Prospects have never been good for ex-cons. Even during good economic times they hover between 50 and 75 percent unemployment, and generally take home about nine grand a year. No wonder 70 percent of them wind up violating their parole and getting back in the slammer. Now, with unemployment rates hitting levels unseen since the Great Depression, we might just make it to 100 percent recidivism.
So criminals stay in jail, you say. Easy come easy go, right? Well, consider the recent federal court ruling forcing California to release 40,000 prisoners—a quarter of its total prison population—in the next two years because the state can no longer afford to properly house its inmates. Out here they went pack rat on the population, stuffing cells with so many bodies that they violated prisoners’ basic constitutional rights and led to at least one death a day.
But California isn’t alone in this. States all across the nation are starting to purge their warehouses by the tens of thousands, adding to the 700,000 people already being regularly released from state and federal penitentiaries every year. So we’re talking about millions of dudes flooding the job market, all of them guaranteed to strike out. Forget about integrating into society, how the hell are they going to get food? Short answer: By jacking your shit.
The whole situation is a bubbling, pustulous neck boil just waiting to splatter all over our cheap economic recovery linens. States are slashing prison populations because they have no money, only to find prisoners being sent right back because they, too, are broke. It is an intractable problem. And it throws a whole different light on the dumb thugs and petty criminals I read about in the local paper every day. Like this one:
VICTORVILLE • A man held a family of four hostage threatening to harm them with a gun Wednesday morning as he tried to get away from law enforcement officials after he attacked his girlfriend, officials said.
San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Victorville station deputies quickly arrested the man and no one in the home was harmed, Karen Hunt, spokeswoman for the Victorville station, said. No gun was found.
Roland Sanders, 35, of Adelanto, went to his girlfriend’s home in the 15600 block of Yucca Avenue at about 6 a.m. One of the victim’s roommates called 911 to report Sanders was threatening and attacking the victim and accusing her of cheating on him.
Sanders got out of the van refused to comply with [Deputy] Mooradian’s orders and ran away, officials said
Neighbors told deputies Sanders ran into a home and that the family was still inside including several small children, she said. They also reported they heard Sanders threaten the family with a gun.
Sanders, who had been previously arrested for battery, was arrested for domestic abuse, false imprisonment, burglary, evading officers, domestic abuse and for an outstanding parole warrant. He is being held at West Valley Detention Center.
Now the question is this: Did Sanders beat up on his girlfriend and hold her family hostage just because he thought she was fucking his buddy? And did he really mean to beat her up? It’s a technical, but nonetheless important distinction. Because if Sanders had an ulterior motive for opening a 40oz can of whoopass on those suckas, namely, to use it as an excuse to get back on prison welfare, he should definitely not be eligible for incarceration. It wouldn’t be fair to the genuine, truly needy criminals out there. Though, impostor criminals like Sanders do deserve to be slapped with a nice, hefty fine for engaging in conspiracy to commit fraud.
Last week, I acted on a tip from a reader and a friend of mine and cruised on over to the dry banks of the Mojave River on the edge of Victorville, looking for a tent city that had supposedly sprung up there not too long ago. The rumors turned out to be true, although it’d be hard to label the handful of raggedy tents sticking out from behind a row of tall bushes a “city.” It was more like a tent encampment, which is redundant, but accurate.
This was rock bottom, folks. Life in a tent in the shadow of a landfill on the outskirts of a dying subprime suburb on the edge of the Mojave Desert 100 miles east of Los Angeles is maybe about as far down as a man can fall. At least on this continent. Two years ago, Victorville was the second-fastest growing city in America catering to the lowest-income homebuyers banks could find. Now, two years later, it’s quickly turning into a 21st century ghetto: an isolated outpost of cheap, abandoned housing, no jobs, high school dropout rates of 50 percent and rising, and absolutely nothing at all to do besides speed.
I got to the hobo outpost Tuesday at mid-afternoon only to find it all but deserted. Everybody was either out looking for work or actually at work except for two guys hanging out in a truck. One of them was a Latino guy named Robert with faded prison tats running up his arm. I half-expected him to give me another of those “I had a mortgage, a car, and a job, then I realized I was just a paycheck away from homelessness” sob stories you always read in news reports about tent cities, but his tale was way more simple and stark. Basically, he’d gotten out of jail a few months earlier, couldn’t find work and wound up as a desert hobo who nearly froze to death every night (it drops below zero degrees after sunset this time of year). His only saving grace at this point was a girlfriend with a minimum-wage job who gave him food and a daily ration of cigarettes and helped keep him warm at night.
“I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to live like this out in the cold,” he told me, ”I’ll probably be going in soon. At least on the inside I’m not dependent on anyone. There I got a place—food and lodging. Out here, I got nothing.”
This guy was actually thinking of breaking his parole just so he could be sent back to jail. And don’t mistake this for some Shawshank Redemption-like “I can’t make it on the outside,” pity-poor-me talk. While he was telling me this, Robert was level-headed and matter-of-fact. To him it was a completely pragmatic decision, like some middle-class schmo weighing whether or not to uproot your family to take a better-paying job. You know we live in an insane, fucked-up country when an ex-convict feels better living in a concrete box under 24-hour surveillance than he does as a “free” man. I wonder what the Founding Fathers would have to say about that.
Yasha Levine is a mobile home inhabitin’ editor of The eXiled. He is currently stationed in Victorville, CA. You can reach him at levine [at] exiledonline.com.
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