Renting My Own Life
In the middle of July I was finally approved to go on home detention. No more waiting in line to for my computer, medication, laundry soap, cell phone or toilet paper. No more stand-up counts, pat-downs and room searches. I was finally going home, but it was hard to feel too excited. I knew I was still far from free. I’d be confined to my home except for work. I’d be required to call in all of my movements between home and work. When home, I’d be called randomly at all hours. If I didn’t answer I would be required to report back to Salinas or Florence, depending on whether it took me minutes or hours to get back into contact. Additionally I’d required to drive a few hundred miles each week, reporting to Salinas twice a week to complete my drug treatment program and provide UAs and BAs to the halfway house. In other words, I was still very much an inmate. In October I was set to get my life back. For now I’d be renting it.
Another reason I didn’t feel like celebrating was my job situation. A marketing company had hired me at the end of May. The beauty of the job was that it kept me out of the halfway house most of the day. I left early for the job and got back late, mostly just sleeping in Salinas. The days were long but these weeks went by very quickly. For the first time in a long time I was not counting the days. And the best part was that I got to spend my weekends at home.
I spent a few hours each day commuting to the job. I drove through miles of lettuce, strawberry and artichoke fields before arriving at the little hip seaside town of Santa Cruz. The pay was terrible and but it felt good to have a job again—a big step towards normalcy. I kept in contact with Brian and was hoping to still go to work for his company, though he made me no promises. “I work with crazy people James,” he told me. “Half the time I have no idea what they’re thinking.” He deferred to the CEO who did not seem crazy but was in the process of trying to create a position for me. It would take some time, was not guaranteed and he had a lot of other stuff on his plate.
Getting out of the halfway house was great, but the job itself was a grind. They trained me for a month then gave me recycled leads other reps hadn’t had any luck with before. I was cold-calling into marketing VPs, trying to convince them our agency could drive more traffic to their web site and produce more sales. I spent my days sending emails, leaving voice mails and often not talking to one solitary person. After three weeks of this my boss called me into the conference room with the HR director. “I could be wrong,” he told me. “but I don’t think this is working out.” He accurately read the shocked expression on my face. Was I really being fired after three weeks of working the phone? “We’re a small company and have to move quickly.”
The timing was actually great. I would be going home the following week, so I no longer needed the job to keep me from being locked up in the halfway house all day. Now I could spend my days with my family and not have to commute to the sales job from hell. I worried about being unemployed again but hoped that Brian’s company would be hiring me soon.
In late July, just a week after going on home detention, my case worker met with me shortly after I made the ninety mile drive from the office to pee in a cup. “You’re not programming Mr. Fleishman.”
“I lost my job a week ago.” I told her. “I’ve been looking for work and am expecting an offer soon from the company that wanted to hire me in April. That won’t be a problem now that I’m home and the commute is much shorter, right?”
“It shouldn’t be. But you have to provide documentation of your job search. Otherwise, it just looks like you’re…you’re doing nothing.”
“Nothing?” I asked looking for a reaction from her but got none. “I’ve got two little girls who have not had their father at home in over a year.”
“I understand, but unfortunately the BOP doesn’t consider childcare ‘programming’. She gave me until the following week to find a job or volunteer somewhere. “I know,” she said with a sympathetic smile that almost looked genuine. “It’s not much time. But the BOP requires that you to be programming within two weeks of home confinement. You have to be working or volunteering somewhere by next week.”
Later in the week things started to solidify with Brian’s company and I looked for places to volunteer in case it didn’t pan out. The following week I still didn’t have a job offer but the CEO told me he was expecting to have one for me soon. I printed out this email and documentation of my search for volunteer work and handed these papers in to the front desk of the halfway house. They were lost.
The following week I was formally charged with “failure to program”.
Back in April, during my second week at the halfway house I’d been written up for using the Internet on my laptop. “You’re not on the Internet are you?” a staff member asked me one Saturday afternoon.
“I am.” I said, looking up with surprise. “Is that not allowed?”
“You need to log off immediately.”
