Tooks was a black kid from the inner city, and like so many others he joined a gang at a young age, before the changes of puberty even had a chance to take hold. The gang life included drugs, violence, and eventually prison. This is a reality that is so epidemic it nearly appears to be an inevitability. It is an immoral cycle of mass imprisonment perpetuated against the poor and uneducated which should be the shame of every upright and ethically sound citizen.
During my numerous years of incarceration I’ve heard the same story and seen the same scenario unfold too many times to count. Young men are locked up over and over because they go home from prison with the same mindset and pattern of behavior that originally landed them in prison.
If I were more of an unabashed cynic I might claim that my experience provided me the insight and ability to sense, see and predict the dire course set out before Tooks without potentiality for deviation. Tooks, however, was a bit different. Tooks had a plan.
Tooks had served nearly five years for drug possession with intent to deliver. That means he had a large enough quantity of drugs that he couldn’t claim it was just for personal use—which would have been a lesser crime. All things considered, his sentence could have been much worse, and Tooks was keenly aware of this. He had been removed from the block and gang life—the entire world as he knew it—and had experienced some of the horrors and deprivations that are part and parcel of prison life. He knew a change was needed.
Tooks earned his GED, taking advantage of what few (or only) educational opportunities that remained available to him. He made stringent mental determination that this would be his first and final time as a guest of the Department Of Corrections.
Tooks was neither the first nor the last man to make such a resolute vow, but he’s one of the few who I have seen actually take steps to make a concerted effort to be proactive about reentering society into a better situation than the one he had left. For all the good it did him.
Six months prior to his release date, Tooks got a notice from Field Services—the department with the DOC which deals with the logistics for all inmates leaving on parole. Tooks was understandably confused because two months previous he had already sent his mother’s address and indicated his intention and desire to parole to her house in a different state from the one where he was incarcerated.
Paroling out of state isn’t unheard of, but neither is it a common occurrence. There are a lot of hoops to jump through. All the many obstacles is why Tooks took it upon himself to send in the address early. Nevertheless he complied with the notice from Field Services and once more sent his mother’s address along with a note explaining that he planned to parole to her home out of state.
Within a week Tooks received confirmation that Field Services had received his information and would contact him as needed once his release date grew closer. Tooks heard nothing beyond that. He assumed that all was well and on track for him paroling to his mother’s place. It turned out to be a terrible assumption.
Two weeks prior to his release from prison Tooks was called to the Field Services office and informed that he had nowhere which to parole. His mother’s house had been denied as a parole sight, and he was given no rationale for this denial. One of his cousins had kept in touch with Tooks over the years and had recently extended the invitation to use his home as a parole site if needed. This too was a place out of state, which still appealed to Tooks since it would keep him from returning to the city where he had learned to sell drugs, shoot guns, rob and assault people. These later crimes were all ones he had never been caught for, and had no desire to repeat. His old neighborhood fostered that type of behavior, and the foul mindset that led to said behavior. It was the last place to which Tooks wanted to parole.
Tooks was informed that even if his cousin’s home was a viable parole site there was no way it could possibly be vetted and approved in two weeks. The options of halfway houses and/or homeless shelters was raised by Tooks, but the counselor in Field Services made it clear that paroling to those places also required a lengthy bit of paperwork and maneuvering which would make his current release date an impossibility. The counselor impressed upon Tooks that those places were usually used by individuals who have absolutely no family, friends, or other options. Surely Tooks had someone he could stay with, didn’t he?
Tooks was angry, and asked why they had waited so long to tell them that he couldn’t stay with his mother out of state. If they had given him more time he could’ve provided his cousin’s address earlier and possibly gotten it approved. Or, barring that, he could’ve tried to find somewhere else to go. The counselor’s answer was little more than a shrug of the shoulders and zero acceptance of blame or accountability.
Callous or Inept?
The individuals who work in Field Services are responsible for finding a place for inmates to stay who are leaving on parole. Which means every single inmate. Their job is usually done for them by the inmate who provides the address of a family member or friend where they intend to stay. If an inmate has no address to provide it is the incumbent on the counselor in Field Services to find some kind of temporary housing for the inmate. From what I’ve seen this rarely happens. Whether it is attributable to callousness or ineptitude, I don’t know, but by and large these counselors do nothing. If an inmate has no family or friend to take him in, then he stays in prison even after serving the prison term to which the judge sentenced him. This type of tragic injustice isn’t infrequent.
All For Naught
All of his best efforts and intentions were for naught, and in the end Tooks paroled back to his aunt’s apartment in the city. It was on the same block where his gang claimed control. In a twisted case of life coming full circle for Tooks, he’d be able to look out the window of the apartment and see the segment of sidewalk where he had lain face-down in submission and been arrested for his crimes. I pray Tooks can somehow transcend his surroundings and history, but it is difficult for me to envision that possibility.