Thursday, September 15, 2016

Skin in the Game

"You'll have to vouch for him -- work, place to live, awareness of parole obligations -- if he's going to leave the halfway house," he said.

He was the manager of the Federal Bureau of Prison's halfway house. He was a big guy, bored and weary. He looked like he had seen it all and then some. Nothing could surprise him.

I felt like passing him a hundred dollar bill just to see how he would react.

The place was sad. Grimy. Defeated men and women wandered around the "campus" with heads down, feet shuffling. Folding chairs sat in the sun next to doors that opened onto a parking lot. It had been a hotel at one time.

The place next door advertised itself as the "No Tel Motel."

We were in a tough part of Tucson, not the best place, I thought, for a halfway house for men and women tying to get away from a life on the streets.

"I can do that," I said. "He'll be working for a magazine as an editor, and he has a guest house to rent on the east side."

He looked at me with an expression, "who do you think you're kidding? This guy is an addict, a hard-core, a ticking bomb," but handed over the paper, a kind of contract, for me to sign.

Here goes, I thought, I'm putting myself on the line here. If he falls, I may be on the hook for something, though I don't know what.

I pulled my pen out of my pocket and signed. He notarized the document and stamped it.

"I'll make you a copy."

As I folded it, J. came in the door with a question on his face. I nodded. He left to get his stuff -- a box of clothes, books, and a blood-red electric guitar. The guitar stuck out the box at a rakish angle, barely balanced, threatening to cascade out of the box onto the cold concrete.

I held open the chain-link gate so J. could squeeze through.

This was much bigger than leaving a half-way house. We were going out into the free world. He would be sleeping on his own tonight. No cellie, no counts, no flashlights in your face in the middle of the night, no screaming down the block, no watching your back.

He looked sheepish. unbelieving.

He blinked in the bright, knife-edge light of a December dawn.

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