In the mid 90’s I received a call at work at the Atlanta ARC from a counselor at a federal penitentiary in Pennsylvania. He was attempting to relocate a long term prisoner, Jimmy T., who was due to be released after 28 years of incarceration. The prison system wanted to release him in Atlanta and needed a place for him to reside. During that call, the counselor asked that I speak to Jimmy T. I explained to them both that we had a policy that anyone who was to be admitted to the center had to have a personal onsite interview before consideration. Being a work therapy program it was essential that the residents be fully capable mentally and physically to participate in the 40 hours per week work therapy program with men of similar age.
The next morning, I received a call from a federal probation officer with whom I had a working relationship. He also requested that we consider admitting Jimmy into the center. I then spoke about it with the Administrator Major P. who indicated that as the Program Director it was up to me; but that I should be aware that it could backfire on me.
Thursday, the next week, Jimmy was admitted to our facility. He was to go downtown to the probation office whenever called to take an alcohol and/or drug test. After his first trip to downtown Friday morning he was very distressed and afraid of being out on his own in Atlanta. I then called probation and got permission to breathalize or drug test him anytime the probation officer called for it.
The next Monday afternoon, Jimmy came to me saying that he was very grateful for the opportunity and kindness we had offered him but he could not stay; that he could not live under two sets of rules, ours and the probation offices. Knowing that decision could put him back in prison I talked with him explaining that if he met one set of rules that would also satisfy the other.
At morning assembly, early Tuesday morning, Major P. took a letter out of his tunic pocket and said “read this, I told you it might backfire”. The letter was written to the Major and me in it Jimmy thanked us for all of our kindness but said he could not stay. I learned a little later, that he had shoved the letter under Major’s office door, went back upstairs and escaped through a window by way of sheets tied to a bed frame. He could have simply walked out the front door, but after being incarcerated for almost all of his adult life I believe he anticipated that he needed to escape.
After assembly, I went to my office and called the probation officer, who told me Jimmy was in his office and that he was going to go back to prison. I begged that he be allowed to return to the center. The officer agreed, and brought him back, warning him that he could leave the center for no reason, except to go to visit the probation office, Jimmy agreed.
On Wednesday morning, we talked and he seemed more comfortable and said the other residents of the center had treated him very well over the weekend. That evening as I was going through the recreation room to the dining room for dinner, Major P. caught me by the arm, saying “look at this”. There on the evening news was Jimmy. He had left the center gone down to the Wachovia Bank near the center and held it up. The teller had put an ink pack into the bag and it had exploded in the cab he was in. Sadly, Jimmy another F.H.B. did return to his comfort zone, the penitentiary.
One thing that all my DUI/Risk Reduction students say they highly value is freedom; for Jimmy freedom was prison.