Either find a new place to live, or you go to jail…by Friday.”

It gets weirder and weirder; the Bonnie show.

***

Know what her nickname is?” You ask, last night, after the sober house meeting. Fred, who owns the place, stood up and lied to a living room full of women about you; his captive audience of sobriety ‘newbies’ fingering their flip phones, plastic Nascar lighters, Dunkin Donuts coffee cups, diet Pepsi cans, and half-empty packs of coffin nails. A roomful of rocking chairs and kitty cat’s tails, waiting for the shoes to drop.

What?” I ask.

Bring em Back Bonnie.”

I laugh. It’s not funny. The woman has it in for you, and this is serious. People on parole get ‘lugged’–sent back to jail– all the time for no good reason. The only thing standing in the way of Bring em Back from lugging you is a few phone calls to her field office from people like Ellen Story, a State Representative from Amherst who has taken an extraordinary interest in your case; calls whose core message is: whatever happens to this woman won’t happen in a vacuum. We are watching. This is the only reason. Angels on board. But still, Bonnie, like any good yard dog sniffing strange sweat in the air, cannot resist snapping and growling and yanking against her chain run. Her entire demeanor is a criminal investigation; everything is evidence. Of something. Anything. It happens at a subatomic level, like invisible cooties. Like you say: guilty until proven guilty. In her world, it’s only a matter of time before you fuck up. Or she sniffs an opening for her to pin, fabricate, or sabotage you back to jail.

Bring em Back Bonnie.

Fucking great

***

I want to say out loud Fred’s name, address, and home phone number. Because he lied about you. Did underhanded skullduggery. Is a flagrant myosgenist. Operates a scam of a sober house, charges 20 women $600 a month, doesn’t have enough smoke alarms, is a spiritual dry hole with the compassion of a Gila monster, which is to do Gila monsters a disservice. And lies. Did I mention that?

“What did he say?” I ask. “Tell me.”

You began the call in tears. The meeting was a fresh wound. You have to be out by Friday, you say. He doesn’t give a fuck if you have a place or not. He’ll probably keep your $250 deposit. Because he can. You’re on parole. Guilty until proven guilty.

He said that when he called Bonnie to tell her I could stay if I paid rent that was his version of ‘sarcasm‘. Never meant it, he told me.

“Wow. What an asshole.”

I listen to you describe the meeting. Bring em Back Bonnie and Bring em Down Fred. The same parochial totalitarianism of a convent school for fallen women. How he had turned to his house manager Nancy, asked point blank, “You knew that was sarcasm, right?” And her saying right back into his emotionally-ratcheted-down, grizzled mug, because she is so not going to stay much longer working for this Neanderthal piker who hates women, and especially hates paroled women, for basically the same reasons you’ve described prison guards as hating female inmates: because they emote, they bleed in unison, and they don’t fight back like men do: “NO, I didn’t think it was sarcasm. It sounded like what you said it was. She can stay if she pays rent.”


***

Turns out Winston Churchill was right. Lose a few battles, maybe win the war. WE all know how his war turned out. Your’s has been going on nearly as long,or maybe longer, if you don’t count WW2’s six months leading up to Hiroshima. Nearly five years in prison, from that last OUI, when you weren’t actually drunk, as in Last Call at Midnight drunk, only molecularly, as in next day hung over, and fading fast;  but not fast enough to stay out of court. Five years. That’s a middle-aged dog’s life. A good run for a cover band. Long enough to learn how to play the accordian. A lifetime for a bad marriage.

The problem with prison, you tell me, in today’s ‘let them break rocks’ paradigm, is there aren’t enough rocks on the planet to satisfy the law and order ghouls like Bring em Back Bonnie.If jail has a purpose, to break your inner rocks of dysfunction, disruption and societal brattiness into the smaller pieces of contrition and consciousness, then parole should be the anti-jail, when the process of smoothing those pieces–let’s call it the compassionate and productive rock tumbler–kicks in. Bring em Back, apparently, never got that memo. Turns out, nobody did. It never got sent, or even written.

Tomorrow, I am driving, once again, the two hundred miles to see you. And on Friday, the day after tomorrow, after spending what may be our last night together for some undetermined while, I will drive you to Boston,to check in first with your new parole officer, who will possess, if there is a god of small mercies afoot in the ethers above our battles and our defeats, some whit of humanity and cosmic good humor, and then, from there, to a homeless shelter which represents the only clear route away from lugging back to jail. The emenities of this particular shelter, named for the street upon which it squats in depressingly brick and mortar splendor, include in no special order: No cell phones, no computers, no overnights, dormatory-style sleeping, a small lockbox for your possessions, three cafeteria meals a day, three mando sobriety meetings a week, the vague promise you may be able to work, or you may not, a nine thirty curfew, etcetera, etcetera.

