The U.S. has trained its citizens well into buying into the myth that the criminal justice system, that locking people up, is a panacea for crime, and for other social ills. Earlier today I overheard a woman talking on her cell phone using this refrain: “I swear I wanna lock him up. I swear I wanna lock him up.” I don’t know why she wants this individual locked up, or what he has done that might warrant being locked up.” I do know though that oftentimes people look to the criminal justice system, to locking people up, as their first response, and not just to crime.
Working with people impacted by the criminal justice system, and knowing countless people impacted by the criminal justice system, of having been locked up, there is this recurring theme: women in intimate relationships with men who have been in prison, who are on or off parole, will use that fact against them in cases where the only “crime” that happened was he broke their heart. I want to talk about one case in particular.
A young man spend about 20 years in prison, having been imprisoned as a teenager. He gets out, had married his childhood sweetheart while they were in prison. Unlike most prison marriages, this was not a marriage of convenience. They had previous history, that is, they knew each other before his imprisonment. While he was in prison he had conjugal visits, from which they had two children. This was a young man who truly cared about his family. In any event, he’s released from prison. Parole does not let him live with his wife, so he has to go live with his mother. A couple of months pass before Parole allows him to change his residence and live with his wife and children. Things quickly go wrong in Paradise. Although they did everything humanly possible to be a family while he was in prison, still, they lived parallel lives. While he was in prison, his wife raised the kids. They were used to her parenting style. He joins his family and immediately assumes the role of father and provider. The oldest, a girl, a teenager, immediately has problems with his parenting style, with his restrictions, calls him a “drill sargeant.” He is highly disciplined, in part as a result of more than two decades of imprisonment. What he doesn’t realize is that, in his absence, the family had roles. He couldn’t return and state his role and impose it on them.
In any event, he and his wife separates. He becomes involved with other women. The first knows about his criminal justice status. He is on parole, after having spent more than two decades in prison. He’s a good man who needs to find his way in this world after living in the world of prison. She falls in love with him, and they have many good moments together. About two years into their relationship, things are not as good between them. There is another woman, but there are also things between them. She wants to control him. He wants to be free, despite being on parole. One thing leads to another, that is, he breaks up with her. She tries everything in her power to reconcile, but he has moved on with another woman. She calls his parole officer, tells her that he hit her. He is instructed to immediately report to the parole office to see his parole officer. Despite the fact that he is doing well otherwise, that is, professionally, and nothing like this has come up the four years he has been on parole, his parole officer is ready to lock him up. Who knows what was going on in his ex-girlfriend’s mind to call in Parole. She realizes that they are going to lock him up, and that’s not what she wants. She wants him back. She confesses to Parole that he never hit her, that he broke up with her and broke her heart. At this point the Field Parole Officer’s supervisor, a male, is brought in. The ex-girlfriend is very attractive, and the Senior Parole Officer hits on her, tells her that this is a problem with many men who have been in prison, they don’t know how to treat or appreciate a good woman. He tells her that he’s heard this story many times, and that the women have second thoughts or regrets, and recant. She tells him that truly, her ex hasn’t hit her, only broke her heart. Parole still wants to lock him up. She says she would not cooperate in any shape, form or fashion in locking him up.
This individual was one of the lucky ones, in that he wasn’t locked up for a technical parole violation. This is a serious problem with Parole. Parole doesn’t give such men the benefit of the doubt, and women who make accusations against them know this. This all stems back to the fact that the U.S. has trained its citizens to call in law enforcement, to lock people up, even when they haven’t done anything to warrant being locked up.