Probation and parole officers are on the front lines of criminal justice reforms. They are required to wear many hats and are faced with mounds of paperwork and large caseloads—often more than 130. Many times, completing paperwork and putting out fires prevents officers from their mission—providing supervision and protecting the public and the rights of victims.
Prior to joining Right on Crime, I was a probation officer with the State of Louisiana for seven years. Not many months ago, while working as a probation officer, a young man came in for his monthly office visit. He was one of fifty or so people I was to see during a three-hour period in a room with four other officers and a hallway crammed with probationers and parolees. He completed his monthly supervision report and handed it to me. I began entering his information into the computer, typing a narrative of our visit.
As I moved my focus from my computer screen to him, I asked the standard, quick three questions, “Any arrests, drug use, and/or tickets?” I noticed he had lowered his head and began to whisper. He said, “I need help.” I looked over at the line of people in the hallway that were waiting to see me before replying, “What do you need?” He said that his mother needed money, the bills were due, her phone was disconnected, the lights were next and he had no idea what his younger siblings were going to do. The muscular, tattooed, street-tough young man was fighting back tears. He said, “I don’t feel like a man. I can’t help my mom. She wants me to support her.”
He continued to explain to me that he had to find a job. He didn’t want to go back to jail. He didn’t want to sell drugs anymore. I stopped worrying about the crowd of people waiting to see me and we began working on a solution. We brainstormed and created a resume. This young man had never worked a “real job” before. He told me that he “had no skills.” I reminded him about his work as a trustee in the parish jail. He began to tell me how he had to clean the dorms where fifty plus inmates lived and how he worked in the kitchen at the jail preparing meals for three hundred plus people. He was excited to realize that he did have experience. When I handed him the completed product—a simple, one-page resume—he cried. It took all that I had not to cry, too. I gave him several copies and told him about some local businesses he could try. As he left my office and walked through the hallway of impatiently waiting probationers and parolees, I overheard many saying, “I want one of those!” So, for the rest of my visits on this day, I made resumes! This is just one of hundreds of stories that I could tell from my work with probation and parole.
As an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church, I’ve often been asked, “How can you be a probation officer who carries a gun and arrests people and still be a deacon? Isn’t this a contradiction?” I initially struggled with how to answer that question. I knew it was one and the same, rather than a contradiction. The answer is quite simple and it’s found in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 25:37-40:
“Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
My job as a probation and parole officer put me in places that I could not have gone as a deacon. I’ve met people at the lowest points of their lives and hopefully was able to help them grow from their past experiences. I’m a sinner and I most certainly need God’s mercy and his grace if I want to move on from this earthly existence to the promise of Heaven. Working in probation and parole has both challenged and strengthened my ministry as a deacon. I’m a better deacon and a better person as a result. The majority of the persons I supervised on probation and parole had a desire to do what is right, they didn’t want to make the same mistakes but they lacked the support, the encouragement, and sometimes they lost hope.
Unfortunately, with caseloads in the 130+ range coupled with mounds of paperwork and other unrelated job duties, there just isn’t enough time in a day to give to each person on supervision. There were many days that I came home after work emotionally exhausted. Oftentimes feeling like I had let those on supervision down or failed to recognize those who were crying out for help. I often thought that there has to be a better way to do more, to help those that want help. There is a better way!
When the opportunity with Right on Crime came my way, I realized this could be the solution, the answer to “there has to be a better way.” Leaving probation and parole gave me mixed emotions. I worked with really dedicated, caring individuals who started work every day with the good intention of trying to help those on supervision while keeping the public safe. I will also miss those that I supervised. The work that Right on Crime has accomplished over the past few years and the work that lies ahead has the potential of affecting so many lives—and not just those who are on supervision. There are many others who are working the front lines, too. Our communities, our churches, many non-profits and countless individuals ready to help as Christ has commanded us all to do.
Criminal justice reforms allow all those working on the front lines to carry out their mission of protecting the public while doing something good “for one of the least brothers of mine.” I may have left the front lines, but I am most certainly still part of the battle.