Friday, February 28, 2014

The Probation Era

The #350 runs down Airport Blvd and makes a stop at Austin Community College Riverside campus. At that point, most “normal people” get off and go on their way. The route continues to Del Valle, carrying the dregs of society returning to their halfway house, meeting someone getting out of the correctional facility or making their probation appointment. That’s why I was on it...probation.

Last week was my final meeting with my probation officer at SMART, and for that reason I paid closer attention to just how dreary and awful Del Valle is. It is all shattered concrete, dirt and weeds. You won’t see a manicured lawn there, no suburbs really. There’s nothing but shady convenience stores, trailers, county lockup and broken dreams. I can’t imagine considering a halfway house there a fresh start. But hey, I was a resident in the SMART program there for 5 months, so I can’t really say much about an alternative to jail. Considering how ugly Del Valle is, I’m glad SMART didn't have much of a view of the surrounding area. 

While in the waiting room to see my p.o., I ran into one of my counselors from the program who asked how I was doing. He said, “You know, I still mention you in class, not by name of course, but about how you were always honest and called people out on bullshit. And also how you vocalized that you weren’t sure you liked me that much.” I replied, “I’ll get back to you on that, Scott.” He smiled and said, “Well, it’s a good thing I’m not here to be everybody’s buddy.” We shook hands. I'm still not sure if I like him.

A few minutes later, I was buzzed in, and I walked into the office of my probation officer Gabe. He let me know I had another perfect breathalyzer report, meaning I had blown into the device in the required time frames last month, which were between 5am-8am, 5pm-8pm and 10pm-12am. The breathalyzer has a camera on it and records a picture of me taking each test. This means Gabe could, if he was bored enough, could scroll through 90 pictures of me a month (see Ghosts of Breathalyzers Past).

Gabe: “Every time one of my people try to explain why they missed a window or failed a test and come up with excuses, I use you as an example. I say, ‘See this report? It can be done!’” Great. I’m blowing the curve for other drunks on probation. It’s like grade school all over again.

We run through the standard questions I get every month. Have I had any contact with law enforcement? Have I used any drugs or drank alcohol? Am I on any medication? And then he concluded our meeting by asking, “Are you ready to maintain your sobriety all on your own, no monitoring or breathalyzer?”

The question gave me pause. I was pretty sure I was ready to be done with all the bullshit. I was definitely sure I was tired of all the money I had to pay and the hoops I've jumped through. Was I ready, though, to be sober once I was legal to drink?

By the time this is posted, I’ll be done with it all. I have been on probation for 7 out of the last 10 years, and during the 3 years I wasn't I was arrested for public intoxication 3 or 4 times (I can’t remember which). I was a heroin addict for 3 years while "on paper". I drank constantly during both stints of probation, regardless of having a breathalyzer on my vehicle both times (I wrecked both of those vehicles, by the way, because why half-ass a downward spiral). I was able to continue to do what I wanted to because, for the most part, probation just wants you to pay them and not get into trouble. In fact, some people will tell you that their probation officers let them slide on failed drug tests just because they were up to date on their payments.

This is a nice contrast to me doing everything I was supposed to last year but having to still have supervisor hearings because I couldn't afford a payment one month. Never mind I was in a sober house with a job and staying clean...I owed them money. Never mind I had to get on food stamps for 6 months...I had to pay. But hey, most people who don’t pay their fees are using the money for their habit/habits, so I don’t really blame them doubting my sincerity.

For the past year, I actually followed the rules. I've been clean and sober almost 18 months now. So am I ready to continue this “all on my own”? Hell, I've been clever (stubborn) enough in the past to drink and do drugs around all Travis County’s tests, monitoring devices, meetings and classes. If I wanted to, I would have probably found a way this time around, too. I just didn't want to. I’m done. I have been doing it on my own already...with support from friends and family, sure...but when I’m alone...when I have a window of opportunity to stray...on my own.

Time for a new era.

“Yeah, man. I'm ready.”

"Last visit ever to Smart Start," he said for the third time.