Like a low-grade version of jail,” You say. “But I can get through it. I got through jail. I can get through this.”

Why, I think, do you constantly have to endure extraordinary hardships imposed upon you by a system charged with the ostensible mission of repairing your evil ways? Ordinary humans are free to fuck up, practically at will, without having a sadistic dominitrix like Bring Em Back riding up their bumper, waiting to pounce your ass back to Framingham. Is every sentence a life sentence in Prison World? When will they get it? You simply catch more flies with honey. Vinegar just sours everything, and often drowns the poor fly. The dirty little punchline is obvious. Recidivism is a booming business. Parole officers are really just bounty hunters, not shrinks or counselors, not occupational therapists, not your best friend. Someday, some investigative reporter is going to blow the lid of of this, and they world may blink past the next American Idolotry winner, but probably not. Bring em Back Bonnie and Fred had a cozy little scam going on. She was on the Board of Directors of  the sober house you’ll soon list as Previously Resided At. An agregious conflict of interest,if not plain old illegal. She brought em in, he brought em down, then she brought em back. Representative Story put an end to that little racket, when she called and told Bonnie’s supervisor Jim Roache. The very next day, the lights went down on the dancing Winkies, and Fred made an angry statement you caught on tape about not taking any more godamned parolees.

Temper, temper…

***

And then, tonight, into my Yahoo box, comes your freshly composed missive, a dispatch from the front lines, written from a foxhole in The Parole Wars. Ellen is State Representative Ellen Story. Fred is the good Fred in your life, (your country doctor father was another) a wise, chatty, and politically wily saint  who runs the Catholic homeless shelter you volunteer at one day a week, helping him write fund-raising grants. The email is a paper airplane tossed over the wall of fear and loathing, a crumpled Origami stork that really, really wants to fly, your Last Chance Gas For The Next Hundred Miles sign.

Ellen and Fred:

I’m writing to both of you for two reasons: I can’t wait until you meet each other. You’re both simultaneously brave and wise. You’re both also the only two people on the ‘inside’ of various aspects of this world I’m in who have helped me steadily–without hesitation.At this moment, I’m right back to feeling the anger and defeat I so often felt in prison. The sensation that comes when unhealthy, assertive idiots operate on the same level as the school yard bully. They’ve cornered me and are demanding all I’ve got that’s good because they’re in charge and no matter what I do or say, I’m simply not good enough.I just completed my (forced) interview with the Kingston House. A place where it will require serious luck and negotiations to be allowed out for two weeks, to have a cell phone, a computer. I’m going to go there because I am being forced onto the bracelet if I go to Clean Slate despite the fact that Clean Slate is no different than Sally’s Place. To keep the illogic flowing, I can’t go there because it will take too many days to get the bracelet up and operating. Clean Slate can’t hold the bed. More illogic? Based upon my parole stipulations, the bracelet starts when my program ends. Therefore, the logical question would be: Does that imply that I’ve completed the required program? May I simply be ‘out’ on the bracelet? To that rational question comes the answer: “Pippin–this is not up to you. We can do what we want.” I suspect that, like everything else, isn’t true.Here’s the real reason I’m so completely beat and outraged: For absolutely no clear or violative reason, Bonnie and Fred are doing this to shut me up. What’s happening is illustrative of exactly what’s wrong, the stuff that all the Top-dogs are espousing needs to be changed. And yet, as we know, Ellen, the Top-dogs aren’t willing to speak up. They are refusing to believe this is actually happening: I am happy, healthy, sober, busy, successful and these people are doing everything they can to break me down. I’ll get through it. I won’t break. But—wow—what a violation this is of me! The Kingston House is low security prison. No privacy. No cooking. A 9:30 curfew. A bunk-bed with a locked footlocker for my clothes and possessions.For what factual and grounded reason are they doing this to me? That’s the ugliest question of this entire experience: I broke what rule? What law? I did what drug? I did what to hurt whom? Make that—I did what? And with that question that I have easily asked thirty times in the past week, there is never a clear, rational answer.Fred–if there’s anything you can do to soften the Kingston House blow—a parole officer willing to shorten my stay? Someone there who can be asked if I may receive the degree of ‘freedom’ received by people who’ve been there a while?Ellen—call the president!

Yes–I will get through this. I’ll find the same peace and productivity I did in prison. I will also transcribe the tape recordings I have of Bonnie and Fred being contradictory, dysfunctional liars and make it so they lose their jobs as examples of how not to do what they—and so many people like them—are doing.

Thank you for listening.

My loving respect and gratitude to both of you.