Follow a day in the life of a parole agent
(Editor’s note: Newscam, a publication of what was then known as the Department of Corrections, published a story on a Day in the Life of a parole agent on Oct. 13, 1975. Read about his parole agent son in this updated story.)
Harvey Watson has just returned from vacation.
He signs in and removes a litter of pink telephone messages from his mailbox.
In his office, an in-basket overflows with pre-parole case files. Several stacks of paper cover most of the remaining desk top. Watson surveys the scene glumly.
“How was your vacation, Harvey?” someone asks.
“Great. First time I’ve ever taken three whole weeks off,” Watson responds. “Man, I really needed it.”
Watson sorts through the piles, separating the urgent from the merely important. He scans several reports, shaking his head. Several of his clients have been arrested during his absence.
He shuffles through the mound of telephone messages, making several calls. He has a casual, relaxed tone talking to men on his caseload.
He has an incoming call. The man has had his car repaired but it still doesn’t run. He’s not getting any satisfaction from the garage where he took it. They’ve promised to pick up the car and get it fixed right, but they never show up. He wants agent Watson to straighten out the situation.
Watson says he’ll stop by in a little while and talk to him about it.
“Some of these guys think you can do a lot more for them than you can,” Watson says.
Then it’s time to make some field calls. After a quick gulp of coffee, he’s off.
Watson’s territory covers a lot of south central Los Angeles. Not exactly Watts, but it’s hard to tell the difference. Juvenile gangs have chalked or painted their credos on walls and fences. Most businesses and many residences have iron grill-work protecting the windows.
Watson admits he wouldn’t want to live here.
“It must be rough being a parole agent in this area, Harvey,” someone says.
“Well, it can get depressing sometimes,” Watson responds.
Watson recalls his 11 years with the Department – the first eight as a correctional officer. He’s been a parole agent since 1972. He’s 40 now, on the Parole Agent II list, and hoping to make the promotion.
He wheels to the curb in front of a decaying frame house. A barking dog, chained to the front porch, announces his arrival.
This is the home of the man with the car problem.
The dog is hushed and Watson is invited inside. Four cats prowl the premises. A large framed portrait of John F. Kennedy and a large bowl of artificial flowers dominate the living room.
The man’s wife is cordial but in ill health. Watson listens to the recap of their problems. He hears the parolee allege that he has quit drinking and gambling. Things are better, except for this car business, he claims.
Watson suggests he call the garage again. The man does and gets assurances the car will be picked up today. He shows Watson receipts for $1,100 he has already spent on repair for the inoperable vehicle. Watson is appalled, saying he will contact the mechanic if the car isn’t taken care of correctly this time.
Then, it’s on to the next stop.
There is a sagging duplex located behind a grey apartment complex. No one is home. Watson leaves a card and a note.
His third call is in a noticeably different area. Here the lawns are tidy, the streets quiet and the middle-class homes are carefully maintained.
The parolee who answers his knock is young, handsome and self-confident. But he lost his job when the employer found out he had a criminal record because he thought he couldn’t bond him.
Watson explains he could have arranged for bonding. But the parolee didn’t know that. Watson was on vacation when it happened.
The man has a potential job lined up but he’d like Watson to go along with him on the interview. Watson agrees to do so.
The parolee explains he has moved back into his parents’ house temporarily until he and his wife “work things out.”
After a brief discussion of the man’s marital problems, Watson leaves. The parolee returns to watching a TV soap opera.
“The trouble with a lot of these guys is that they don’t know how to handle their problems,” Watson says. “If you had time, you could do a lot of things.”
Watson suddenly pulls to the curb and makes a U-turn. He has just spotted a parolee standing in front of a store. He gets out and the man greets him. He says he has a case pending and they discuss it.
Then it’s back to the car and a quick lunch stop.
“It’s easy to work 12 to 14 hours a day. Lots of time I stay at the office until 6:30 or 7 at night,” Watson says. “It’s the only time I can get caught up on dictation. Besides, I beat most of the traffic that way.”
The next call is to check out a residence for an interstate case. Another building in the rear, another chained, flea-infested dog.
The teenager who answers the door flees. A sleepy-eyed man emerges. Watson identifies himself and he is allowed inside. The man calls his wife. She enters from another room and takes over the discussion. Yes, they are prepared to give the interstate parolee – her husband’s brother – a place to live. Not only that, but she has two jobs lined up for him, maybe a third. Watson tells her she ought to be working for paroles. She laughs and becomes much friendlier.
At the next stop, a young man from a youth training school is home, but uncommunicative. Watson tries to interest him in school, or opportunities in vocational training, but without success. He is visibly eager for the agent to leave. Watson obliges.
“The cases coming out now are getting younger all the time and they’ve been charged with much more aggressive crimes. This guy won’t make it,” Watson says. “I know that already. But you can’t beat them over the head with things. They have to want to do something themselves.”
The next stop is another residence check for a man incarcerated in Texas. His release plan states he has a residence and job offer with a Los Angeles drug abuse program. The program is one of several “kick pads” which proliferate in the area.
Watson is shown to the office of the administrator, who is wearing a heat for some reason. The man says the Texas inmate’s name sounds familiar but a search of the files reveals nothing. “Well, no problem. Tell him to come along. We always do what we can for all the brothers,” he says.
Watson thanks him for his time. Outside the building, he makes some notes. This is one he is turning down.
One more call.
Watson steps past an inebriated man sleeping it off in a chair on the front porch. A young and anxious parolee comes to the door and shows Watson in.
The apartment is decorated with religious statues and a painting of Christ. The man mentions he is living with his grandparents. Grandpa was on the front porch.
The parolee is worried about a rape case he has pending. His version is considerably different from the alleged victim’s but in this instance, Watson believes the parolee’s story is accurate. They discuss the hearing and Watson promises his assistance.
By now, it’s too late to make a jail call. On his way back to the office, Watson assesses his job.
The good and the bad
“The hardest part is making arrests,” Watson says. “The best part is to see people change, to know you’ve helped. They don’t forget when you go to bat for them.”
His wife doesn’t like the hours he works sometimes, but he plans to stay with it.
“I like the freedom, the independence. Nobody’s riding your back all the time and you can get a lot more involved with the people you work with,” he says.
He parks behind the Unit No. 2 office on Eighth Street. Back in the unit, more phone messages and more files are accumulating.
He has touched bases today with five of his parolees. There are 50 more he’ll need to contact to get up to date.
But now, it’s time to start catching up on paperwork.
Parole agent Watson takes off his coat and plugs in his dictating machine.