Personal Stories

Real lives. Real stories. Real issues. Real solutions.

Michael Bartley Story

When Michael Bartley first reported to his probation officer in 2016, he was told he would be on probation for the next 24 years of his life. He had been placed on zero tolerance probation, meaning that any mistake or violation would send him immediately back to prison. Any failure to fulfill any of the more than a dozen conditions connected to his probation term would guarantee his return to incarceration at a Level V detention facility. If he missed a group session of the substance abuse-related Crest Program, if he stayed out past his 10pm curfew, if he missed one regular meeting with his probation officer or couldn’t make a couple of payments on his fines and fees: any of these slips could have made him one of the 73% of re-entering Delawareans who will be re-arrested within 3 years of their release.

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Mike fought to meet all his probation requirements for two years, knowing he needed perfect compliance to avoid being incarcerated again. While he was meeting all the requirements of his term, he was engaging in his community to help youth avoid the criminal justice system, as well as advocating to bring more education, vocational training, and parenting classes into the prisons. Mike also started his own community organization (H.E.A.D.S. Up in the 302) to help give a voice to those with incarcerated loved ones, and he began working with a nonprofit devoted to reducing violence in local communities.

By all counts, Michael Bartley was an exemplary probationer. And yet, despite Mike’s best efforts, when his probation officer encouraged him to petition the Superior Court for an early release from probation after two years of supervision, the Superior Court of Delaware denied his petition for early release.

The Court told Mike that much of his past two years could not be considered proof of his compliance with the probation conditions because much of that time only counted as “condition release time,” i.e. he was just working off the “good time” he earned during his stay at James T. Vaughn Correctional Facility. The Court held that his actions in that “good time” gap—between his release and the date he would have been released under his original sentence—did not count towards his time on probation. Therefore, the court felt that he had not spent enough time on actual probation to be considered for early release.

Rejected on a technicality even though his desire and ability to lead a crime-free lifestyle were evident, Mike spent yet another year doing his best to meet restrictive probation conditions that could have gotten him sent back to prison if he messed up at any time. In time, his probation officer moved him down from Level III supervision to Level I supervision and he eventually petitioned the Court for early release a second time. At that point, Mike had spent three years in the community post-incarceration, complying with the conditions of probation every step of the way. Finally, in late 2019, the Superior Court granted Mike his freedom.

Even after three years of model behavior, the Court only granted Mike’s sentence modification request and released him from probation after the urging of community leaders who vouched for his character. Mike’s connections and his good relationship with his probation officer were tools that he had in his toolbox to help him on his path to freedom—but not everyone on probation has those same tools.

Facing the same bureaucratic obstacles, few probationers have Mike’s good fortune in the form of a positive probation officer relationship and a network of influential contacts that had grown over three hard post-release years. In the conditional release period that, in the Court’s eyes, disqualified Mike from release from probation despite two years of compliance, Mike could have slipped up on any one of his conditions. In that same span of time, many others have.

 

What can be done
for people like Michael?
  • Limit probation terms to one year.
  • Require that officials establish individualized probation terms for each person based on their needs and specific public safety risks and set milestones that incentivize people with early release from probation once each objective is met.

Shannon Shapter Story

Shannon Shapter has lived in Sussex County, Delaware for most of her life. She is a family-oriented mother, daughter, and sister, a small business owner, and a community member who holds her faith close to her heart.

Most notable, though, is Shannon’s constant optimism and ability to highlight the positive in any situation. She has negative and complex feelings that leave her disappointed in the criminal system. Nevertheless, she has an uncanny ability to see the good things even in a dark place. For example, her time in prison was also time away from the toxic relationship that had led her back into drug use in 2016. And how some members of the Department of Corrections (DOC) staff are working hard to help people like her.

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Shannon has been in recovery for 13 years. Her journey has taken her in and out of treatment facilities, halfway houses, and ultimately the criminal justice system. Most recently Shannon was released from Baylor Women’s Level V Prison February 14, 2019, after serving 25 ½ months from a DUI 4th charge.

The day after her release, Shannon reported to probation in Georgetown, Delaware and to the Treatment Access Center (TASC) that was part of her probation sentence. She went to TASC for mandatory urine screens and was required to report to both her probation officer and her TASC case manager.

Shannon respected her TASC case manager and her probation officer immensely, and credits both of their approaches with helping her successfully reenter the community after prison. According to Shannon, “My probation officer was one of the few who actually spoke to you like you were a human. He was straightforward and direct and didn’t take any crap… but he cared.” Shannon’s deep level of respect for her probation officer and his positive regard for Shannon helped motivate her to comply with her conditions. And her TASC worker encouraged her to be her own advocate throughout the entire process.

