Resources for convicted felons on probation
June 18, 2007 8:29 AM   Subscribe

Father's Day gift filter: Help me keep my dad out of prison.

My father has gone from being a successful businessman and respected member of the community to a convicted felon on probation with a very restrictive set of rules he must follow.

Probation is hard, and his list of restrictions is long. He can't communicate with other convicted felons, so searching for one from whom he can ask for advice is out of the question. His Internet use is heavily restricted, and he's not allowed to visit bookstores. With all of that in mind, I would like to put a packet of resources together to help him cope with his frightening new situation.

One of his restrictions is that he can't break any law while he's on probation. I'm going to order him a copy of his state's current criminal code handbook and ask him to spend some time each day looking through it, so he will be less likely to be blindsided by any laws or regulations with which he's not familiar.

In addition, I wonder if there are any books or other resources that would help to prepare someone for surviving probation successfully. I'm thinking of things that could help him develop coping skills and strategies:
- help him deal with arbitrary rules and unsympathetic people in authority for the next several years
- help him develop a healthy routine and a list of mental checks to follow
- reduce some of the psychological stress of the situation
and give specific advice:
- don't talk on your cell phone while driving - you're more likely to get into an accident (and get a ticket, and go to prison for the rest of your life)
- make sure there's no loose paper in the bed of your pickup before you drive (so you don't get fined for inadvertently littering, and go to prison for the rest of your life)
- make sure the passenger compartment in your car is clean before you drive so you're not distracted by something rolling or sliding around, which makes it more likely that you'll get into an accident (and get a ticket, and go to prison for the rest of your life)
- drive only when you must, and never after dark
- this is not a joke, your life is at stake!

I don't want anyone to feel sorry for my dad. I'd just like to do everything I can to help him adjust to his new reality, abide by his new rules and complete his probation successfully, without having to spend what would probably amount to the rest of his life in prison.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (20 answers total)
Are you his mother or his child? He needs to compile such lists for himself, else he'll resent them and ignore them. Your "specific advice" sounds, frankly, like minutiae that may fill up his awareness to the detriment of seeing the big picture.

As far as I know, fender benders, which incidentally do not automatically merit tickets as you suggest, are not the sort of thing that is considered violation of parole.
posted by notsnot at 8:47 AM on June 18, 2007

So here's my thought on laws and lawbreaking, which I have held for some time now. The best thing to do is to not piss off the people who can arrest you. There are many many laws out there, and you will never learn them all (even with study), and even if you do, there are several that you break on a daily basis, just going about with your life (speeding, jaywalking, etc).

If getting a ticket is enough to violate his probation, he should not drive. There are so many things you can get a ticket for, and so many of them are subjective or out of your control (failure to come to a complete stop, reckless driving, broken taillight) it would be foolish to think that by regulating your actions you can render yourself immune from a ticket. This is especially so if your father is now "known" to the police in your community.

I wish him the best in his rehabilitation, but perhaps he needs to look into living somewhere where he can give up his car.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:54 AM on June 18, 2007

It sounds to me like maybe you're overreacting in a way that suggests that maybe you need some help dealing with your father's new situation. This must all be pretty stressful for you. How do you think you're doing? Do you think maybe you should look into resources for children of offenders? Maybe some counseling or a support group?

The person to talk to about keeping your father out of prison is probably his lawyer. And I think you should probably keep it between him and his lawyer. A lawyer, for instance, will have a better handle on how frequently people on probation get sent to prison for minor traffic offenses.

I suspect that what he would appreciate from you for Father's Day is some confirmation that you still love him and that you realize that he is not completely defined by his criminal offense, whatever it may be. Maybe get him a book that you think he'd like, since he isn't allowed to go to bookstores.
posted by craichead at 9:00 AM on June 18, 2007

Don't know if he would think it too new-agey, but it sounds like something like tai-chi or yoga classes might be helpful -- it's physical, one can make steady progress, the focus required is mentally calming, and he can practice at home with a video. (Alternately, some other form of martial arts that's more mental discipline-focused and less about self-defense or fighting.)

