Solemn and stoic, former Michigan representative Charles C. Diggs Jr., convicted in a $60,000 congressional payroll kickback scheme, checked out of an Alabama prison yesterday and into a Northwest Washington halfway house for prisoners awaiting parole.
Diggs, once the senior black member in the House and former chairman of the House District Committee, will be eligible for parole on May 25, less than one year after he first entered prison. But first he must successfully complete a three-month reentry program into society.
While living at the privately owned, two-story red brick colonial halfway house at 1770 Park Rd. NW, Diggs will be permitted to come and go as he pleases during the day, look for a job and go to work, visit his family here and go shopping if he wishes.
But the former congressman, who has served seven months of a three-year sentence, will also have to take his turn sweeping the floors and washing dishes at the halfway house. He will face periodic drug testing even though he was never convicted of drug abuse and have a 10 p.m. curfew that will be extended to midnight when he finds a job.
Diggs kept his views on his stay in a federal prison in Montgomery to himself. He dodged reporters as he entered the halfway house, located in an increasingly upper-middle-class neighborhood of large Victorian, Federalist and Colonial homes, several undergoing renovation.
"The residents think the situation is kind of funny," said Paulette Clayton, Diggs' newly appointed counselor, as two residents nearly grumbled about the attention they said Diggs would get. They were told by another counselor that he would be treated just like one of the 20 other male residents.
"He didn't meet many of the residents because many residents here have jobs," said Clayton, who said Diggs was pleasant and looked like a businessman in his dark suit. "But the guys won't be pushy: he could stay here his entire length of time and have no interaction with them.
Diggs' first encounter was a brief one, according to staff members and several residents at the halfway house, called Shaw One. One counselor said that while a friend waited outside in a car, Diggs was "briefed" about the house rules, met his counselor and then checked out for a destination that counselors refused to disclose. But one of his friends said Diggs went home to be near his family. Diggs could not be reached for comment.
News of his homecoming drew warm responses from Washington's black political leaders yesterday and several said they would help close ranks around the man they respected for his legislative ability despite his trouble in the kickback scheme.
Former D.C. City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker described Diggs as a friend of the city, saying, "He has a lot of friends here, and I am one of them. He worked very closely on the Home Rule movement here and had it not been for his leadership ushering the Home Rule Bill through Congress, it would not have passed. Diggs, as chairman of the House subcommittee on Africa, was loved in Africa. Before it was Andy Young, they praised Charles Diggs because his ideals and goals matched those of Black Africa and people in the District."
Randall Robinson, once Diggs' administrative assistant and now head of Transafrica, a lobby for African and Carribbean interests in the U.S., said he hopes that Diggs would be successful in finding a job to match his expertise. Under halfway house rules, Diggs must find a job before he can be released.
"If Charlie Diggs made any mistakes, he has certainly paid for those mistakes," Robinson said. "As far as I am concerned, he is home and very much welcomed home."
At the halfway house, several other residents sat in the tidy lounge watching mid-afternoon soap operas. "I'm not impressed with him," said one resident who asked not to be identified because he had been told earlier not to talk to reporters. "He ain't been locked up but a few months. I ain't angry, but it just goes to show you.
"If you have contacts and money, you got it easy," he said, shaking his head. "Money talks."