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TOUGH PROGRAM GIVES PAROLEES A NEW START

Three women and 20 men, "graduates" of the shock prison in Lakeview or a local drug treatment center, meet each Friday in Room 7 of the General Donovan State Office Building in Buffalo.

The sessions are part of the intensive parole supervision they receive as part of the "After Shock" program.

The success of the shock camps has been well-publicized, but not much credit has been given to the programs that follow graduation from the Lakeview Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility.

The purpose of After Shock is to encourage and support the parolees who have signed a contract to follow the rules of their parole. Failure to follow them is cause for return to prison.

Henry Conforti, a husky 59-year-old with 31 years service in the state Probation Department, has charge of Buffalo-area After Shock parolees.

"For many, Shock and After Shock is their first experience with people who took an interest in them," he said.

"No one before ever said 'no' to them, 'No smoking marijuana,' 'No crack,' 'No sleeping in a different place each night,' 'No bar visits or getting drunk,' " Conforti said.

Do parolees, faced with strict rule restrictions, ever hassle him?

"That would be like hitting Santa Claus," Conforti responded. "We work to keep them out of trouble."

But Conforti always stands ready to sign the warrant that would return a violator to prison.

"And I'll snap the cuffs on, myself," he adds. "If shock parolees do well, we encourage them. But if we see them doing poorly -- and we have them under constant surveillance -- we intervene quickly."

Sometimes, it's not soon enough. Within the past year, two Buffalo After Shock parolees, William Ross and Sheldon Newkirk, relapsed into the drug world and were murdered.

During their first month, each released shock parolee must meet with a parole official eight times, including the four Friday group therapy meetings. After that, it's six times a month.

On this day, Tyren Haskins of Horizon Human Services replaced Conforti as discussion leader. For a time, the 23 parolees sat silent when job opportunities and substance abuse clinics and support groups were discussed.

"Anybody else," Haskins encouraged.

Jenny told of the difficulties she encountered answering the telephone curfew check. She said she had not heard the telephone before it stopped ringing.

"She (the probation officer) never called back, and what was I supposed to do," Jenny asked.

"It's your responsibility to answer when it rings," Haskins replied. "You say that you were home, but how does the parole officer know that?"

Ray, released from Lakeview three days earlier and attending his first group session, had another gripe.

"I'm an auto mechanic, and I am going to start my own business. But she (Parole Officer Jean Taber) tells me to go places and do things when I have other things to do. How am I gonna get started if I have to do all what she wants? It's not right."

Haskins came back quickly.

"You've got to understand that right now it's not your world. It's her world. And she is the law. It's not what you want to do; it's what she wants you to do. You signed a contract when you left Lakeview. I hope you read the rules. You have choices. Comply with the rules or go back to jail."

When Ray continued his protest, Haskins again interrupted him.

"You are missing the point. This is not your world. You cannot do what you want. You have an attitude problem," and, pointing to another parolee, added "You are thinking just like him."

The second man heatedly broke in, resenting the close parole supervision.

"When I first came home, I was making $1,100 to $1,500 a week out of my back yard. She said, 'Stop that quick. If I see any more cars in your backyard, you are going back to jail. There were no questions asked. You get a job. You cannot work on cars in your backyard.' All she knows is that if you don't do what she says, you go back to jail."

Encouraged by this outburst from another parolee, Ray resumed his objections.

Again Haskins interrupted.

"You have to prove to her that you can follow directions," he said. "What got you here in the first place is doing what you wanted to do, not what society says to do.

"You did what you thought was best for you. So, right back out of jail, you have the same attitude. 'I'm doing what I think is best for me and society.' That's what put you in jail in the first place," Haskins continued.

"Now, here you are trying to make decisions that are gonna cause you more negative consequences. What you need to understand is that you've got to do something different because your current decisions aren't getting you where you want to go."

After the hub-bub that followed, Greg, another shock parolee, spoke:

"The first two weeks are the hardest. It's like 'Be here, be there, do this, do that.' it was like 'I'm not gonna make it. I'm gonna get high, do something foolish.' But I persevered. It will be five months on Nov. 12. All through those five months, until two weeks ago, I took the initiative to do everything positive to paint a picture to her that I want to be legit and do the right thing.

"But two weeks ago, I messed up. I used (drugs), got cut and ended in the emergency room and had police contact. I lost two days work and my whole check. But I admitted my mistake and told her that I messed up. She could have violated me right then. But in the nearly five months I had built up a trust factor with her that I'm trying. I thank God it happened. She allowed me to get back on track."

"You see, the more you do for yourself and work with this lady, tough as it may seem, the more like getting a job or getting treatment, coming up with clean urine, coming to these Friday groups, which a lot of us can't stand, you are helping yourself.

"All right, you messed up, what are you going to do? Are you going to stay in this mold or get back on track?. You got to be strong, man. It's not a game. It's about not doing what we used to do. That was insane. That bottom line scenario is prison or death."

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