Joe Jackson didn't like the crowded, sparsely furnished and decidedly cheerless house run by the city at 1430 G St. NE. He was unhappy with the curfew rules and complained about the lack of a basketball court. He found it difficult to get up early in the morning and look for work.
And he said he was intimidated by the constant threat of being sent back to jail if he broke any of the house rules.
Yet, it wasn't jail, and for that Jackson was glad.
Jackson, like about 1,300 other inmates each year, had moved through the limbo of a D.C. halfway house for criminal offenders -- a way station between jail and the streets.
Jackson, 32, spent two months at the D.C.-run Lorton Prison for possession of heroin and one month at the halfway house.
Each weekday for four weeks, he looked for work, because a rigid rule of the house requires each resident to get a job. Two days before his sentence was up, he finally managed to get an interview for a stock clerk job.
The house on G Street, known officially as Community Correctional Center No. 3, is one of three houses run by the Department of Corrections.
It is the last halfway house, opened by the city 12 years ago, before community opposition blocked additional residences. There also are five halfway homes operated by private contractors.
The G Street facility usually houses 45 prisoners. Last month the population rose to 89 when prison officals, under court order to reduce the D.C. Jail's population, moved more than 200 inmates from that facility into halfway houses. On Friday, 64 inmates were living in the house. Forty beds were added by turning each into a bunk bed.
The crowded bedrooms resemble the dormitories at both Lorton and the D.C. Jail.
There are no closets for clothes -- shirts and pants hang from nails on the wall. There is a large institutional-style bathroom on each floor and a basement recreational room, which is furnished with folding chairs, a pool table and two pay phones.
The rules are rigidly enforced. According to corrections officials, 60 percent of the prisoners sent to the houses make it through the average three-month stay. Those who don't make it because they failed to get a job, broke curfew, used drugs or alcohol, escaped from the facility or committed new crimes are returned to jail to finish out their sentences.
The recidivism rate for those making it through the houses is between 15 percent and 20 percent, according to corrections officials.
Jackson said that at least five of his buddies at the halfway house were sent back to jail for drug violations. "One day they are there, and the next they are gone," he said. "They are real strict about dirty urine [evidence of drugs found during urine tests]."
He said he was continually pressured to find work. "They hang that thing about going back to jail over your head all of time," he said. "I can't come out here and put a pistol to someone's head and say, 'Give me a job.' "
Harry Walsh, chief of community corrections centers for the Department of Corrections, was sympathetic.
"We are trying to judge the ghetto, inner-city resident by middle-class values," Walsh said.
"Curfews, no alcohol, no drugs and getting a job are middle-class standards." he said.
"These are standards they are not used to." he said. "We find inmates at Lorton who don't want to go to a halfway house because of the supervision. They say it is too much pressure and they can't handle it."
The halfway house residents are "not the cream of the crop" of the prison population, Walsh said.
"The cream gets out on parole," he said.
"What we get in our halfway houses is a cross section of any institution. Some are very diffcult to deal with. We end up being a testing ground for the parole board. Those who look like good candidates for the straight life we keep, and the others we return. It is better to find out while they are in a halfway house."
Walsh is quick to point out that of the 40 percent who fail to meet the halfway house standards, only 9 percent are sent back because they are rearrested.
E. Cordelia Mapp, director of the G Street house, said they try to be good neighbors and become involved in such activities as street cleanups and clothing and toy drives.
Mapp also teaches a ceramics class that is open to neighbors.
Mapp said that residents of the house are encouraged to help D.C. council member Nadine Winter, whose Ward 6 includes the G Street house, on community projects.
"We make ourselves visible in the community," Mapp said. "We determined that there will be only so many negative things anyone can say about us."
Mapp said that to get community approval for the halfway house, corrections officials agreed that anyone convicted of murder or rape would not be admitted.
The house, which has no bars on the windows or doors, looks very much like the small apartment building it once was.
But the front door is locked, and anyone arriving or leaving has to be buzzed in and out.
On a weekday, few residents are actually in the building. Most are either seeking a job, attending school or working. The few who are left in the house are sleeping, watching TV or playing pool.
A resident works his way through a series of steps that at first allow him out only for job interviews, to the most liberal schedule of maintaining a job and having "social passes" for evenings out and weekends away.
The much-prized passes can be taken away for such violations as returning to the house more than 15 minutes late, failing a urine test for drugs and alcohol or not making a bed.
Jackson was supplied with two bus tokens to use while looking for work. In order to save them for an emergency, he walked the mile from the halfway house to a downtown employment center.
He was referred to yet another employment center in far Southeast. Reluctantly, he used a bus token.
He said he didn't have much hope of finding work because of his drug convictions and lack of work experience.
After waiting three hours at the second center, he saw a job counselor and left triumphantly, holding a letter of introduction to a discount house where he might find work as a stock clerk.
Getting on the bus for the return trip to the halfway house, Jackson got a transfer and instructed his companion to do likewise.
"You never know who might need one of these," he said. Minutes later, as the bus stopped to pick up passengers, a woman reached through the window next to Jackson, waving her hand at him.
"Gimme a transfer," she yelled. "Please God, somebody give me a transfer." Jackson hesitated and then shook his head no.
"I have to be careful now," he said. "That would be enough to send me back to jail."
Jackson said that his two jail sentences over a three-year period, plus the one month in the halfway house, made him think twice about selling and using drugs.
"I sold marijuana for two or three years before they the police stopped me," Jackson said.
"They thought I was someone else. They found all the stuff in my pockets. I said, 'Oh, no!' and they said 'Oh, yes!' "
Jackson said that on the second charge, which was for heroin, he was set up by an acquaintance. But he said he took the jail sentence rather than snitch.
"That was a learning experience, being in jail," said Jackson. "Just thinking about jail is enough to keep me away from drugs. It chases me away. If they give me that job, they don't have to worry about me. I'm safe. I ain't going nowhere, leastways back to jail."
Jackson left the halfway house Sunday and moved in with his sister and her family in a crowded public housing apartment in Congress Heights.
Jackson said that he is enjoying the luxury of sleeping late, partying with his friends and visiting with his daughter, who lives in Maryland.
Since his release, he has worked one day moving furniture and earned $38, which he considered too little for his efforts. "They can keep that job," he said.
As to the job as a stock clerk, he said, "I'm still waiting for that dude to call me from the discount store. He told me not to call him, that he would call me."