By Michael H. Wilson
Anthony Brown has spent 15 of his 31 years either in prison or on parole. He was first incarcerated in 2001, when he was 16, for selling drugs crime, and has since been in prison or jail four times for drug and parole violations. Brown was most recently released from prison in February 2015, and says he is going to get off of parole for good so he can be involved in his soon-to-be born child’s life.
“It’s the longest I’ve ever been out; a year.” Brown said. “I was just tired of doing whatever they told me I needed to do.”
The parole system is designed to help reintegrate people who have spent time in prison into day-to-day life. Much like the process of “revoke and restore,” Brown has been under state supervision non-stop with out the realistic hope of serving his full time due to his actions and the rules of parole.
For many parolees like Brown, the difference between staying out and returning to prison often depends on family support, employment and a helpful parole officer (PO) as much as individual will power, according to former parole officer Ruben Hernandez.
Every other Wednesday, Brown wakes up in his Fordham apartment before 6 a.m. to catch the Bx15 bus for Port Morris in the South Bronx. It takes an hour to get to the parole office on Alexander Avenue where he sometimes has to wait for up to eight hours to check in with his parole officer.
Officer Farrar oversees Brown’s parole now. He applies stricter discipline than Brown had with his previous parole officer. Brown is tested regularly for drugs and alcohol and he is required to attend therapy.
Still, being on parole is challenging for Brown, who lives with his girlfriend and recently started working at a telemarketing company in Queens. He is required to report to parole every other Wednesday and has frequent home visits by a parole officer.
The rules laid out are difficult for many parolees to follow, especially for drug offenders like Brown. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice show that 25 percent of released drug offenders are rearrested after six months. The number of rearrests climbs to more than 70 percent after five years.
Brown says that his life of crime stems from the fact that he suffered physical and drug abuse as a child at the hands of his parents and foster parents. He says his father died when he was 3 years old, and he was left with his sister and mother, who was a drug addict. Shortly after being adopted, when he was 12 years old, Brown decided to run away from his new, religiously devout mother.
He became homeless and began selling heroin as a way to support himself, but was first arrested and sentenced to three years in prison in 2001, when he was just 15 years old. That initial decision to deal drugs shaped his life for the next decade and a half.
After being released from prison in February 2015, he decided to change his life. Now, he says, his family and a strict PO are putting him on a positive path to ending that decade-long cycle.