Do you live close to him? If so, take him out and do stuff with him, so that he can relax a bit. The terms of his parole are isolating, and as you mentioned, he will have to be very careful to not violate them. But sitting alone and getting increasingly paranoid sounds pretty frustrating.

Poring over the lawbooks sounds like an exercise in frustration to me, sorry. And kind of punitive -- like a grown-up version of something that the teacher makes you do during recess if you've been bad. Better for him to tackle books on [era of history/author/subject] that he's always wanted to learn.

The way your question is worded alludes helping him get through resentment and anger. Just a word of caution -- make sure you're not projecting. It would be completely understandable for you to have some resentment, too, but it may not be helpful for him to have to bear the burden of your emotions, too.
posted by desuetude at 9:13 AM on June 18, 2007

It sounds to me like you're overreacting as well, and I hope you're not serious that this is a gift idea. Gifts are objects given for a person to enjoy.

Your dad has contacts in the legal system responsible for his rehabilitation and his understanding of the terms of his probation. Maybe asking if you can go along to a meeting with his probation officer would make you feel more empowered to understand his situation and support him and his decisions.

I as well suspect that infractions and moving violations are NOT the violations of probation for which they key will be thrown away. Failure to address these: failure to pay or appear, may result in additional time, however.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:38 AM on June 18, 2007

His Internet use is heavily restricted, and he's not allowed to visit bookstores.

Are you sure that those are his restrictions? I can see the Internet use, especially if he was convicted of anything sexual and minors, identity theft or fraud, but not allowed entry to a bookstore? I can't imagine why unless he is a serial book-shoplifter. Would seem to me a probation officer (PO) would encourage a person on probation to visit a bookstore. Therefore it might be prudent to get a list of restrictions from the restrictor's mouth. (i.e. his PO, or his lawyer)
posted by xetere at 10:15 AM on June 18, 2007

Well, I don't know what state you are in, but if you are in New York, you may want to check out this organization:

They also have a support group for family members if you are interested.
posted by zackola at 10:38 AM on June 18, 2007

That hotline at Osborne is for all states.


Under "For Service Providers"
Then "Program Resources"
Then "Directory of Programs" has a state by state guide.
posted by zackola at 10:46 AM on June 18, 2007

I can not see any way that getting him a book of criminal codes isn't going to be a huge insult. "And look at this huge book with all the fine print. Read through it. Don't do any of it."

Yeah. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

Don't drive after dark?

Is he on probation with the State or with you?

Why not follow him around with a hanky and help him blow his nose.

He's not a child and he's not your child. He was once a "successful businessman", He did jsut fine for years, he can do it now.

Your motivation is admirable, but he has already been to jail, and already is on probation. What he needs is love and support, not more punishment from his loved ones. From the tone of your message, you're the one having difficulty "coping with his frightening new situation".

Sit down and talk with him about what he's finding hard and work with him to take that pressure off. Don't put your pressures on him. If you can't do that, then find a professional and sit down and talk with them.

Talk with his parole officer if you have any questions about what is or isn't allowed (With Dad's permission of course). I'm pretty sure a fender bender will not return you to jail unless the original conviction was related to crashing cars.

Look on Google or the yellow pages for support groups and programs for released criminals. There are a lot of them out there and can give you specific advice on things like keeping his parole, reintegrating with society, finding a job, etc.
posted by Ookseer at 11:02 AM on June 18, 2007

1. You are badly over-reacting. Relax. Take a deep breath.

2. Your dad's lawyer and his probation officer are the proper people to tell him how to stay in the law's good graces.

3. If a minor traffic offense could seriously send him to prison, there is no reasonable alternative but for him to completely abandon driving. However, I do not feel this to be accurate.

4. The criminal code? Come on. Now you're just being hysterical.

5. Can't go to a bookstore? Are you sure you have understood this correctly? What about a library? They provide felons in PRISON with a library and books they can read.

The restriction on internet makes me think it was either identity theft, or more likely since he was already successful, child pornography or similar. I'm not judging, just trying to frame the discussion.