Shannon’s probation and TASC conditions, however, were limiting and challenging—and left little room for mistakes. Her Level III probation requirements were:

  • Meet once a week with her probation officer;
  • Meet once a week with her TASC case manager;
  • Attend Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP) three days a week, 3 hours each day;
  • Call daily into IOP to check for her color. If her color was chosen that day she would have to give a urine screen between the hours of 8-10am or 5-8pm.
  • Three times a week she was required to give urine screens to IOP, TASC, and probation.
  • Comply with a 10 pm curfew;
  • Do not leave the state;
  • Wear a Transdermal Alcohol Detector (TAD) monitor;
  • Pay all court fines and fees;
  • Pay all Department of Motor Vehicle costs;
  • Pay and complete a DUI class in order to comply with sentencing order and get a conditional license, allowing her to have a breath-a-lyzer in her vehicle so she may drive (at cost of $80 per month for 4 years);
  • And comply with a Zero Tolerance order (meaning any slip up would mean a direct ticket back to prison).

All of these meetings and urine screenings had to take place in Georgetown, about a 20 minute drive from Shannon’s house, and she was required to be in Georgetown almost every day Monday through Friday. On top of working to meet her probation conditions, Shannon was also working part time and enrolled in college classes—all without being allowed to drive while due to a revoked license.

She would take the bus, ask her mom or sister to drive her, catch a ride with her sponsor, or reach out to anyone else that would take her when her immediate support network was unavailable. Shannon recognizes that even having this network gave her an advantage that many people on probation do not have. From her perspective, one of the major reasons people fail is due to lack of transportation.

One day Shannon was forced to drive herself to report to probation because she could not find another ride. She ended up getting pulled over and cited for driving on a revoked license—and this contact with law enforcement was a probation violation that could have sent her back to prison. Ultimately, Shannon’s probation officer chose not to violate her for this contact with law enforcement. She got another chance.

For Shannon, the difficulty of being on probation actually increased when she was stepped down to Level II supervision. Shannon recalls that her Level II probation officer looked down on her as if he was a better person than she was and made it known that he held the power in their relationship. “I’m sure he has made mistakes before, but he made me feel less than…as if nothing else I was doing mattered. He knew nothing of the disease of addiction. He lacked understanding. He didn’t treat me like a human; he never once said an encouraging thing to me. EVER. He was focused on surveillance and punishment.”

One time during the Summer of 2019 Shannon sought permission to extend her curfew so she could stay out with her 12 year old son. While her TASC worker encouraged her to advocate for herself and make the request, her probation officer refused, without citing any reason. The same probation officer lifted curfew for Shannon’s friend who had already violated with a couple positive urine screens. “I was scared every day walking out of my house under [him]. I felt like I couldn’t do anything—and I wasn’t doing anything wrong, that is the kicker! But because of the way he made me feel, I felt constantly fearful that he was going to be there to take me down. I never missed an appointment or gave a dirty urine. But I still felt so scared he was going to find some way to send me back to prison.”

One thing that makes Shannon angry about her time in the system is the amount of mistakes that “the system” makes, that go unnoticed and un-vindicated. But a single mistake made by her could mean months of prison time. For example, Shannon’s probation order actually allowed her to be released from probation after completing her Intensive Outpatient Program and enrolling in a DUI class to get her license back.

Shannon worked hard to get off probation and TASC as quickly as possible. All in all, within 8 months, she paid $5650.55 in courts fines and fees for the DUI. Before leaving probation and TASC she had to enroll in a 12 week DUI class (which required paying $175 for an evaluation, $125 to enroll, and a 50% deposit on the class tuition which is $820), on top of meeting all the other terms of her probation. But even after she did all this, TASC didn’t complete the paperwork on time, so she was stuck on probation for an extra month.

Since her release from probation in September, Shannon has been working and her recovery is going well. Shannon seems to have a raw sense of self-understanding and acceptance that shines through in each conversation. She is real. And she is motivated to keep fighting—for criminal justice reform, for others who struggle with addiction, and also for herself. She hopes that her experiences can help create change in the system and give hope to others.

What can be done
for people like Shannon?
  • Success for probation officers should be measured by whether people successfully complete probation and obtain employment and housing.
  • Delaware DOC must establish a system to reward officers and departments who excel at assisting returning citizens.
  • Shift Delaware DOC hiring practices to recruit officers who will focus on community-based care.

