I realized just today that I’ve failed to talk about the joys of probation in a while. I plan to remedy that today.
Once a month I am ordered to appear at one of about fifteen offices in Los Angeles county. I never was transferred to Orange County like they said and when I moved to LA county two months ago, they were happy to tell me I now can’t leave. Not even to visit family in Orange County. “I’m just trying to keep you safe” my probation officer told me.
I’ve only met my probation officer once. He was not assigned to me until months after my sentence, so the first (and only) time we laid eyes on each other, he was looking down at a paper that said that all of my probation requirements (save three days of CalTrans) were already completed. I’m assuming this is the reason they assigned me to an officer in Pasadena even though I live in Anaheim at the time.
“Don’t come see me unless I ask you to, y’hear?” he sternly warned me.
So, my monthly visits are with a machine, not a person.I try not to time it with my PMS. Not that the machine would really care.
The first day I appeared in the probation office I went to the central office on the corner of Crenshaw and Exposition. I waited an hour and a half to be seen and then was told I needed to repent.
After my sunday school lesson, the officer took my hand and placed it in a machine. A different machine than the lifescan one or the fingerprint one (yes… I’m all up in your tax funded system). This one had metal spokes sticking out that were supposed to (uncomfortably) direct your fingers.
I was instructed to stick my hand in one of these machines every month in the lobby. Seemed simple enough.
“Please insert your card…” it tells me. I know that every time I do it says “Your card cannot be read. Please insert your card…” So I have taken to pressing the button that says “No Card” and entering my x number by hand. I find it ironic that all of us criminals have “x” numbers. Like x marks the spot? Or generation x? And, again.. this number is not my social security number, or the number assigned to me as a booking number when I was in jail. Or the number assigned to me for my court case. You’d think these departments could streamline things…
After I enter my x number I am told to insert my hand. Here’s where it gets interesting. I’ve kept some scientific data… of the eleven times I have had to report in (three times two months ago), the machine has failed to recognize my hand all but three times.
I mention the three times two months ago because I got tired of the systems achingly slow procedure and decided to leave the building before I could speak to someone. I figured I’d just try a different office to see if my hand would work in their machine. No such luck and the only time my PO has ever called me occurred about two weeks later.
“Ms. McCall… I have three incompletes here for you. This is not good. You have to check in when you are at the office.” I explained that the machine couldn’t recognize me. “That’s no matter. You MUST tell the clerk at the window and have a seat and wait for the officer of the day to come and see you. If not, you get an incomplete.”
I have not done this in the past because I know something he seems to think isn’t a big deal. Most probationers have a probation officer in the office they can see if there’s a problem. Because I have one in Pasadena (where there are no machines), I have to see the “officer of the day.” In layman’s terms, this means I could end up waiting ALL DAY LONG.
So this month, I walked into the Crenshaw probation office. I removed my belt, deposited my wallet and keys and belt in the little tray for the security officer an walked through the metal detector. The other officer used his wand because I beeped. Damn beeps. I think it was my bra. I was cleared as non-threatening and proceeded quickly to the “kiosk” to feed it my hand.
I entered my x-number like a pro and then the dreaded response to my hand “Your identification cannot be verified. Please notify the clerk.”
After waiting in line for 20 minutes, I notified the clerk, a very sweet woman with an obvious weave, some green braids and twice as long as my nose green and silver fingernails. “Honey… you gotsa wash your hands and try it again. Don’t come back here unless it says you can’t be reco’nized three times.”
Despite the fact that I know my hands are clean, I wash them in the grimey drug testing bathroom. Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat.
Still, the kiosk thinks I’m a stand-in.
“Ma’am… it still won’t take my hand.”
The woman’s sighs deeply. “What’s your x number? I’ll notify the officer of the day.”
I give it to her and grab the form she hands me that reports my presence. I have a seat in the plastic connected benches next to a woman who is thinner than my pinkie and wearing nothing more than a pair of biker shorts and a bra. She’s asleep, snoring loudly. The man in front of me is sporting a healthy plumber’s crack and a tattoo on the back of his neck that says “Freak.” The man behind me is three times my size. I don’t look at him but I can hear his heavy snores.
“Have you been arrested since your past checkin?”
“List all names and ages of minor children and all children living with you.”
“If you are required to report under Megan’s Law…”
I fill everything out in dull pencil. And then I sit. And wait. Time turns into molasses. People come and go. Everyone I sat down with is seen. But I am not.
I am invisible. A woman caught in a system that doesn’t know what to do with her. I barely can comprehend I am even here still… nine months later. Is this the bastard child I’ve borne?
Two and a half hours go by. Children cry. Gangsters cuss each other out over cell phones. P.O.s come and go. Every probation pays their homage of submission.
Still, nobody comes for the midwife.
Eventually… three hours… I’m on the verge of tears like I always am in this cold world of everyone is forgotten. I’m willing to risk being brow beaten by my own probation officer. I stop one last time at the clerk’s window.
There is a new, younger, less green woman working the window. I give her my x number and tell her I’m concerned I might have been forgotten.
“I don’t even see you on the list, honey. Have a seat. We didn’t even have you listed. Someone will see you real soon.”
Reluctantly, I sit again. This time I am sitting between a mother with a small snotty nosed child that is incredibly well behaved and an old gentleman with a cane. Within 15 minutes my name is called.
“McCall!” yells the thin officer, her hair in a to tight bun. I hand her the paper I filled out. “OK, thanks. You can go.”
No ID check, no fingerprints, no hand scan. Nothing. I’ve never seen this woman in my life. I waited over three hours for her to say she… didn’t even know if I was me?