Those on parole have paid their debts
by Kim Carter
San Bernardino County Sun

08/22/2007

When is enough enough? How would you like it if after you paid your bill, debt collectors continued to call you three and four times a day?

What if you honestly answered the question, "Have you ever lied?" and then you were condemned to being called a liar for the rest of your life?

For those of you who consider yourselves perfect and have never fallen short in the eyesight of God, what are you still doing on earth, angels?

People on parole have paid their debts to society. They are human beings on parole - not "parolees."

People on parole have served their time in prison to pay their debts. They paid. When will the punishment stop?

Instead of counting how many people are on parole in this city, the question should be: What is wrong with a city that produces so many people on parole?

Let's take the housing issue first.

Conditional-use permits have become political devices, and thus far any social service agency that has tried to create housing for people coming home from prison has been turned down.

For people with arrest histories, the housing authority has a 10-year waiting period just to apply for low income housing.

Other property owners - who also require background checks as well as a verified income of three times the monthly rent - do not rent to people with arrest histories.

So let's see, where are these people supposed to live? Not your problem, right? Not in your city, right?

And then some foolish taxpayers are going to spend $46,000 a year to house that same person in prison when he doesn't check in with his parole agent.

Ask yourselves, if you slept up under the bridge all night or behind a Dumpster, would you wake up in the morning to rush and see a parole agent who doesn't have any food vouchers, bus tickets or a warm blanket for you?

People on parole cannot vote, which makes them easy targets, sitting ducks for political abuse, particularly for politicians who are lacking credibility and must grandstand on the backs of the defenseless.

Second, employment: Why don't "these people" get a job? Besides residents' and employers' prejudice against the formerly incarcerated, they are systematically denied occupational licenses such as barbering, cosmetology and landscaping. This further perpetuates the problems with re-entry and their inability to secure the basic human necessities.

At this point, employers are screening people based on their application acknowledging past criminal history, without ever having interviewed the potential employee. If people coming home from prison cannot get a living-wage job, participate in our tax base, pay back child support and become financially responsible for their children, then guess what? Oops, there go those foolish taxpayers again - jail instead of jobs.

Unfortunately, our legal system is not color-blind, nor is it equitable and just. Those who have financial means are able to pay for their version of justice, while those who are dependent upon a public system, that is dependent upon a government, well, you know the story about dependents, right?

When you are dependent, you have lost your independence and fall at the mercy of others' time, talent and treasure.

I speak as a person who has been off parole for 15 years, as a stakeholder in this city, a property owner in this city and a long-standing community activist.

I want you to think about this: When former Sheriff Floyd Tidwell was convicted of stealing over 500 guns from the sheriff's department, none of which has been returned, he was excused from going to prison to "pay his debt to society," and there wasn't a public outcry.

There were no NIMBYs on duty in his neighborhood, and somehow no one thought to send in the troops to track down all of the guns that kill people.

When Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, was recently convicted of all those federal charges and sentenced to prison, he too was excused from "paying his debt to society."

And now we have Mary, 23, mother of two children, convicted of writing bad checks in the amount of $623 - and sentenced to three years in prison.

The judge said, "There is no excuse," as Mary pleaded that there was no one to take care of her children.

So Mary went to "pay her debt to society" at a cost of $142,000.

Her children went into the system at a cost of $385,000.

And who paid for this? Oops, there go those foolish taxpayers again.

Now rumor has it that infamous celebrity Martha Stewart might be coming to San Bernardino, and that she's thinking of doing something really, really big. But I don't think the fact she was once on parole has ever been a problem for her. Do you?

After all, she is Martha Stewart, not "a parolee."

Kim Carter is founder and executive director of Time for Change Foundation.

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