In this week’s blog, I wanted to write about probation from the perspective of the probation officer. Then I thought, “who better to write about probation than a former probation officer?” So, this week’s blog comes to you from a former misdemeanor probation officer who preferred to remain anonymous. It is intended to be advice about “surviving” probation and not legal advice.
Probation: A pain, an inconvenience, complete and utter crap. Your probation officer: The enemy, the devil and your least favorite person. Call it what you want, probation is a GIFT, and your officer is a supervisor. Anyone on probation will be referred to as a probationer, throughout this piece, for the sake of consistency. The word isn’t intended to belittle anyone; probationers are people first and I ask that you keep that in mind. Your probation officer knows that as well.
There won’t be a test afterward, but it may help to have a little knowledge about the law. Remember, ignorance isn’t an excuse. A felony is any crime that is punishable by a year or more imprisonment and/or fines starting at $1,000.00. Misdemeanors are punishable by less than a year in jail and up to $1,000.00 in fines. Prison or jail sentences may be probated. What this means is, instead of sitting in jail or prison for the time sentenced, a person is allowed to serve their time at home. The facts that so many probationers forget.
Unfortunately, when you are sentenced to probation, you are given extra responsibilities for a certain amount of time, and along with that, you get stuck with some stranger who is going to butt into your business. Bummer. The feeling is mutual. Probation officers don’t generally struggle to hide an astronomical amount of joy when they get a new member of their caseload.
What is obviously not too appealing is that you will need to form a relationship with your officer, and believe it or not, that relationship is dictated by you. Tread lightly. While probation officers don’t like putting people in jail (it’s too much paperwork) they hold the key to the cell (well not really but you get the picture). Keep in mind, while preparing warrants and going to Court for revocations is frustrating and hard work, your officer is still law enforcement and their main job is to do what it takes to keep the public safe. Your officer WILL fuel up on coffee and sour gummy bears to get through the hard work. Remember when I said you dictate the relationship? YOU control the absolutely necessary situation.
We all know that going to see your probation officer makes you cringe. Just think about how your officer feels. Try to remember that when your officer is “in a bad mood” or just “doesn’t like you” that maybe you actually did something wrong. I’ll admit that’s not always the case. Your officer is a person too with the stress of supervising, what sometimes is 200-300 people. On the day you have to visit your officer, he or she may have woken up late, rushed to work without a shower, spilled coffee on their shirt, tripped down the stairs, fought with their computer for 15 minutes and then got to see your sun-shining face all before 8:30am. For you, it’s the classic case of wrong place wrong time. Here’s a tip; book morning appointments so you can see your officer before someone else puts them in a bad mood. I learned that from a former probationer.
Your officer doesn’t always have to be the bad guy. Actually, beyond your belief, sometimes your officer may really like you (but it won’t help if you cause an absolutely necessary situation). The best way to go about the relationship is to be compliant, respectful and honest. Nothing gains your officers respect more than honesty. If you’re struggling with something, tell them. They just might be able to help.
Make your time on probation easier by reminding yourself that you could be spending it in jail instead. Giving your officer attitude, acting like a tough guy, and being angry at your officer bothers you longer than it bothers them. Once you leave their office, they quickly bury that memory in day-old lunches and warm soda (a lot of food references in here). Try to be the one probationer that allows your officer five minutes of breathing and regrouping. They’ll appreciate it more than you know. And keep yourself accountable; they didn’t get you into this mess to begin with!!