Law

How to Leave Your Halfway House and Get to Work Riding DART

My first day at work involved public transportation and bad coffee.

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This morning I woke up at the halfway house to which I was released from a south Texas medium-security prison a month back and got into the back of the van that leaves every hour to take ex-convicts such as myself to the DART rail stop on Illinois Avenue. Upon arrival, I tried and failed to purchase a bus pass from the machine whose sole purpose is to sell bus passes to people who want bus passes. First I tried to put in a twenty dollar bill, which is clearly marked as being one of four denominations of U.S. currency that the machine likes to be fed in exchange for bus passes, but rather than accepting the offer, the machine buzzed at me. I tried to use my charge card, but this merely prompted the same mysterious and frankly hurtful buzzing sound.

Thinking that I myself must be at fault, I engaged a passerby to assist me; he tried the same things I had but with no success. This made me feel better but I still really wanted a bus pass. A woman who appeared to work for DART in some capacity was not able to explain why the machine was lying to us. Luckily another guy offered to sell me a day pass for five dollars, which I gather is against the rules because we had to walk off a bit to be out of view of the DART woman. The original passerby, who was now apparently in my service, accompanied us. After the guy who sold me the pass had left, my new vassal explained that the guy had overcharged me, that the going rate for illicit day passes was actually two for five dollars, and that “God don’t like nasty.”

Luckily, he went on, the guy had dropped another day pass when he’d opened his wallet and failed to notice and my vassal had placed his foot over it and then taken it for himself when the pass speculator was looking elsewhere, an occurrence which he attributed to God. I replied that I didn’t mind the fellow having made a profit out of selling me something I needed but that I understand that there are varying customs when it comes to black market transactions and that his own point of view was thus perfectly valid. He wished me luck.

Half an hour later, I arrived at D Magazine’s office, here in downtown Dallas, and began drinking coffee and eating bananas out of a basket of fruit that someone had just delivered. Tim Rogers, my supervisor, arrived soon thereafter, welcomed me to the magazine, and noted that I could have some free fruit out of the basket if I wanted. I replied that I’d already begun eating the fruit without asking and pointed out that the coffee was not very good and that we had better coffee in prison, even in solitary confinement. He explained that they’d just changed distributors. Then he told me to cover tomorrow’s City Council briefing and had someone print out for me the agenda of items that will be discussed and then voted on at another meeting the following Wednesday.

It had to be printed out for me because the Bureau of Prisons claims, rather implausibly, that the terms of my probation — which does not begin for another five months and which is to be administered by the Department of Justice probation department and not the Bureau of Prisons, which has jurisdiction over me until then — don’t allow me to use a computer or anything else that can connect to the internet. In fact, as plainly stated in the judge’s decision, I’m supposed to be able to bring a laptop to the probation office and have them install monitoring software so that I don’t engage in any anarchist insurrectionist activity, and thus am indeed allowed to use the internet just like anyone else, except that the DOJ can’t install that monitoring software yet because I’m not yet on probation (indeed, they’ve tried to make some arrangement for this unprecedented situation, but the BOP won’t agree to it).

The BOP’s regional representative, Luz Lujan — who won’t return my phone calls — claims that the BOP is allowed to apply my terms of probation as it sees fit; when I inquired through the case manager at my halfway house whether Lujan could put in writing exactly what I can and can’t do, Luhan responded that they were not required to do so. When Tim called her to ask, as my employer, for clarification, she responded that she couldn’t give out that information until I signed a waiver. Last week I signed that waiver, allowing the BOP and all of its employees to respond to any inquiries by the press or the public about the conditions of my release. In the meantime, I’m required to write posts such as this one with pen and paper, just as I did when I was writing from prison for D Magazine and then The Intercept about the BOP’s systematic efforts to deprive inmates of due process.

I’ll be back this afternoon with a preview of tomorrow’s City Council meeting. If you’re in need of some backstory in the meantime, read Tim’s National Magazine Award-winning piece on me and my wacky adventures from 2011, and then watch this short film by Alex Winter, which will explain what happened afterward. (SPOILER: I went to prison and drank high-quality coffee.)

[Ed: Barrett, too, has won a National Magazine Award. And it is fortunate that he has good penmanship.]

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