Recognizing that there are many people in this city who are tired of "negative" news about black people, it is with some regret that I bring you this update about Jerry Williams, the Lorton inmate whose progress I periodically monitored after his parole in January. Williams is back in jail.
In my last account of Williams in May, I gave him an upbeat send-off entitled, "Free to work," because he had found a job as a landscaper with the D.C. Department of Recreation.
In retrospect, what I had done was naive. Spotlighting the man until he appeared to be getting better, then forgetting him just did not work.
Now I never saw myself as the man's baby sitter, and certainly do not think that as a community we should set up a parolee day-care center and nurse every inmate at Lorton and the D.C. Jail back to good mental health.
Yet, to stem the 65 percent recidivism rate within the District's criminal justice system requires supporting these men through some predictable "weak periods" that they are known to go through.
Following Williams around for a few months, it was clear that he was going to have problems. After serving seven years at Lorton for burglary, he had returned to a city where the only thing that had not changed was the powerful influence of the underworld.
Although he had found "religion" in prison through the many charitable church groups that came to visit, he discovered that once on the outside, those same church folk wanted nothing to do with him.
When Williams was feeling depressed and in need of alcohol and drugs, it was very difficult for him to find someone to talk to who really cared. The only people who knew what he was going through were his old friends from the streets who knew exactly where to find the solace he craved.
To be sure, he had a parole officer, Maurice Hall, and it was through Hall's diligent checks on Williams that an arrest warrant was issued as soon as the parolee began to falter.
But parolees have special problems that go beyond checking in with the authorities and offering urine samples for drug tests.
In Virginia, there is what is called the Community Diversion Incentive Program that offers intensive counseling of parolees three times a week for up to five years and offers an effective job placement program. Even Virginia's hang 'em high judges like the program because it allows them to do their thing on criminals who really deserve the heavy hand.
But in the District, the parolee is virtually on his own.
He could go to Bonabond Inc., a third-party custody outfit that offers counseling for parolees. But the group's 10 counselors already have a caseload of 910. He could go to one of the city's handful of halfway houses, and find that it, too, is overcrowded.
Then, again, he could try somebody's church. But he should be warned to enter at his own risk.
This is, indeed, bad news for the black community, because the inmates -- if they don't die in prison -- will eventually return to the neighborhoods from which they came.
Williams, 30, was arrested last week on a burglary charge, and when police ran a background check they discovered that he was wanted for a parole violation. A routine drug test revealed that Williams had used cocaine and PCP.
If he doesn't get some kind of a break, which is now unlikely, he will return to Lorton. But he is young. So when he comes out the next time he will have earned the equivalent of a doctoral degree in crime. Lorton is just another crime factory, and the large number of city residents who have or have had relatives in there know it.
The issue is how to keep former prisoners from using those criminal skills and help them develop other ones. The fact that one out of every 26 black men in this city is now in prison, according to city penal statistics, suggests that more needs to be done than building a new prison, unless, of course, we are merely planning for their return once they are paroled.