Timeeka Cropper Story

Timeeka Cropper was raised in a poverty stricken neighborhood in Delaware by her grandparents and shared responsibility for looking after her younger siblings since her grandparents worked long hours as hotel housekeepers.

One day while at the mall with her cousin, Timeeka watched her then-16-year-old relative steal a purse. Both girls were immediately arrested and detained, and at just 15 years old, Timeeka found herself tangled in the criminal justice system.

Timeeka was charged with robbery and held at the New Castle County Youth Detention Center for 60 days, then sentenced to 3 months in the Grace Cottage, a female-only youth detention center in Wilmington. Timeeka recalls that “At Grace Cottage I was the youngest girl in the building, most of them were 16 and 17. The girls inside exposed my young mind to more than I even realized. After ‘the Cottage’ I was on juvenile probation for the remainder of my youth.”

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When Timeeka returned home from Grace Cottage the state enrolled her into an alternative school where she began to “live a regular school life” for a short while. However, when she was 16 years old, Timeeka’s grandfather passed away and she began using drugs to cope.

“I developed a bad habit,” Timeeka recalls. “Before I knew it I was shoplifting and doing petty crime to support my habit and provide clothes for my siblings…until my lifestyle caught up with me.” When Timkeeka was 20 years old she was sentenced to 3 years at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution for stealing from several local stores. “I came home in 2011 with a new vision and ready to change. But I was in for a rude awakening when I realized my probation officer had a bias against me because my mother was once on her caseload. I received no support in finding job readiness services, housing, and simple things such as counseling and referrals to support my diagnosed mental illness developed from childhood trauma.” 

Timeeka tried to do the right things on her own, but she became overwhelmed with navigating the hardships of every-day life while also trying to meet restrictive probation conditions. “My grandmother was ill with cancer during my incarceration and passed within months of my release. I was depressed, overwhelmed, and frustrated because I did not have the skills to format a proper resume to apply for a job. My housing was not stable, I was not being treated by a clinician on a regular basis for my mental illness. And the only two people I relied on had passed away. I was the sole provider for my 16 year old sister and newborn brother. And had to provide for my mother who has herself battled with addiction for most of my life. I returned to using opioids to cope and before I knew it I was into my old ways committing petty crimes to support my habit and family.”  

In February, 2018, Timeeka’s probation officer arrested her for a dirty urine screen and possession of 10 pills. She was charged not only with a probation violation but also aggravated possession. Timeeka knew if she didn’t advocate for herself now, she would not get the treatment she needed to become whole again. Before she was even sentenced, Timeeka voluntarily enrolled in the 6-for-1 drug treatment and a cognitive behavioral therapy program that helps individuals with substance abuse issues using cognitive behavioral treatment. At sentencing, she asked the court to look at her background and history with drug use and explained to the judge—”I am ready for and need help.” She was sentenced to 18 months Level V and 6 months of Level IV work release, to be followed by outpatient treatment run by Treatment Access Center (TASC) and 2 years of Level III probation.

When Timeeka was released from Baylor in June of 2019 following her incarceration for the probation violation and aggravated possession, she was transferred to the Level IV Hazel D. Plant Work Release Center for Women in New Castle, Delaware. At Hazel D. Plant she was placed to work at the clothing bank of the Friendship House, a community center for the homeless. “At the Friendship House, the staff was supportive and inspiring. They actually treated me like an equal. They were genuine and wanted to see me do well. Ms. Cheryl was especially encouraging and gave me a sense of hope.”

When Timeeka was released from Hazel D. Plant, a Friendship house employee who knew Timeeka’s history suggested that she stay on as a Friendship House employee for a few weeks after her release. These few weeks became a few months, and helped Timeeka become a stable, stellar employee—a key factor that helped her keep her life on track even outside of incarceration.

Eventually Timeeka was invited to the Friendship House’s annual fundraising event where she was offered a full-time salaried position at the clothing bank. Timeeka thinks about the difference that this support network has made for her recovery. “I know for a fact if I did not have the support of the Friendship house, when released from Level IV work release, I would have had a difficult time obtaining employment. My transition would have been like the prior times I was released.”

Timeeka is working hard and doing well, but even after seeing so much success she is still under probation’s surveillance. In fact, she has either been on probation or locked up every single day since she was originally sentenced at the age of 15. 

Despite the history and the obstacles that she may still face, Timeeka knows that this time things will be different. Treatment and her post-release support network are making an impact. According to Timeeka, “I can now live up to my full potential.”

