Life On Parole
Many aspects of returning to the civilian world were easy compared to military prison. Not having to worry about making a mistake that would send me to solitary confinement was nice. Even though a mistake could violate my parole, it was still different. The food was much better. Being able to come and go as I pleased was a new freedom I enjoyed.
There were other parts about adjusting back to a normal life that were more challenging than I expected. One of the hardest things was letting my guard down. Trusting that people were not out to get me or turn me in for their gain was difficult. Something else I noticed was that I could not make a decision to save my life. For the past three years, every part of my life was scheduled, programed or decided for me. Coming from a place of complete structure and entering in to a world of none was overwhelming.
Another discovery I made was that I was now prone to anxiety and panic attacks. It was hard to pin down what actually triggered them but when my stress level got too high, I started pacing back and forth. I realized that the steps I took while doing this was the exact length as my USDB cell. This happened a lot.
For the first couple days, I just settled into my parents’ house. My youngest brother and my sister chauffeured me around like they did when I was home the last time and I was able get to know their friends a little better. Omaha was pretty easy to navigate and so I was able to familiarize myself with the town.
My discharge was not final yet and so I was issued a military I.D. card with the word “parole” stamped across the front of it. This meant I had access to the Air Force Base for any services I needed. It wasn’t something I wanted to flash around and so I only went to the base for one medical appointment. When I had to show it to the Air Force hospital personnel, I got the most puzzled looks.
One of the first things I had to do in Omaha was meet my parole officer. The office was in the federal building downtown about a half hour away from my parents’ house. (The joke was that everything in Omaha is about twenty minutes away.) When I walked into his office, he was pretty nice. I had to sign some paperwork and we talked for a few minutes. Maybe I was different than the people that he normally saw, but we hit it off pretty well. He seemed to think that I was going to be no trouble at all.
Regardless of the relationship between us, there was the formal stuff. In the beginning, I would have to come into his office once a month. He told me that I needed to try an AA meeting or an NA meeting within the first month and let him know what I thought. Pretty easy. The hardest part of parole was the urinalysis.
For the next two and a half years, I would have to call a telephone number every morning. If the message said I had to report in, I would have to drive all the way to the North side of town to a urine collection center and pee in a cup for drug testing. If it came up positive, Federal Marshals would be summoned to expedite me right back to Leavenworth. During the first year of parole, or phase one, I had to report six times a month on randomly selected days. Phase two was six month long and I had to report three times a month and phase three was also six months but reporting was once a month.
Within the first week I found an A.A. meeting near my parents’ house. I went in and sat down at a table and listened to everyone talk. It reminded me of the N.A. meetings back in the USDB. Guys talking about their situation and the last time they had taken a drink. For me, I didn’t feel I belonged there. The experience in prison jaded my view of this program. It was clear in prison, the only reason people took the class was to get out on parole. If you didn’t take the classes, no parole.
There was nothing wrong with these meetings, but I felt I was only attending to fulfill a parole requirement. This was not a good reason, so I did not pursue it any further. At my next visit to my parole officer, I let him know how I felt about it and to my surprise, he told me that I no longer needed to attend. He figured, that I seemed to be rehabilitated enough without it. There really was no chance for me to get into trouble with all the urinalysis that I had to turn in.
After I had settled into my parents, my dad helped me get a car. We got a Ford Escort which was exactly like the car that I left to be repossessed. Because of that situation and the phone card that I used without paying for, my credit was shot for seven years. Once again, I had to rely on my parents to help me out. Thank goodness they were willing to do so. This was probably one of the best examples of help and support that really made my transition much easier. A car was equal to life. With keys to a car and nothing else to do, it was time to get a job before attending Cosmetology school. It would take me about seven months to get all my ducks in a row before I could grace the school with my presence.
Prior to the Army and my summer jobs in Germany, I had never worked before. This was all new to me. The only job experience I had was as a US Army Cavalry Scout, the mess hall and bagging groceries. Obtaining those jobs was far simpler than what I had in store for me.
At one of the local malls, I went from store to store and filled out job applications. I can’t remember how many exactly, but it was a lot. There was a question that showed up on every form that I had to fill out. Have you ever been convicted of a felony? If so, please explain. On every application, I had to check yes and explain what had happened. It really didn’t feel good that I had to do that and as I filled each one out, there was a sense of futility.
Why would anyone want to hire a convict? How could I convince them that I was worth the risk? I never received a response from any of the mall jobs. I suppose it was understandable that if there were other people applying for the job, that with my “past” I would be looked over. It didn’t bother me that no one called. At this point I was determined to get a job no matter what it took. Giving up was not an option.
There were some more places to try and I had all the time in the world. On Galvin Road near my parents’ house, there were a ton of restaurants as well as retail and grocery stores. Starting at one end of the road and making it all the way to the other, I began the application process again. When I handed it to the manager of the Old Country Buffet, he wanted to sit down immediately.
He was excited to see the two years of mess hall experience and thought that it would be a great fit for his establishment. He continued down the application and his facial expression changed immediately.
His next words were, “Uh, it seems like we got in a little trouble here. When did you get out of prison?” I answered, “Last week.”