Monday, July 9, 2012

Judicial Correction Services

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

short story cont'd:

I relaxed, he may have been another version of a used car salesman but he seemed like he got some sort of commission for completed cases. The economic incentive would work in my favor. I smiled and nodded.

He paused for a moment and looked at his screen, “ok, I have your case pulled up. You originally owed $65 for parking in a no-parking zone.”

I interrupted, “it was a two hour zone but the last five minutes I was there the zone changed into a no-parking for rush hour. I didn’t even know because the sign had graffiti on it.”

“No matter. Because you didn’t pay your ticket the fines added up. When you went to prison your tab was at nearly $1500. Now Jimmy, it’s my obligation to inform you that we don’t have the power to reduce this, that’s between you and the judge. We do have the power to help you pay it off in your own time.”

I felt relieved. $1500 dollars, and surely much of that would be reduced by my time behind bars.

Don started, “so if my calculations are correct, because you didn’t put any amount toward your debt before your incarceration all of the fees still apply. And since you are signing up with our program instead of going it alone—a wise decision in my opinion—you have the $49 sign-up fee, the $12 monthly, and our processing fees.”

I couldn’t even speak.

“Looks like your total now, with tax and the administrative fees, is $2397.43. Now, I know this feels like a lot, but we are here to help. I’ve calculated your monthly income pre-incarceration and I’ve added in the government programs you qualify for as income. Together it amounts to an average monthly income of $1500. With that, we can take a mere 30% and have you paid off in about a year. How does that sound?”

Every alarm in my head was ringing. Something wasn’t right. Instead of reacting I just nodded and found myself outside of the building letting the summer breeze cool me. I had a sheet filled with fine print in one hand and my bag of personal belongings in another.

And it was all because of her—not really. I was trying to make a statement. Impress her. We had gone on a couple of dates and I had felt a strong connection. Mostly I was pulled to her vulnerability. She seemed so in need. And I didn’t feel like I was a savior—I was unemployed. But I felt like I could be there for her. We could help each other out of our loneliness and turmoil.

I got a bouquet for her. It was mostly purple flowers—her favorite color. I remember striding into her office, looking confident but feeling like a child. When I gave her the flowers she cried and hugged me. I knew I had won some points.

I felt really like a million bucks. All of the things I had been struggling with faded away. They disappeared. Until I came outside and saw the officer putting the ticket on my car.

The happy feeling was gone. I couldn’t even afford the postage to mail my ticket in.

We dated a few more times after that. She was great but I wasn’t able to really keep up a girlfriend. I was ashamed of my poverty, and swamped by my worry.

Sometime after my phone service was cut, the cops came to my door with a warrant.

I snapped back to the present. The leaves on the sapling next to me rustled. I looked out on the parking lot. It was empty.