What can be done
for people like Timeeka?
  • State lawmakers and DOC need to invest in community-based reentry programs to provide formerly incarcerated people the help they need.
  • These programs need better funding and space to meet the current demand. It is time for Delaware to invest more heavily in these services.

Dubard McGriff Story

On the night of August 16, 2018, at around 10:30 pm, Dubard was driving down N. Market St. on his way home from having dinner with friends on the Wilmington Riverfront. As he approached the stop sign at 7th and Market, just one block from his house, he noticed an unmarked police vehicle tailing him. He immediately went into a state of anxiety when the sirens flashed, ordering him to pull over. “I was 9 months into my professional job as the Community Organizer for the ACLU of Delaware Campaign for Smart Justice. Even though I had completely changed my life and was doing nothing wrong, the sounds of the sirens and blue and red flashing bought me back to the traumatic experiences I have had with the criminal justice system for years.” His anxiety only increased when he realized it was the Operation Safe Street team, not to mention his block was completely dark with no one else in sight.

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The officer was in plain clothes. He walked up to the driver side window and told Dubard to roll it down. “I followed instructions, immediately giving over my driver’s license, registration, and insurance card.” Dubard also informed him that they were just a couple feet away from the entrance of his loft, thinking that the officer might just let Dubard go home. Because, this is the thing—Dubard was not even on probation, and hadn’t been for many years. 

But it didn’t matter to Operation Safe Streets. Dubard asked the officer, “why was I pulled over?” But the officer paid Dubard’s question no mind while suspiciously shining a flashlight into his face and all around his car. Deep down, Dubard knew why the officer had targeted him. He drove a 2011 Chevy Impala, and these cars were very popular in the city for young black men. 

The officer just kept flashing his light in the car and noticed an obituary of Dubard’s cousin, who was killed a few months prior. The officer asked, “Why do you have that obituary? Did you know the person on it? He was into bad things.” According to Dubard, “I tried to just stay calm despite the disrespect to the deceased and close family member. I told him he was my cousin and that we should have respect for a dead person.” And then, out of nowhere, “the Officer told me that I looked nervous and asked me why I was so nervous.” This seemed so obvious to Dubard, given the officer’s vest and gun and the dark street. So he told the officer, “I don’t feel safe.” But the officer just said Dubard must be hiding something and insisted that he step out of the car to be searched.

Dubard replied “no” and informed the officer that he knew his rights. But by that time, back-up had come to the scene and there were at least 3 police cars and 2 more unmarked cars surrounding him, along with about 12 police and probation officers all in plain clothes, each with a vest and a gun. He acknowledged the temperament of the officer and got out. “I knew if I didn’t step out of the car, there was a good chance that he would become physical and pull me out. I was very intimidated so I stepped out of my car.” Dubard informed the officer that he worked for the American Civil Liberties Union advocating for criminal justice reform. While the officer searching him didn’t know the organization, his superior officer who was standing very close observing the conversation interrupted, stating he knew the ACLU. Dubard immediately turned his attention to the sergeant and asked again, “Why am I being pulled over?” But the sergeant never answered his question either. And the sergeant never stopped the search. Dubard was told to sit on the curb and wait while they searched his car, and they even told him they were doing him a courtesy by not cuffing him. 

While they continued to search his vehicle another car pulled up. To Dubard’s surprise, his old probation officer, who he also knew from the community, got out of the car and walked over. “The probation officer went on to explain how I had changed my life and all of the things I had been doing in the community.” It was only then that the officer became less aggressive and began to treat Dubard as a human. “He called off the search and told me my insurance card was outdated but said he was giving me another favor by not giving out a citation.” 

In the end, nothing was found on Dubard or in his car. But without that old probation officer showing up and Dubard’s relationship with him and in the community, there is no way to know how the night could have ended. The Operation Safe Street team had already gone out of its way to police and harass Dubard—and he was not even on probation. While Dubard wants to forget about this incident, every time he sees Operation Safe Streets out in Wilmington, it brings him back to that night.

According to Dubard, “they have created a group of probation officers that functions more like a military operation than any type of public safety unit.” And he often wonders whether there is any real difference between Operation Safe Streets and the illegal stop and frisk policies that have faced criticism. But mostly, Dubard wonders what probation officers are even doing participating in this, since they are supposedly there to help people get their lives on track. Dubard wants Operation Safe Streets shut down to prevent other people in the community from being harassed like he was.

