And on it goes.
One parolee’s father was a pimp and a drug dealer. Another parolee, at four, watched his father commit a murder, then a year later lost his mother when she was pushed from a moving car and died. In another case, the parolee’s mother was a prostitute and his father her customer. The woman had five children by different men, and the family lived with 27 other people in a two-bedroom apartment. By the age of 12, the youngster had taken to the streets. Some young people have spent years being starved; some suffer from chronic malnutrition.
And on it goes.
Kids from stable backgrounds are less likely to go into crime, but dysfunction comes in all racial shades and from all socioeconomic classes. Pauley recalls one parolee whose mother was a Ph.D. cancer researcher and his father the president of a large corporation. “Meanwhile, the young man had been sexually abused by his older brother from the age of 3. By the time he was 14, he had a lot of anger.”
Pauley often sees delinquency linked to a failure in parenting. It is a cautionary formula he takes personally. For himself, he says, “The most important thing I do is the way in which I treat my wife and children.” Pauley’s wife, Catherine, is a third-grade teacher, and together they are raising their nine-year-old daughter and four- and seven-year-old sons in a bilingual household where Spanish and English are spoken.
“We want our children to get a sense of how complex the world is and to have some of the skills to participate in its multiplicity. We see that as our job.”
Pauley heads Volunteers in Parole with the same attention to detail that he brings to his role as husband and father. And just as he sees that the overall goal of partners and parents is to engage in loving and responsible behavior that influences all parties within the family, so he points to what his work is meant to do. It is a simple prescription: reduce crime and violence in the world.
“New parolees come into my office defensive and wary. San Diego hosts one of the few VIP pen pal programs, and they may have participated in that, but when we meet face-to-face, I explain that although we are housed in the same building as the county’s parole officers, VIP has nothing to do with the California Youth Authority. What we do is strictly voluntary.”
New parolees are told involvement with Volunteers in Parole will make no difference on their records. But it may, Pauley says, help make a difference in their lives. He describes their mentor, scholarship, and community-education programs; he mentions the free tickets the group gets to movies and sporting events.
“They have to understand that they have a right to the privileges of living in society. I explain that they can get up in the middle of the night and go to the refrigerator, get a license and drive a car, get a good job, and wear nice clothes. They have a right to expect that they will not be injured or hurt. And they must understand that they cannot hurt or injure others.”
Pauley is specific on this point. By “not hurting people anymore,” he explains, he means neither physically nor financially nor emotionally.
“If they can commit to this, I tell them that we’ll help them any way we can.”
In the classes on criminal justice that Pauley teaches as an adjunct professor at San Diego State University, he puts it to his students that if the goal is to keep innocent people from being victimized, there are only three choices. “Our first choice is to kill the criminal, and the second is lock them away forever. But, clearly, as neither of these is going to keep the vast majority of former offenders from eventually returning to society, we are left with the third and only feasible option. This is to treat the new releases in ways that insure they will not hurt people again.
“This means that we have to provide them with ways of handling the incredible stresses that occur once they leave incarceration. We have to help and support them in their efforts to find employment. We need to make schooling available to them. Many parolees have nowhere to go, and we need to help them find places to live. Finally, many are returning to the same communities and the same relationships that helped to put them behind bars in the first place. We need to work with them on their people skills, their relationships.”
Pauley has a favorite story of a young parolee he met in 1984 — one of his first relationships in the program — for whom all the right circumstances came together. (In this account, like a few others, names and details have been changed where requested. Those asking for anonymity cite the possibility of gang reprisal, embarrassment of family members, and fear of problems in the workplace.)
In 1985, Jamal Mars won VIP’s outstanding achievement award, and four years later, Pauley was on hand to walk Mars’s fiancée down the aisle of a tiny Catholic chapel in National City.
Mars, now 36, never knew his black father and had a love-hate relationship with his white mother. His run-ins with the law began early. When he was 5, he slammed another child against the head with his lunch box and was sent to a foster group home. For the four years he was there, he says, he “lived under an administrative structure set up to get me to sit at a certain place, to eat at a certain time, to go to bed. When I got out, no single person had the skills or the muscle to take over the duties of 20 paid staff, so I ran the streets and got into trouble.”
He was sent to Green Valley Ranch in Ramona. Upon his release, his violent, antisocial behavior reappeared and escalated. He was sent to mental institutions; he was put on drugs. Nothing worked.