Probation and parole officers make their Ogden rounds

Sep 16 2013 - 6:08am

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BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner
Adult Probation and Parole Officer Stuart Carver and fellow AP&P Officer Todd Kirk (right) perform a home visit in Ogden on Thursday.
BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner
A textbook on re-entry following prison sits on the floor of a parolee's living room during a visit from Kirk and Carver on Thursday.
BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner
Adult Probation and Parole Officer Todd Kirk (center) talks with Shaun Sorensen during a parolee home visit in Ogden on Thursday. Kirk and Officer Stuart Carver stop by Sorensen's apartment about once a month and search the premises as part of the condition of his parole.
BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner
Adult Probation and Parole Officer Stuart Carver and fellow AP&P Officer Todd Kirk (right) perform a home visit in Ogden on Thursday.
BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner
A textbook on re-entry following prison sits on the floor of a parolee's living room during a visit from Kirk and Carver on Thursday.
BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner
Adult Probation and Parole Officer Todd Kirk (center) talks with Shaun Sorensen during a parolee home visit in Ogden on Thursday. Kirk and Officer Stuart Carver stop by Sorensen's apartment about once a month and search the premises as part of the condition of his parole.

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OGDEN -- Joshua Kramer walks out of his home and meanders across the street. Waiting there, underneath the shade of the trees lining the sidewalk, is the green, used Chevy Tahoe he recently bought.

Kramer, a sleeve tattoo stretching down his arm, points to the Tahoe. He looks back to his parole officer, Todd Kirk, who minutes ago had been searching his home for contraband and other prohibited items.

"Pretty nice, right?" Kramer said, looking to Kirk for approval.

Kirk nods, then quickly reminds him he must file the vehicle's registration with Adult Probation and Parole: "Get that taken care of."

Kramer, who has been on parole for about one year, after serving 11 years of a 19-year prison sentence as an accessory to armed robbery, assures Kirk he will. He has gone through too much to get the Tahoe to endanger it over paperwork.

"I never had a car growing up," said Kramer, who is expecting a baby with his girlfriend in February.

"Everything I have now, I'm super proud of. Insurance, the car, everything -- it makes me proud I'm doing it legit. For most people, having a car isn't a big deal. But to me it is."

It is only once Kirk, and his partner Stuart Carver, get in their agency-issued black Chevy Impala and begin driving to their next parolee's residence that the full story of Kramer's crime is revealed.

Kramer and a friend robbed a Subway in Colorado, Kirk says. But when Kramer left the store, his friend stayed behind, shooting and killing a 17-year-old employee.

Kirk goes on to explain that Kramer is lucky to even be drawing breath as a free man.

"The only thing that saved his ass was he had left the building," Kirk said, pulling away from the curb. "He didn't know his friend was going to do that."

Adjusting to life on the outside was initially tough for Kramer, but he's one of Kirk's better parolees. He seems to have a genuine desire to keep his life moving forward, and Kirk doesn't anticipate any problems with Kramer during the rest of his parole.

To be sure, not all parolees are as cooperative as Kramer is. Driving around central Ogden, Kirk and Carver swap stories of parolees who have escaped through back windows, and others they've caught throwing parties with methamphetamine and marijuana in plain sight.

On this pleasant weekday evening, the officers will check on 38 parolees, but there will be no such excitement. That doesn't mean, however, that risk isn't always present, waiting silently on the other side of the doors the officers knock on.

According to Utah Department of Corrections numbers, 507 parolees are overseen by agents from the Ogden Adult Probation and Parole office. Nearly all of those assigned to Kirk and Carver are felons -- many of them violent -- and classified as high-risk.

Both officers readily admit their wives are uncomfortable knowing the danger they encounter on a daily basis.

Carver's wife, in particular, worries when she hears about officer-involved shootings or when he doesn't return home until late in the night.

Kirk's wife incessantly texts him to keeps tabs on him throughout the day.

But while both officers recognize the dangers they face, they seem unfazed by it, accepting it as merely a hazard of the job.

"My wife and family definitely have their concerns," Kirk said. "I reassure them."

He adds, laughing: "I let them know Stu will save me."

The risks are not enough to dissuade either officer.

Carver, who has family members dotting police agencies throughout Utah, says being a parole officer is like participating in the family business. For Kirk, the job offers much-needed variety -- a way to stay sane while drawing a paycheck.

"I'm freaking ADD, man," he said. "I've got to have something new every time I come to work. You don't come in any day knowing what exactly you're going to do. It keeps my brain happy."

Another benefit of the job is a chance to do some good, though both officers acknowledge that's nearly impossible to measure.

"It's hard to tell the effectiveness of AP&P in someone's rehabilitation," Carver said. "There are so many other factors that come into it. A lot of it is whether that person wants to change."

One man who believes parole is helping him get his life back on track is Shaun Sorensen, the 14th parolee Kirk and Carver visit this evening.

Sorensen lives in the basement of a small home in central Ogden, and he casually welcomes the officers inside as a white-haired man sits on the front porch and mutters something unintelligible at the officers.

After spending nearly a year and a half in prison for various charges, including drugs, Sorensen has been on parole for a couple of months. He says having Kirk's supervision has helped him begin to piece his life back together.

"I'm just trying to do better. I'm starting to develop a friendship with Todd. AP&P is not out to hurt me. They want to see me better my life."

But as the officers begin searching the basement and Kirk asks Sorensen for an update on how things are going, he unearths a trouble that has sneaked into Sorensen's life.

Five days ago, Sorensen agreed to share the basement with a roommate who promised he was trying to get clean from drugs. But now he's worried his roommate is not fully committed to changing and might even bring home drugs and alcohol -- an action that in multiple ways would threaten the progress Sorensen has made.

Being caught with drugs or alcohol anywhere in his home would be a violation of his parole, and it also would serve as an unneeded temptation.

Sorensen, shirtless and standing in the small, beige kitchen, seems to understand the tenuous nature of his assimilation back into society.

"I'm 38 and don't have a lot to show for my life," he said. "I don't blame drugs. I blame myself."

Kirk reminds Sorensen that anything the roommate does will reflect back on him. He encourages him to be more cautious about who he lets into his life.

"I should have looked at my roommate more," Sorensen responds. "I messed that up. ... I was nice enough to help this guy, but now he's making it very hard on me."

Despite a desire to see most of their parolees do well, Carver and Kirk know full well that many won't. It's a fact learned many times through several years on the job.

"I've had people flat out tell me to my face that they're going to use dope as soon as they're off parole," Kirk said.

The knowledge that many of their parolees will fall back into a life of crime forces an emotional distance between the officers and their parolees, even the ones who seem to be doing well.

"I'm not going to lose any sleep over a parolee," Kirk said. "I get paid either way. ... There are some that if they end up screwing up and going back, it kind of sucks. But those are few and far between."

But on this night, to an outside observer, many of the parolees the officers visit seem as though they could fall into that category. As Kirk and Carver search the parolees' homes and question them, there seems to be a mutual respect. With some, there even seems to be a fondness.

But there's never a question about the nature of the relationships the officers have with their parolees.

Late in the night, the officers enter the apartment of Carl Cornish, who served prison time for stealing a car. Upon finding a 40-ounce beer in Cornish's fridge, Carver gives him the option of pouring it down the sink or being written up. Reluctantly, Cornish chooses the former.

Minutes later, Cornish is asked about the role Carver has played in his life since he left prison.

"That's my daddy," Cornish said, laughing. "That's my daddy. Point blank period."

Contact reporter Bubba Brown at 801-625-4221, or bbrown@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @BubbaBrownSE.

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