Whatever his offense was, you want to take SPECIAL CARE to avoid anything that would make it look like he is likely to recommit.

So, let's say, for the sake of argument, it was child porn. He should avoid schools, playgrounds, anything with large populations of children like the plague. Try to avoid even being AROUND children.

There are bored cops out there, and most cops believe that a person never changes, that if they commit a crime, they are basically guaranteed to commit it again. So someone will be watching him, be sure of that.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:21 AM on June 18, 2007

Anonymous, we get it that you really love your dad, but this is all really up to him. If he asks for help it's great to know you are more than willing to help him, but he has to be the one to take responsibility for both what landed him in this circumstance to begin with, and for the restrictions on his life that he must deal with at present.

Please go talk to your pastor or a counselor-I am not saying you are in dire need of mental health but I do think you need a friendly and impartial sounding board to help you work through all this. And there's nothing wrong with that.
posted by konolia at 11:48 AM on June 18, 2007

From the original poster:
Thanks to everyone for your suggestions so far. I spoke with my dad last night (Sunday night), told him I loved him and wished him a happy Father's Day. He's stressed about his probation. The judge who handled his case expressed an extreme personal dislike for him, and let him know that he'd show no mercy if my dad ended up in front of him again for any reason at all. My dad is extremely isolated right now. I am his oldest son, and I no longer live in the US. My younger brother doesn't, either, and my Mom has only minimal contact with him right now. Many of his old friends are shunning him, and his relationship with his other family members is complicated, at best. He's pretty much on his own. He's in his mid 60's, and I'm afraid that he may be showing some signs of early dementia. His thinking is not clear, and he's extremely stressed.

He attends group therapy with some other men, and most of the other people in his group have already been back to jail, for what often seem to be minor violations of their probation requirements, or sometimes even for apparently arbitrary reasons. My father has a good lawyer, but he's expensive, and my father's assets are dwindling at an alarming rate.

This discussion started after I read a news story about recent arrests of sexual offenders (yes, my father is a sexual offender) for having myspace sites in violation of their probation terms. My father's myspace site is still online, although he contacted myspace via email in 2005 and asked them to delete his profile, and has not logged in or visited myspace, since. I alerted him of this and asked him to contact his attorney to get it taken care of.

My dad really doesn't have anyone to talk to (for free, anyway) who is experienced in these matters and can give him good advice. I realize that I sounded too emotional in my post. Yes, I am afraid for my dad. I have a host of emotions surrounding him, but central to them all is that I love him and want the best for him. I mentioned to him that I'd like for him to have a copy of his state's criminal code (an old lawyer friend of his suggested to me some years ago that every citizen should have one and at least be rudimentarily familiar with its contents - I'd figure that's especially good advice for someone who could be put into jail or prison for even a minor offense).

I know my dad can't control all variables here, but I think he would feel under less stress if he knew which variables he could control and was more mindful about the choices he makes. I think he has a tendency to suppress uncomfortable thoughts, and the stress just builds up. If he had a game plan and was in control of the variables he can control, I think he'd be under less stress.

I have looked for something like Behind Bars, but geared more toward someone trying to survive probation. I haven't found anything yet. I guess I'd just like to find any and all resources that I can get for my dad which would help him through this time.

xetere: He's not allowed to visit bookstores, period. I don't understand why, either.
Rock Steady: I've suggested that he drive as little as possible, and that he start doing his business (shopping, etc.) in an area other than the small suburban town near which he lives (and where the police know him).

For everyone else: I appreciate any and all suggestions, but if you don't know how probation works, please don't try to explain it to me. I've got an inside track (from my dad) and it's not a walk in the park.
posted by mathowie at 11:50 AM on June 18, 2007

I don't think you're over-reacting. It must be shocking to you, as it must be to him. I don't think reading the legal code will help. I agree that the key is to stay off the wrong side of people who can arrest him.

