The Halfway House

Samuel was a security guard at a halfway house for recently released inmates in North Austin. His co-worker checked one of the clients out of the house one day so this man could go to the library and apply for jobs on the public computers. The guard filled everything out and sent the man on his way. The guard forgot to press ‘Submit’ on the online form, however. So according to the computer, this man had never been authorized to leave the house.

The house had roll call four times a day, every day. So at the next call, this man who went to library couldn’t be found, and according to the system, he was supposed to be there. Panic ensued. The guards thought this man had escaped somehow, and they were frightened and angry. Samuel, who had seen the man being signed out, told them, “Hey, you signed this guy out, he’s at the library.” “He never got signed out!” they said. Samuel said, “Why don’t we call the library and see if he’s there?” So they did- no answer. Do libraries even have phones? Or people to answer them?

So the halfway house sends some guards down there to check in person. And sure enough, there’s the man. Sitting right there at a public computer, filling out job applications, just like he was supposed to be doing. Case closed.

Wrong.

The house charged the man with ‘Attempt to Escape,’ and he got another 15 years in prison for it.

He had 2 more months left on his probation before he could have gone free.

The point of sending a person to prison is to have them repay their debt to society. When the person has paid that debt, they are allowed to go forth into the world again with a clean slate. This man did his time and was let out on probation for good behavior. He did everything right- he told the guards where he was going to be that day, went through the proper channels of being signed out, and went to the place he’d said he would go. He was trying to get himself a job so he could start his life afresh- and now he’s right back where he started, through no fault of his own. He’s going to spend another 15 years in prison because a guard with no moral integrity didn’t stand up and admit his mistake. He shrank back, cowering on the sidelines, and watched a man go to jail on false charges. He watched that man go to jail, knowing that a word, he could prevent it.

Samuel, who saw the entire sign-out procedure, and saw this guard forget to hit ‘Submit’, tried to speak up about it. He went to his boss and explained what had happened. Did they withdraw the charges? No. They told Samuel to keep his mouth shut.

So Samuel quit.

This is a real, true story, told to me by Samuel*. This actually happened. There is a man out there who landed 15 more years in prison because he went to the library to apply for jobs.

One man’s cowardice and self-interest sent an innocent man to jail.

Honesty and integrity are cornerstones of civilized society. Concern for the well-being of our fellow humans is the only thing that can heal the deep divides in this country. If we each make sure that compassion is at the forefront of our thought process, tragic tales like this one need not happen.

 

*Name has been changed.

 

Katie Gohmann

2017

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