One night in October 2005, I was returning from Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego. I saw one of my old friends, Big T, who was a known crack dealer. He was standing on the corner of 13th and G Street with several guys. He called my name after seeing me walk toward my car, so I stopped to shake hands. A few more guys noticed me and joined in on the reunion. I was hanging out with them.
Once I became aware of how much time had passed, I bid everyone farewell and took off. However, on my way out, I was approached by Mike, who was in the reunion crowd. He wanted me to “cop” from Big T for him. “Curt Dog, I know that you and Big T are cool. For this 50 dollars, he will give you double what he will give to me. I need for you to get it for me.”
I looked Mike in the eye and snatched the money from his hand. I didn’t want to think about it too long, so I headed back toward Big T. Big T was hesitant, because he knew that I no longer used. “Who are you getting this for?” he asked. He looked around, smiling suspiciously, trying to figure out who. It was common for people to use go-betweens in better standings with the dealers in order to get larger quantities. Big T was used to this, so he didn’t argue with me. He handed me the dope, and I headed back over to Mike, who was waiting across the street. Just then a police cruiser came by. They looked right at me, and I knew they were going to turn around, so I threw the dope down and walked quickly away from it. They pulled up on me hard and fast. “Hey, you!”
The cop said that he was looking at me because I wasn’t a familiar face in the area. He also said that he saw me throw something down. The police back-tracked my steps and found the drugs. I was devastated. I was charged with possession of a controlled substance and faced 25 years to life under the three-strikes law. If it weren’t for the fact that I had been crime-free for the past five years, I wouldn’t be here to talk about it today.
After doing my time, I took a bus to San Diego from Pelican Bay. Once in town, I had to report to my parole agent within 24 hours or a warrant would be issued for my arrest. Since I did not have a stable address that I could be supervised from, I was placed into a residential reentry program. It’s considered a “savings program.” The residents are required to obtain employment and then to turn in 75 percent of their earnings (per paycheck), until they feel that they have saved enough to make it on their own. They can stay for up to a year.
There are two of these programs in downtown San Diego. One, the Volunteers of America (VOA), is located at 11th and G Street. The other is located in Barrio Logan on 17th and National Avenue. It’s called Module X, but the parolees call it Bachelor Flats, which, many years ago, before the state took over, was the name of a popular nightclub.
Arriving at Bachelor Flats, I faced the same people and living situation that I had in prison, but worse. There were four guys to a room instead of two. I had to follow many rules. Few people appeared to be taking the program for what it was worth. Guys drank, did drugs, broke curfew, and got kicked out for everything in the book.
I did get a job as a telemarketer, but I didn’t turn in my first three paychecks, and when they kicked me out for that, I was happy. In late July of 2008, I left the program with about $600 and rented a room in downtown San Diego at the C Street Inn. It was an old building occupied by roaches and SSI recipients with medical issues, but it was mine. If you had a job, curfew at the program had been 8:00 or 10:00 p.m., so I walked around downtown until midnight, just to feel what it was like to stay out that late. I stayed up until 4:00 a.m. and took the next day off work, spending money to eat out, and enjoying my freedom.
Before the next month was up, however, the cost of living kicked in. Because I’d left the program, I now had to pay for my own food, laundry, rent, bus pass, and clothes. I rented my room by the week for $180, and my weekly paycheck was $280. Besides my cigarette-smoking habit, I had to eat out every day. I eventually got backed up on rent, and that’s when the reality of my bad decision to leave the program set in. The hotel management started calling me every day at work to inquire about past-due weekly payments. To get caught up, I would have to give up my entire next five paychecks. Confronted with this dilemma, I was forced to make a choice, immediately.
I could turn back to the streets as a drug dealer or return to the program and stay. I knew I could never make it selling drugs because I’m too paranoid. Drug addicts are unpredictable; plus, I think everybody is police nowadays. Besides that, I might be tempted to use again. I had to go back to the program.
It had been almost five months since I left Bachelor Flats. I thought about how much money I would have saved by now, and that motivated me, so I called my parole officer, Agent Lopez, to see if he could help. He told me that the program was priority for new releases, and that he might have to pull some strings to make it happen. But he was glad I wanted to try again. I was really hoping he could pull that off for me, because my back-up plan was self-destructive. A few days went by, and just as I began to worry, Agent Lopez contacted me with the good news: “Whenever you’re ready!” he said.