Does he have a substance abuse problem? If so, he should get permission to seek treatment. AA might have a felon present, so he should check. I'd go to a good library and get help from a reference librarian for books on dealing with probation. In addition to coping specifically with his status as a felon, he should begin coping with his life; dealing with substance abuse, mental illness, getting a job, etc.
posted by theora55 at 11:53 AM on June 18, 2007

I don't believe that you mentioned where your father lives. In California, he would want to do two things without fail: (1) keep in touch with his probation officer and (2) register and update his sex offender registration whenever required. If he is starting to suffer dementia, your best "gift" might be to find out the appointments he needs to keep and remind him of them. If he stays out of big trouble, keeps all his appointments, and keeps his registration current, in all likelihood he'll be fine. Probation officers usually have more pressing concerns than a senior citizen who technically violated probation with a speeding ticket (or the like).

Sounds like your father is lucky to have you as a son.
posted by ferdydurke at 12:06 PM on June 18, 2007

My brother-in-law is a felon. He is an honorable, well-intentioned person, but he's got terrible judgement and poor impulse control. But he loves my sister, and since he met her, he has completely turned his life around. Everyone in my family thinks he's great, but as for the wider world, well -- a criminal conviction keeps on giving grief for the rest of your life.

That's your dad's new reality. He has to accept that, and the sooner he does, the easier it will be to find joy within his new limitations. To most people who know about his conviction, it will define him. But people are dumb anyway -- if he was really fat or was a Hasidic Jew, those things would define him too. People who know him (and themselves!), know that this is only a part of who he is, and doesn't wipe out everything else he is. All he can do is hold his head up and let his future actions speak.

I wish him luck. One act, however terrible, doesn't make a lifetime spent as a good son, brother, husband, father, neighbor, worker, human being count for nothing.
posted by Methylviolet at 12:35 PM on June 18, 2007

"...I'm afraid that he may be showing some signs of early dementia. His thinking is not clear, and he's extremely stressed." Stress and depression can cause symptoms like dementia. Or incipient dementia can lead to offending behaviour -- but it doesn't sound unreasonable for him to be less than completely together in this situation.

If your father does not have good local support systems, then he might just as well move away. No, i don't know about the probation system there, but surely he can re-register in a nice anonymous city, away from the feared judge. Law enforcement the world over tend to see an offender moving out of their jurisdiction as a good result. He can even use the not-driving as an excuse for going.
posted by Idcoytco at 1:34 PM on June 18, 2007

I can't really help with anything else, but if you want to remove your father's myspace account, it's pretty easy. Just log in, go to "account settings" and select "cancel account". He can't do it, obviously, but you or his lawyer can. Provided you are Able to log in, of course. He may not even remember the password.

Also, perhaps he can talk with his probation officer about having books delivered from a library to his home. I mean, it's a long-shot, but some libraries have services where they can deliver books to people in their homes if they can't go to the library on their own. It's something to look into, at least.
posted by Green With You at 2:09 PM on June 18, 2007

This is a follow-up from someone who would prefer to remain anonymous.

In 1994, I chose a poor location to smoke a joint, which landed me on
probation for a year. My probation was in the federal system (as I was
on federal government property when I was busted), but my comments
should apply regardless of your dad's situation. I'm aiming my
comments at your dad, because he's the one that's on probation and needs
to know this stuff. How you choose to help him stay out of the pokey
should be between you and him (but the book of laws sounds a little over
the top to me).

As for how to survive probation...

Rule #1 is simple: Develop a good relationship with your probation
officer (your "PO"). Whenever possible, be as accommodating as you can
be when dealing with him/her. This person is the one who is keeping you
out of jail. Do not be adversarial with her, and ALWAYS follow her
instructions to the letter. (my PO was a female, so I'll be using
female pronouns). Your PO will tell you everything that you need to do
(and not do) to stay out of jail, and your PO will be the one
responsible for deciding whether or not you're complying with the terms
of your probation. She has more discretion than you think, and she
alone can decide whether last weekend's near indiscretion should be
mentioned to your judge or not. Above all else, remember Rule #1.