I figured this was a verbal warning until a few days later when I was called into the office and received the Incident Report.
Then, in late June I was busted for going to lunch one Tuesday afternoon. I wasn’t supposed to leave work for lunch. Each morning before leaving the halfway house I was given a bologna sandwich lunch in a plastic bag. I vowed to stick to this diet to save money but after fourteen months of flavorless, institutional food , I found myself unable to stick to the bologna diet. I began enjoying burritos, pizza-by-the-slice and tragically, falafel. By freak coincidence, the same probation officer I’d met with a couple weeks before in Salinas happened to be at the falafel joint I’d been going to a couple times a week. He informed the halfway house and this became my second violation. Failure to program was my third strike. When you’re written up three times it becomes a formal “shot”, which means the BOP receives the incident report and then issues a punishment.
I waited for hours to meet with the director of the halfway house. Ironically, I had gotten the job offer from Brian’s company that day and would begin work the following week. During the wait a staff member called me into the office and read me my rights. “You have the right to remain silent, anything–”
“Wait,” I said in a panic, thinking something new had surfaced and they were taking me back to Florence. “This is just for the programming IR, right?”
“Right,” she said. “Since it’s a formal IR we have to read you your rights.”
Over five hours later, the director finally called me upstairs and took a statement from me. We were done within five minutes. “I don’t understand why this happened.” I told her. “I provided documentation—“
“Mr. Fleishman,” she said sternly. “This is an Incident Report Hearing; not a meeting to discuss the issue. If you would like to discuss it, then please make an appointment to do so.”
“Well, what can I expect in terms of punishment?” I asked, afraid of what the answer might be. “Is there any chance I will go back to the camp for this?”
“No, I wouldn’t expect that,” she said shaking her head. “You will most likely lose a week or two of Good Conduct Time.”
I’d been fired from my job. I was looking at more home detention time. It seemed like I’d hit bottom. But what were a few more days of home detention after doing fourteen months in prison? And I had another job, a much better job lined up for the following week. I tried to stay positive and told myself I was overreacting but still could not help but find the situation depressing.
“Daddy?” my daughter asked after I got home from one of my first days of work at Brian’s company. “How many more days until I start Kindergarten?”
“Five more days, sweetheart.”
The following week the whole family walked to the school she wasn’t supposed to go to. The plan had been to move to a home in a better school district or send her to private school. But the financial impact of the past three years made those options impossible.
While Sarah spent her first hour in class we attended an orientation meeting led by the principal. With pride, he explained that despite budget cuts that had eliminated music and theater programs at neighboring schools, they had fought to save them. He brought up the six members of the PTA who are very active in managing fund-raising activities and other events like movie nights and book fairs. Additionally, quite a few parents volunteered their time in the classroom to help with reading groups and art projects. Later, while the students had recess, the two kindergarten teachers came in and went over some things. Both had taught for over twenty years and appeared to be committed, and excited about their jobs. The school proved to be much better than we’d expected.
The children were let go after a couple hours and I took Sarah to work with me. I thought it would be fun for her to meet my co-workers, half of whom I’d worked for before at another software start-up before PGR. Sarah was very shy with my co-workers and ended up mostly just watching the Lion King on her iPad while I worked beside her on my computer. The office is small, open and very casual. Instead of cubes and offices, there are dogs, jeans and shorts. Every Monday lunch is brought in and we enjoyed some delicious BBQ. The kitchen is also stocked with all kinds of drinks and snacks.
I’d only been on the job a week but was already getting a lot of interest from the IT consultants I was approaching and persuading to recommend the company’s online backup software; a welcome contrast with the job in Santa Cruz as well as a substantial increase in pay. I was off to a good start at the company I had been planning to work for all along. My daughter was beside me. My belly was full with good food. I was surrounded by people I knew, doing a job I enjoyed. It was ridiculous how much things had improved from a just a couple weeks before when I’d been read my rights. And only four months before, where had I been? Packing condiments for killers for $5 a month, thirteen hundred miles from home. And if I hadn’t gotten into the RDAP program I would still have been there.