I cannot sleep. There is a device on my leg.
It requires that I wake up an hour early so I can plug it into a charger and stand next to the outlet, like a cell phone charging up for the day. Not the day, actually, but 12 hours. After that, the device runs out of juice. Wherever I am, I have to find an outlet to plug myself into. If I don’t, I’m likely to be thrown back onto Rikers Island.
The device is my ankle bracelet, which I’ve now been wearing for 63 days. I wear it afraid that someone at work will notice the bulge. When I go to school, I worry my friends will spot it and leave me. I push it up into my jeans, hoping they won’t see. But the higher up I push it, the more it starts to hurt; most days, my feet go numb. I try wearing bell-bottoms.
At the age of 22, I landed in prison. Though I had grown up around violence, it was my first time in trouble. I’d taken the law into my own hands during an altercation, because where I come from, we don’t dial 911 for help — we see how badly police officers treat people like us.
When I came home, I wasn’t the same “I,” and “home” wasn’t home anymore. For the rest of my life, I would have to live with a mistake I made at 22. I would never belong to myself again; parole dictates everything that I do.
I had been on parole for three years. I work full time at a law firm, attend college, and I am close to attaining my bachelor’s degree. For three years, I never violated any rules, which included not leaving the five boroughs and returning home before 9 p.m. every night.
I don’t have the luxury of the “college experience,” of going to concerts or hanging out with friends after class. And I learned from experience not to discuss my past with my classmates, at least not until they get to know me. People become fearful when they hear I was in jail.
Then I had a run-in with the police again and was charged with a DWI. I spent 30 days in Rikers and came frightfully close to losing everything I spent three years working for: My college semester and GPA, my job, my post-prison healing. I woke up in cold sweats at night, traumatized by the re-experience of being caged. And even though I am pleading not guilty and my case is still pending, my parole officer called me up after I left Rikers and asked me to come in to speak with his supervisor.
Details weren’t discussed. They never are; a call is made, a P.O. appointment is scheduled. The day of the meeting, I was in a panic. Entering that building — the office of parole — is guaranteed. Leaving it is not.
I was greeted by metal detectors and a throng of fellow parolees, mostly black and Hispanic, many in work uniforms, all waiting up to six hours to be seen. When my P.O. finally saw me, he explained right off that an electronic-monitoring device would be placed on my leg for a year to enforce my curfew, though it would come off sooner if I was “compliant.”
“But I have already been compliant, for years,” I said. As I had many times, I explained to my P.O. that I was in school, have a full-time job, and maintain good behavior. “Am I a flight risk? Or a frequent violator?”
The more I spoke, the more hostile he became.
Later on the bus, looking down and seeing the bulge on my leg, I cried.
This is what summer under surveillance looks like: I can no longer wear shorts. I cannot visit a beach without enduring public humiliation. I asked my parole officer whether I could attend a Yankee game for my birthday, but he turned me down, because it may have lasted past curfew. I usually spend Independence Day with my family in Long Island, but this year, I couldn’t dare ask my P.O. for permission to leave the borough.
I have been alternating three pairs of pants for almost three months now — the only pants that can accommodate the device. When I’m with my co-workers, I stand out as the only person wearing jeans; dress slacks are too much of a risk, because when I sit down, pants like those hike up. At home, unexpected visitors have me scrambling to put on pants.
Throughout the day, the device becomes heavier and more painful, causing me to bleed. I push it down on my ankle to let my blood circulate — but then the pain becomes unbearable, and I can’t plant my feet without crying out.
The device has me strapped, too, to a mistake I made at the age of 22. The device is, both literally and metaphorically, my greatest source of pain.
But every day I rise, stand by the socket, and charge my ankle to go to work.
Copyright MM and The Marshall Project, 2015
This column was originally published by The Marshall Project as part of a series called Life Inside, which offers perspectives from those who work and live in the criminal justice system.
So as not to violate the terms of his parole, the author asked that he be identified by his initials. M.M. is a full-time student and employee at a law firm in New York City. He has been on parole for more than three years on multiple charges stemming from an altercation when he was 22 and his subsequent re-arrest for driving while intoxicated.
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