors and talking to neighbors if they weren’t home. Ask if there’d been any trouble. Sometimes I'd drive to the local police station and ask too.
Many Probationers were shocked when I showed up at their door.They'd ask "why are you here?"
It's my job, I'd say. "But this has never happened before!"
It turned out that the Probationers weren't lying. Apparently many Probation Officers fudged their work. But I kept at it. I even went to their jobs, since that was required.
"Why did you show up here -- at my job? Are you trying to get me fired?"
That's my job, I'd answer and remind them that their employers were required to know that they were felons.
"How am I supposed to keep a job that way?" came the response. But the rules said that Probation Officers were supposed to check on them. I tried to calm them, the bad guys and a few bad women, but some told me that they’d be filing paperwork -- complaints -- on me. I told them to go ahead, then I’d walk through their house or apartment or talk to their wide-eyed boss. Most of the time I was unarmed had no cell phone or radio to call for help if something happened.
How stupid I was back then.
Some probationers may deserve it. I mean, deserve less than prison or jail. Say the ones who just used some dope or have real short criminal history. But many did not merit a free ride on our streets and should be locked up. Jail or prison.
I did my part. Jailed as many as I could and watched as the judges, citing the law, dumped them right back into our streets. Over and over. Gutless judges.
I was always amazed. I also helped the ones I could. There were so few of those, however. Damned few.
They taught us to object in open court. As if to say to the judge and his entourage, if you let this criminal back out on the streets I’m holding you personally responsible.
The judges “so noted” it and called, “next case!” Then they spewed robotic lines, read from what seemed like a teleprompter. Legal recordings they sounded like, to me. Smart people just going through the motions. Like zombies. An entire system of zombies who could talk.
Like the time I had to drive to West Palm Beach for an overnight. A morning hearing with the judge about a Sex Offender who was found to have been coaching a Little League Baseball team -- was deemed okay. The judge let him go back on probation until he once again fondled a kid. I objected then. “So noted.”
“It makes them money,” was the normal explanation. Since the Probationers pay fees and are not housed in prison, it's cheaper. That's whitewash, however. But that’s not really it. It does not pay to let bad guys out on the streets. It's a trade off. Let the taxpayers house them or let the taxpayers be victimized on the streets. That's the trade off.
“So long as I’m not robbed, then why should I care?” asks John Q. Public. And that is the main reason. As long as we think we are safe, well then, things are just gonna go along as they are.
But the bell is tolling. The State of Florida has one of the highest crime rates in the United States. We usually round out the top ten. If you visit, bring a gun.