Oct 16, 2022Liked by Harvard2TheBigHouse

Thanks for this important essay.

My husband and I recently (and slowly, with explanations) cut ties with a young man (in his mid-30s, the age of our son) for whom we had been "support persons" during his, oh, 7th or 8th time in prison. I will call him Rawiri. I met him at a time when he was the romantic partner of one of my favorite students and had been recently released from prison here in NZ (incarcerated as the result of domestic violence with this student). Because there were no approved housing situations for his parole in the rural place we lived, Rawiri would have been placed in a town two hours' drive away from his partner. Because we owned a house that had a self-contained, one-bedroom cottage, as a favor to my student, we offered for Rawiri to stay in the cottage until he was given approval to move in with his partner.

He was with us for 6 weeks before being given permission by Corrections to move in with his girlfriend, and he joined us for dinner each evening. He was respectful to us, but not very willing to do much work on the property. His girlfriend/my student catered to him obsequiously (he was quite handsome, and she wasn't very pretty). We provided transportation for him to get to the grocery store (he was on "the benefit" -- the dole) and to his parole officer and counselling sessions; his girlfriend provided the rest of his transportation. The stories he told us were fascinating, and sad. His childhood was horrific. His father had been Prez of the local Mongrel Mob gang where he grew up, and since he hated his father (who beat his mother and himself), he joined a rival gang -- the Crips. He apparently had been a "sergeant at arms" in that gang, which he said gave him some personal security when he was in prison, and also candy bars and other gifts from fellow gang members as signs of respect. Once released, he said he didn't want to get back into the Crips as it was "too dangerous", and there was no Crip presence in the tiny rural town where we lived, but we noticed he never went to town without wearing blue (Crip colors). I had done a little reading about gangs in prison, and understood that most unaffiliated young men joined a gang once in prison, for protection.

One of the most interesting stories he told was about one of the "lifers" in prison who was an expert in electronics. He was able to cut the electricity in his wing whenever he wanted, apparently, without the officials knowing it was him or how he did it. Rawiri also said everyone in prison knew which guards were able to provide drugs.

Shortly before his 4-month parole was over, he and my student broke up, as my student said he had not been faithful to her and was seeking other hookups. Because he no longer had approved housing in our rural area (we declined for him to come back to live with us; we were only doing it as a favor to my student, and my sister was due to come for her annual long visit), he was required to be housed much farther away. We then lost touch with him.

Two years later, I happened to find out that he was back in prison from coming across an online newspaper article where he had accosted a neighbor after hearing that this neighbor had threatened his then girlfriend. The town he was in did have a Crip presence. I got in touch with him in prison, and he seemed very depressed and appeared abjectly grateful for our email, as the girlfriend with whom he had been living when arrested had dumped him once he was in prison, and his family were not in touch (he burns a lot of bridges). We started sending money to his account so that he could buy snacks, and we sent him magazines, board games, email letters, and other items that he requested. He sent us artwork that he had done (coloring in printed designs of Maori warriors). We helped to get him transferred to a prison closer to his mother and siblings, with whom we urged him to reconnect, as I knew that his mother wanted him home and out of the gang scene. His mother and two brothers and my husband and I were at the prison the day he was released from his 2-year sentence. His responsible non-gang-affiliated brother, a former felon, offered for Rawiri to stay in his rental home where this brother was living with his girlfriend, his mother, and an uncle.

I intensely disliked Rawiri's parole officer; she was a power-mongering ball-buster, and I caught her lying to my husband and me as Rawiri's support persons. She hated that we were scrupulously paying attention to how she treated Rawhiri. We were of the opinion that no matter how long his rap sheet, he still should have a chance at changing his past behaviors with the proper support and encouragement, and being treated rudely by a parole officer did not help him do that.

We paid for his extensive dental care with our dentist, and his brother got him a job with his kumara-harvesting company, where Rawiri's brother was the manager. That job lasted only 3 days, as Rawiri pleaded that his back hurt too much. Rawiri started to look for a new girlfriend, as it was clear he intended to sponge off yet another woman. He had no interest in anything other than playing computer games and watching movies. We did our best to try to be a good influence on Rawiri and got him counseling and a part-time job with our Maori priest (Anglican Church), but he soon fell out with his brother by being nasty to his brother's girlfriend (he refused to clean up his dishes after himself and his brother's live-in girlfriend was tired of cleaning up after him) and thus was no longer welcome at his brother's place. The Corrections system then placed him in an apartment complex with other parolees, most of whom were gang members. Rawiri soon got back into the Crips, got himself a gang-affiliated girlfriend, and then didn't show up to one of our bi-weekly meetings at his apartment, and he failed his pee drug test (because the tester said the pee he put into the cup was too cold -- it wasn't his). At a time when his mother was out of town, Rawiri showed up to his brother's house drugged up and got into a nasty physical fight with his brother, and then he failed his drug test again. He was soon arrested for breaching his parole conditions. His brother rang me in distress, and I did my best to assure him that it wasn't his fault that Rawiri had breached his parole and was being remanded to prison. Rawiri was there for only a few months, and then once released, he rang us up, asking for money.

My husband and I don't regret helping Rawiri have a "second chance" (or 3rd or 4th or whatever) at staying out of prison and being an asset to his family. He had a certain charm, and we learned some things about both gang life and prison life. But we soon found that he had no interest in anything other than using people, so we gently disengaged. He's now living with his sister, about 5 hours' drive away.

Once I get a few projects out of the way, I intend to offer volunteer tutoring services to our local prison, as I understand that many prisoners can barely read or write.

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Oct 17, 2022Liked by Harvard2TheBigHouse

Another thing your essay reminded me of -- the billionaire journalist Taki Theodoracopulos' 1991 book _Nothing to Declare: Prison Memoirs_, describing his arrest and prison time for entering the UK with drugs. One of the things I remember most about the book was his shock that most of his many friends simply dumped him as if he had died, and how abjectly grateful he was for the one or two friends who didn't.

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