As I write this, I am supposed to be meeting with a thug. However, since we mutually decided to forego that appointment, I'm using the time to work on this blog post. I justify this by pointing out that I don't have time to accomplish another task before my next appointment so I'm writing instead; once again proving my mastery of rationalization.
Burglary is a problem in this town. It's not really much of a problem for the burglars, since most of us don't lock our doors, but many of the rest of us have problems with it from time to time. If you're observant, you'll notice more and more little orange yard signs cropping up, proclaiming a specific site is being monitored by a faceless entity in a large city somewhere, primed to contact local law enforcement the moment sensors indicate a broach of your proclaimed perimeters.
That's all well and good, but out here in west Texas, the counties are large and the law enforcement agencies are small. It takes a while to drive from one side of the county to the other if you are one of the couple of deputies on patrol.
Get a dog instead. It will probably cost less and the side perks are great.
We all know who commits most of the break-ins. It's proving it that's the hard part. More often than not, Marco is behind the thefts.
When I first started working in Barber County, about four years ago, my secretary warned me to make sure my office is locked if I leave it unattended for any length of time. Our office suite is right across the hall from the men's room.
In days of old, when nights were...dark, courthouses always had exterior entrances to the public restrooms. This was to accommodate all the ranchers and farmers who came to town on Saturday afternoon and needed a place, other than the back wall of the lumber yard, to answer the call of nature.
Our courthouse still has those outside restroom doors, but now they're only opened during office hours. That means that anyone, and more specifically, Marco, can enter the men's room from outside, dart across the hall into the probation office, snatch a laptop or two and dash out again in a matter of seconds.
My first purchase as director was a new laptop to replace the one that Marco had pilfered a month or two before I got here. No one could prove it was him, but it was him.
Marco's name crops up either in the DA's office, or conversations with the sheriff or some of my people on at least a weekly basis. He's constantly under suspicion. Occasionally he gets caught in some small indiscretion and spends a week or two in jail. A few months back, he finally got caught on something big(ish). Now he's on probation.
The first time I met with him, he told me he wanted to go to treatment.
Sure ya do, Marco. Sure ya do.
He assured me he was serious. Said he was tired of what he was doing and how he was living. He knows that there is no way he can do probation without help. He has to stay clean and sober to stay out of jail. And he needs a job to make the payments. No one in the county is going to hire him - not for anything more than the most basic day labor, and even then they'd need to count the hoes and shovels before he left. If someone was actually dumb enough to hire him, I'd be obligated to call any prospective employer and make sure they knew he was a thief and a thug and to ascertain if they'd lost their ever-loving mind.
Marco said he's tired of living like this. He needs drug treatment and he needs to get the hell out of Dodge, so to speak.
I decided to call his bluff. I set him up for an evaluation with a drug/alcohol counselor, certain he'd fail to keep the appointment.
He showed up.
The counselor told me afterwards that he asked her for a referral to treatment. He really wants to get help, she said. "You think he's being honest or just blowing smoke?" I asked. She shrugged.
Marco kept his next appointment with me, a few days later. I decided to push his bluff a little farther. "The counselor has recommended you for treatment," I told him. "Let me explain what I've got in mind." I proceeded to tell him about what we are calling, this week, Community Corrections Centers. (Next week we'll probably call them something else. Nothing justifies the existence of a state oversight agency more than changing the names of all the programs it oversees on a fairly regular basis.) ((That's why my official title is Community Supervision and Corrections Department Director, rather than Chief Probation Officer.))
CCCs are good programs. They are lock-down institutions where defendants are housed for intensive drug and alcohol treatment for anywhere from one month to two years. The average defendant completes the program in nine months. You have to be a royal screw up to stay there for two years. The first five-six months the defendant is an inmate, basically, and works a treatment program. Then, for the last two or three months, the Center functions as a half-way house. The defendant works at job out in the community and stays at the Center when not a work, continuing the treatment.
Like any other program, it works for the motivated. If you don't want to change, you're going to spend a miserable few months of your life being bombarded by correctional philosophies and you'll learn the words to say that will get you released as soon as possible so you can go back to what you were doing before. But, as Ghandi said*, at least a seed has been planted.
Marco, to my immense surprise, was all in favor of going. His only concern was that the facility I normally use, which is in the oh-so-aptly named town of Brownfield, is much too close to home. He knows people there and he knows he would just get involved in all sorts of sketchy junk there. "Don't you have someplace else I can go?" he asked.
For reals? I told him about another facility which is about three hundred miles away. He thought that would be good enough. I iterated and reiterated the fact that if I sent him to this facility, he'd have to go to jail and sit there for a month or longer until bed space opened up, knowing full well he would balk at that bit of injustice.
He asked how soon he could turn himself in.
Color me annoyed. I knew this meant I would have to do a ton of paperwork to get all this arranged, and then when he failed to follow through, I'd have to do yet more paperwork to get him arrested for that violation.
I got to work, somewhat slowly, on the paperwork. There were delays, including a couple of heart attacks (a few figurative, one literal). On Friday, while I was out of the office, the orders were finally signed. Marco called first thing this morning to see if I had any news for him. I told him I'd given the orders to the sheriff and when Marco came in for his appointment right after lunch, I'd walk him over to the sheriff's office so he could surrender himself.
Marco asked for more time.
Of course he did.
I rolled my eyes and tried not to sigh audibly. I knew this whole thing had been a sham, right from the beginning. And now my predictions of even more paperwork loomed large.
I asked why he needed more time. Marco said he figured he'd be turning himself in today, so he arranged to be the one to pick up his kids from school, in order to say goodbye. He plans to do that at 3:30 and asked if he could turn himself in at 5:00 p.m.
I won't know until tomorrow morning whether or not he surrendered. But so far he's been unwavering in his intent. I'm glad I didn't wager anything on the odds of this happening. Marco is about to make me eat some words and I'd hate to lose a bet on top of that.
Even if nothing else happens, burglaries should be curtailed for the next 10 months or so. After that, who knows?
I'm pretty sure it's a good thing that people can still surprise me.
*"It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there will be any fruit. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result." - Mahatma Gandhi (Hat tip to Mindy who brought this quote to my attention, lo these many years ago. It's basically the definition of probation officer.)