Home Improvement


There was Tatanka – a kind, soft-spoken Native American man – and then there was Rehab guy. I called him Rehab guy because he looked like he had just gotten out of rehab. In fact, I’m not entirely convinced that I wasn’t his first assignment upon getting out. His hair always seemed to be bolting off in several directions – his facial hair was long, wiry and unkempt. His clothes looked like that of a 1930’s tramp. I always felt like I should be asking him if the trains really were running on time. Then I remembered that this guy was a probation officer and not a historian who would understand the reference I was making. His get-up didn’t look all that different than some of the get-ups I saw in jail. What’s more is that dude was a complete asshole. He once joked about kicking my dogs and mounting them on his truck like the head of a deer. This was obviously a good cop/bad cop routine, but the roles almost seemed exaggerated in this instance. Tatanka couldn’t have been more salt of the Earth; he even pet and sometimes played with my dogs while Rehab guy was actively involving in planning their demise.

Regardless of their demeanor they both looked like they had just missed their hunting party. That was the wardrobe choice among probation officers I would later found out. Mom jeans and plaid were seen as an acceptable combination as were 1990’s Starter jackets in the winter. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a couple guys fighting over a pair of Air Jordans in the parking lot. The one thing that probation did to me was take away my ability to be a smartass, which has always been a huge part of my personality, so during this point in time I couldn’t write about this stuff. Of course I couldn’t write about any element of the criminal justice system at this point because one little slip up and I’d have my probation revoked and that was as my lawyer put it “very ill-advised.”

Tatanka and Rehab guy were the home inspection crew. Their job – at least as far as I could tell – was to try and catch me having a house party or running an international sex ring. I had far too much respect for women to start running a sex ring and my party planning abilities at the house level weren’t anything to boast about. Tatanka had told me that I seemed like a nice guy and said he didn’t foresee any problems so long as I kept my head down. This was the second time I had been told to guard my head area and I was starting to think that there was some sort of sniper following me around who got bonus points for head shots. Tatanka would know about this if it were an epidemic at the level that my probation officers seemed to be suggesting after all he was the one who had to ride a horse to get home at night.

I could tell after a few visits that these guys were using their created personas to elicit some kind of effect from the people they visited. Most dogs weren’t trying to get Rehab guy to throw a ball for him like my Border Collie was Tatanka once told me. I hadn’t thought about it that way of course, but when I did it made sense. Rehab guy seemed almost afraid of my dogs which I could understand if the majority of dogs he was encountering were dogs used more for guarding. I had mostly herding dogs, so they barked a lot, but my Border Collies and Aussies weren’t going to bite you unless you were a sheep.

As my probation wore on I only had to see my probation officer once a month. I actually grew to like it when Tatanka and Rehab guy would drop by because it meant I didn’t have to go into the probation office that month. My probation officer had a policy where if the guys stopped by then I didn’t have to come in for my next visit. This was nice because going to the probation office was mentally exhausting if for no other reason than I had to spend all that time in the waiting room with people who I considered to be very different than myself. Much as it was the case when I was in jail I wasn’t interested in being friends or getting to know these people. I’d overhear conversations where former cellmates would talk about how long they managed to stay out “this time.” The “this time” of course implied that they had been in jail more than once. One gentlemen took the time to explain why being in jail was preferable to being outside. Certain people embraced the lifestyle that came with being incarcerated. This was a mindset that I could never quite understand of course, but most of these folks grew up in the “system.” They had spent time as a juvenile in various facilities and many times their families simply gave up on them ever reforming before these guys ever turned eighteen. This made me realize how grateful I really should be for having the family and support system that I had.

Most of the people I had gotten along with on the inside were older than me. This was a pattern throughout my life. I rarely got along even on the most basic level with people my age, but people who were older than me or younger than me would get along with me just fine. The latter part of that equation did not play out on the inside or among the community corrections participants. In fact, the only people I had any quarrel with were the younger folks who seemed complacent with their situations. It annoyed me that these kids couldn’t see how they were wasting their time screwing around with the justice system. What I came to discover over the period of my incarceration and in my time when I was interacting directly with community corrections was that these folks often came from a poor socioeconomic class and thus had few options available to them.


2 thoughts on “Home Improvement

  1. To the best of my knowledge Tatanka is the Native American word for buffalo. He was – like a lot of the community corrections guys – a rather imposing figure if you didn’t listen to him speak, but he was very soft spoken and in all my interactions with him he was a kind, gentle man.

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