It will be your PO's responsibility to keep tabs on you and try to
verify that you're following the terms of your probation. In most
cases, this will involve you filling out a form every month and mailing
it to your PO. The form asks you where you're living, where you're
working, what car(s) you're driving, how much money you're making, and
whether you've broken the law, handled a firearm, violated any of the
terms of your probation, or had any contact of any kind with the
police. When you sign the form, you are swearing to it's truthfulness,
so... if you break the law and don't report it, but then get caught
later, you've not only violated your probation, but you've committed
another crime by making a false statement (in writing) to your PO.

Contact with the police is not itself a violation of your probation --
but failing to report it is. If your car breaks down and the highway
patrol calls a tow truck for you, and you don't tell your PO, she could
send you to jail. Your ID and car registration will be tagged with your
PO's name in the police's database -- do not ever assume that she won't
find out about a traffic stop. I got a speeding ticket and a couple of
parking tickets while I was on probation. The speeding ticket annoyed
my PO, and she told me quite firmly to not get another one. Parking
tickets are an inevitable part of living in the city I was living in, so
she didn't care about those (though I did get the feeling that wouldn't
have been the case had they been more egregious violations (like a
handicapped zone or fire hydrant)).

You'll be required to document your income and residence -- expect to
send a copy of your pay stubs, bank statements, and a utility bill along
with your monthly form. Learn where the nearest photocopier, mailbox,
stamp and envelope vendors are, because you'll have a limited window of
time to mail everything, and there are absolutely no excuses for mailing
it late. (in my case, I got paid on the last day of the month, and my
papers (including the pay stub) were always due on the 5th).

Your PO will almost certainly schedule a time to visit you at home, and
will probably make at least one unscheduled visit to you at your place
of employment. This is to verify the information that's on the form
you've been dutifully mailing in. I was working in a white-collar
professional environment at the time (and was not required to disclose
my probation to my employer). My PO was very discrete about her
visits. The receptionist assumed that my PO was just a friend of mine
stopping by to say hello.

The home visit is a little more stressful. Your PO will bring a second
person with her, and will take a look in every room of your house. She
may look in your closets, drawers, fridge, and other closed spaces, for
evidence that you are violating probation. (Again, in my case, it was a
marijuana offense, so checking the cupboard and the drawer in the coffee
table made some sense). Make sure your house is squeaky-clean. Get rid
of the porn. Give away the old bong in the basement. If you own a gun,
sell it immediately, and keep a receipt of the transaction. Again, the
visit will be discrete -- your neighbors won't know who your visitors
are unless you tell them.

Your PO will sometimes call you and ask you how you're doing (and check
to see that you're still reachable). You'll also occasionally be
expected to report to your PO's office, or another place of her choosing
-- sometimes with very little warning. If the terms of your probation
allow it, you should expect that these visits will involve a drug and/or
breathalyser test. Even if your probation doesn't prohibit drinking,
don't show up at a meeting with even an ounce of alcohol in your
system. Failing a drug test automatically violates your probation, so
don't fail one. These calls, visits and tests will generally become
less frequent over time.

It is your PO's job to always be able to locate you. If, for any
reason, you're not spending nights at home, make sure she knows that.
You'll probably have a limited radius of free-travel (mine was 100
miles). Use a map and learn exactly where the boundries of this circle
are, and stay inside it. If you as much as get a parking ticket outside
of your circle, you could go to jail.

You'll have to request permission to travel outside of a circle, though
that permission won't be unreasonably withheld. I was in a
long-distance relationship, so I traveled every couple of months, and I
never had a problem getting permission. I was usually "randomly"
drug-tested immediately after a trip, FWIW.

While you want your PO to always be able to find you (if you don't have
a cellular, get one), you generally want to live the rest of your life
as invisibly as possible while you're on probation. If you drive a car,
it should be bland, bumpersticker-free, reasonably dent-free, and as
similar to your neighbors' as possible (I had a $4000 civic). If you
have a yard, keep it neat (and throw out the porch couch). If you don't
have school-aged kids, stay away from them. Don't throw loud parties,
or hold rallies for left or right-wing causes. Try to blend in as much
as possible, and try as hard as you can to keep the information on your
monthly form as consistent as possible (i.e. don't change jobs, don't
move, don't buy/sell too many cars, etc. etc. Just live the same,
boring law-abiding life every month).

