Stupid is As Stupid Does

By Mike Powers

As of the writing of this chapter, I am 15 days away from the completion of the nine-month long sex offender treatment program that marks the completion of my in-prison pre-parole responsibilities and ostensibly opens the door for me to go home. There's just one small catch. You have to have a home to go to before they'll let you out.

There was a time, or two, I had such a home. In fact, the first time I was eligible for parole, I had two addresses willing to take me in. That's when I received my first three-year set-off. Then, the next time, I had only one address, but it was solid- my mom's house in San Antonio. The parole board decided I needed three more years of the TDCJ's unique brand of restorative justice.

With only 18 months left on my sentence of 15 years, the board, at last, decided all of a sudden that I had achieved some unseen benchmark of rehabilitation. Or, at least, almost reached it. I was given this nine-month program. By the time it started, I'd eaten up all but 13 months of my sentence. If they let me go the day after I graduate, I'll be "off paper", completely free (unless you discount registering as a sex offender for the rest of your life) a short four months later. In prison lingo, they've "kept me to the door". Sadly, at this juncture, it looks like I'll be kept to the threshold of the door. Here's why.

All four of the parole addresses that I have submitted as potential future homes have been rejected by various officers of the parole board. When an address is submitted, it is supposedly vetted by an officer from the community to which you would parole if that address is approved. In other words, my parole officer would change if I submitted an address to a different community. Makes sense so far, right?

After a preliminary check to ensure that the requested address isn't in a "child safety zone" a neighborhood with a nearby school, park, church or other location at which youth gather publicly- the parole officer makes a visit in person to the location and makes inquiries including, usually, a physical inspection of the home. I want you to know that I've discovered a flaw in the system.

Two of my addresses have been denied because, "You are not on the lease." This was true. Both of these addresses, at the time of inspection, were occupied by people who were complete strangers to me. However, these occupants were scheduled to move out of the home prior to my release date. My agreements to lease were not WITH the OCCUPANTS, they were with the OWNERS. I have no idea who is presently living in these homes. I just know they won't be there when I get there.

A third address failed because the inspecting officer couldn't find the submitted address. I had provided a contact number for the property manager. Between that and Google Maps, you'd think the place could be found. C'est la vie.

The real clincher for me is the fourth address I've submitted. I had an agreement letter from the owner providing the date I'd paid deposit and rent for the home, beginning in late March. Though expensive, I thought that this was the only sure way to make sure there was no one else "in the way" when the home was inspected. Once again, the owner's contact information was provided to the board.

Two weeks later, and five days ago, I was informed that this address failed because there was, "No one living at the address." This, my friends, is what we call a catch-22. It's a paradoxical prison of logic from which I can, literally, not free myself. Of course, logic was never my strong suit anyway.

Keep in mind that I'm not even counting the fact I submitted, and was denied, the chance to live at the empty home my parents owned while they were alive, the same address that had been approved almost four years ago while my Mom was still alive and living there. (In an irony, I listened to Michael Berry, the talk radio host out of Houston, mock sex offenders who were going to live at their "mama's house" when they got out of jail. Perhaps he is unaware that it seems this is the only place the Texas parole board will ALLOW them to live.) So, there sits a perfectly good home at a perfectly good address, but it's denied me, too, because I can't open up the house without actually being there.

What really sticks in my craw is that, when it comes down to it, the prison officials have all but completely shackled my ability to secure any kind of living arrangement. While there are phones, people you call must be registered, so there's no way to contact people who might lease or sell you a living space. The state-funded halfway houses are chock full and require long waits AFTER you've finished treatment. Most private halfway houses will not accept me because I have less than 6 months before I discharge.

Out of 90 (NINETY!) letters I sent to halfway houses in the four largest cities in our state, I received a total of 6 responses. Two of those were "dead mail", return to sender because the house had apparently closed. Three were faith-based programs that regretted they couldn't accept me because I didn't have enough time left to complete their programs. The last one took my application, but told me that they had a lengthy waiting list. To say this avenue of effort has been aggravating would be an understatement.

The simple fact of the matter is that the TDCJ has had almost fifteen years to facilitate the process of making sure this parolee has someplace to live. And once again, they've displayed the utter incompetence that I have come to so strongly loathe.

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez