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Even After Prison, Dreams Live On For Parolees

Rick Green

August 08, 2008

Urine day.

That's once a week, if you are on parole like Tjayda T. Jones, the ex-con with the hot dog cart dream.

So this 42-year-old man with the unlikely, noble reverie goes to meet with his parole officer at the Wethersfield police station, to offer up another sample and prove that he's still clean, still worthy, still deserving of yet another chance.

You know right away, because it's an instant result, like with one of those drugstore pregnancy test kits. Fail, and there's big trouble with Correction: maybe a ticket to prison or a trip to rehab.

We wait in the station lobby, surrounded by ex- (and likely future) offenders, before the call to the restroom with the parole officer, who must personally observe the sampling. There's a lot of braided hair and tattoos, but also a very suburban looking dad in shorts and running shoes and another man, standing out in his crisp uniform from one of those oil-changing places.

Ankle bracelets all around.

It's like buddies from high school running into each other. Except the jokes are about jail. Every so often there's a quiet beep from a GPS device, the black boxes that track the movement of recently released felons.

"I finally got a job," a young man tells us, outside, where Jones has gone to smoke a cigarette, a "bogie," in prison-speak. It's at a grocery warehouse near the airport, an hour bus ride each way. But it's a place that hires a lot of prisoners re-entering the working world and where they care if you show up on time, not if you've got a record. "Took me a month."

Jones, with half a life of drug arrests and prison time under his belt, is still looking. He's been out since June.

He's got an application in to a service station in the North End and another at a warehouse in Bloomfield. A man with a construction company gave him a few days work last month, but there hasn't been anything permanent.

There are few job possibilities where a prior arrest record isn't topic A. Most places these days don't want anything to do with a man with a felony record, even if it's for nonviolent drug arrests. Jones has plenty of those.

"When they ask if you've ever been convicted, I say yes," Jones tells me when I ask how he deals with his long record and lifetime battle with addiction. "Then I put down I'd like to discuss it further in the interview."

That is, if there is an interview.

"You've got to swallow your pride and get whatever you can get," Jones' parole officer tells him.

Most of the state and federally funded programs that try to line up ex-cons with jobs are overwhelmed these days. "There's nothing out there," the mother of a 27-year-old recently released man told me when she called me in frustration this week, having read my other columns about Jones. Nobody wants somebody with an arrest record, she explained.

Unlikely as it seems, this reality hasn't diminished Jones' prophecy: a drug-free, stable life somewhere in the Hartford area, peddling hot dogs.

A guy tells you this, dead serious in the face of all that's out there, how do you disagree?

"Before," he tells me and that's before he went to jail for the last one-year stretch, before this hog dog cart dream, before this grasp at a final shot "I'm doing what I got to do."

Dealing. Using.

But now, "I know I can't get high," Jones explains to me. "That would lead me down into the same agony.

"Go back to that? I'm going to have my own business, rather than be that guy in the hallway with a pocketful of drugs, not knowing when the police was going to come."

So when he walks out of the bathroom at the police department, Jones is smiling and waving me over.

He's clean. The dream lives.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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