Always keep your car in good shape, because if it leaves you stranded,
you're likely to have contact with the police (and you'd rather not have
to report that to your PO). Drive like you've got a kilo of cocaine
sitting on the dashboard, and don't get pulled over. Yes, keep your
truck's bed empty, the taillights working, and the registration and
insurance up to date. Generally, getting pulled over, or having contact
with the police isn't going to automatically send you to jail -- but a
pattern of offense, or a particular degree of offense might. Act
accordingly -- the ideal amount contact with police for you to have is zero.

The rules are arbitrary, but they're generally pretty clear. Remain
employed/housed. Follow the law. Don't hang out with people who don't
follow the law. Follow your PO's instructions TO THE LETTER, and try to
live your life in as un-notable a fashion as possible until you're done
with probation. It may feel difficult now, but not only will it become
easier as you get used to it (and your relationship with your PO
develops), it will eventually end.
posted by jessamyn at 2:51 PM on June 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'll throw in my 2 cents about dealing with probation.

1. Document EVERYTHING. For me, it got to the point of making them sign and date an attendance sheet that I KEPT WITH ME every time I went, because they were saying I didn't.
2. Document everything. Phone calls. Times. Names. What the conversation was account. If they called you back.
3. Make or request copies of EVERYTHING with your name on it. Keep them in the lawyers office.
4. Document EVERYTHING. Keep YOUR copies of restitution or visits in a secure place.
5. Never, ever, ever assume that a message will get through. EVER. Never ever ever assume that they'll call you back, either.
6. Don't make the same mistake I did. Probation officers do NOT exist to help the offender, they work for the state, and as such, they are walking jailers. Do NOT take their word as gospel regarding duration of probation, money owed, or other responsibilities.

More realistically, if your dad is a sex offender, he's going to need to be worried about retalliation by the community. His picture will be online, as will his address and his offense. He's going to need a protocol for answering the door (I wouldn't, unless he knows the person) and the phone (again, unpublish the number and don't answer numbers you don't recognize.)

Make SURE he's going to his meetings. If he really is an offender (not something like he slept w/ a girl at a frat party who swore she was 18 and turned out to be 15), then he should face this like he's got a disease that needs to be treated, and so should you. Like alcoholism or any other addictive personality disorder, it doesn't just go away, and neither do the urges.

But then, you keep talking about "going away for life." I can't think of many sex crimes with life sentences that would possibly result in probation as a primary means of discipline. If he minds his p's and q's, he'll be fine.

Oh, and about tickets: speeding or general offenses aren't a big deal. Driving w/o insurance IS. Driving in another county/province/parish w/o written permission by the PO--DEFINATELY grounds for yanking probation, assuming that his travel is limited, which it usually is.
posted by TomMelee at 3:36 PM on June 18, 2007

you're more likely to get into an accident (and get a ticket, and go to prison for the rest of your life)

I am an attorney and do a lot of criminal defense. It would be unusual for a traffic ticket to result in a violation of probation. Generally it requires a criminal offense to violate probation.

I know you think the rules of probation are restrictive, and maybe they are --- but lots of people who are much less accomplished and intelligent than your father (the borderline mentally retarded; people who aren't high school graduates; people whose only jobs have been minimum wage) successfully complete probation.

Mainly, he needs to make sure:
-- That he shows up for every appointment with his probation officer, on time.
-- That he completes, well in advance of the deadlines, any and all programs he is required to complete.
-- That he pays all probation supervision fees promptly.
-- That he is not arrested or cited for any criminal offense.
-- That he stays away from any people or places from whom he has been ordered to stay away.
-- That he doesn't use alcohol or drugs, that would weaken his self-control and possibly lead to a violation.
posted by jayder at 4:17 PM on June 18, 2007

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