Monday, July 9, 2012

Judicial Correction Services 1/2

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/03/us/probation-fees-multiply-as-companies-profit.html?pagewanted=all

A short story:

I knew that I could go to jail. I never thought that it would happen. I’m not stupid. I’m just not rich. And like all good stories, it’s because of a girl.

Prison was prison. I thought I would remember every moment; make a big life lesson out of it. But when the sun hit my eyes and the doors closed behind me prison faded like a nightmare. I looked at the slip of paper in my hands. It was my next destination.

Let me be clear, I wasn’t a lifer or a violent offender. I was just a poor guy who had stretched the limits of his misdemeanor charge into jail time. For me that was 15 days.

“My name is Don. It’s nice to meet you. Sit down,” he motioned to the chair across from his tiny desk. The space was cramped and hot. Summer had found a way to amplify itself in the office. I sat slowly and took in my surroundings. The walls were corporate beige and the decorations were so generic as to be invisible. Years later I could hardly recall if there had been anything in the room at all.

Don spoke, “well, it looks like you failed to pay your ticket for long enough that you were given time.”

“Exactly. Look, I explained this to the judge but he said something about court solvency. I don’t know how to say this but I can’t pay this ticket.”

“We hear that a lot. That’s why you are in our program Jimmy—can I call you that?” He showed his teeth through an ersatz grin.

I hated Jimmy. Bullies used to call me that to belittle me—it was a crap name. “I’d uh, prefer if you called me Jim.”

“Right Jimmy. Y’see, this program is here to help you pay off your debt. You’ve already paid off your debt to society,” he paused for effect, then laughed on his own, “and now it’s time to pay your debts—er, fines.” He laughed deeply. Then he coughed and sneezed.

I tried to laugh with him, maybe it would get me somewhere. I wasn’t sure. “I’m unemployed. I can’t even collect unemployment because my last job was part-time. I barely am able to pay for food. Hell, I’m not sure how I’ll pay next month’s rent!” I was getting worked up. I suddenly realized how crappy my life had become. Struggling to make ends meet had become normal; prison seemed like paradise because I was guaranteed meals there. “I used to pull in $270 on a good month. Now that I’ve been in prison I’ll be lucky if I make anything at all.”

Don looked at me with a well-practiced look of sympathy, “Jimmy, we see your type all the time. We aren’t here to gouge you. We’re here to help you get your life back on track. One unpaid ticket, believe me I know how absurd it seems. We want to erase this absurdity.”