What can be done
for people like Dubard?
  • Shut down Operation Safe Streets and The Governor’s Task Force. The effect of this program is harassment and over-policing of communities of color. It creates a culture of probation focused on law enforcement, not rehabilitation.

Trey Miller Story

Trey Miller grew up in Delaware. As a child and teenager, he loved playing basketball and baseball and was always very close with his family. His grandmother describes him as “a kind and loving, good person.”

In 2012, when he was 19 years old, Trey Miller was arrested and charged in two separate cases, one for burglary and the other for robbery. He was incarcerated until ultimately pleading guilty to Burglary in the Second Degree, Theft over $1,500, Conspiracy in the Second Degree, and Robbery in the Second Degree. In October, 2014, Trey was released from prison, having served roughly two and a half years, and reported for Level III probation. In January, 2015, however, Trey found himself at a violation hearing for substance use. The judge sentenced him to six months at Level V followed by a month at the Plummer Center.

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For a while after his release following this technical violation, Trey was doing well on probation. He had a job and was staying clean. He struggled to comply with the restrictive probation conditions but was trying hard to stay on track. After nearly a year with no issues, in April 2016 Trey had a bad week and missed a meeting with his probation officer and three meetings with his Treatment Access Center (TASC) case worker. 

For a couple more months, he was back in compliance, but ultimately struggled to comply over the Summer of 2016, missing roughly one meeting with his probation officer and TASC worker each month and testing positive for opiates and marijuana on one occasion. Things went downhill from here.

That fall, Trey’s young daughter passed away. The pain, combined with his existing addiction issues, sent Trey to a dark place. He ended up missing about one supervision meeting a month with both his probation officer and TASC case worker in September and October, and at times was considered an absconder from probation, meaning his probation officer did not know where he was.

In March of 2017 Trey was arrested and his charges were dismissed. However, Trey did not report this contact with law enforcement to his probation officer or TASC case worker like he was required to do.

For the next year, Trey lived with and cared for his grandparents while working, remaining crime free and seeking education at a local academy. However, in March 2018 he was brought before the court for a violation of probation hearing. In the violation report, the probation officer cited his failure to appear for meetings with the probation officer in April, June, July, and October, 2016, and failure to appear for TASC meetings in April, June, July, September, and October, 2016. The probation officer also cited the dirty urine screens Trey had registered in November and July of 2015 and July 2016. 

The probation officer asked the court to sentence Trey to one year of incarceration for these technical probation violations. Trey’s attorney cited his current employment, stable housing, the technical nature of the violations, Trey’s history with drug addiction, and his current enrollment in school as a reason to limit his incarceration to only 6 months. Trey admitted to the technical violations and explained that he was ready to face the consequences of his actions but pleaded with the Court not to impose a full year of Level V time. He asked the Court to consider that he had been grieving the loss of his daughter when he missed many of the meetings cited in the violation report. 

The Court didn’t take any of those factors into consideration when sentencing Trey. The judge accused Trey of crying “bitter tears” to “manipulate the court” and noted that Trey had also failed to appear four times for court in the past, thus delaying the violation hearing. Rejecting the State’s recommendation, the court sentenced Trey to 8 years of Level V incarceration for his technical probation violations. The court further ordered that the Level V time be followed by an additional six months at Level IV and six more months of probation at Level III. 

After the Court rendered the sentence, Trey was in shock. And, according to Trey’s family, even the probation officer leaned over and told Trey he needed to appeal the order. Trey did appeal it—all the way to the Delaware Supreme Court—but to no avail.

In 2019, the Delaware Supreme Court denied his appeal, meaning that Trey will likely serve 8 years for his technical probation violations. All in all, Trey was out of prison from 2014 to 2018. During that time he made mistakes, but he never committed any new crimes. Despite this, Trey has already served over two years for technical probation violations. As things stand today, he will likely be in prison until 2026 for crimes he committed in 2012 that the judge originally felt only required 2.5 years of incarceration.

Furthermore, Trey’s incarceration in Level V and IV facilities for his technical violations will cost the state $336,000—not even including the cost to the probation system when he re-enters it years from now. 

In the meantime, his family will be missing him in their lives and Trey will spend 8 years of his young life locked up in Howard R. Young. Trey’s grandparents are not giving up though. They have been fighting for Trey during his appeal and are actively working to bring awareness to his case. His grandmother, Denise Poindexter says, “If we didn’t feel that this was so fundamentally unfair, we would not be fighting for him. If we felt he deserved this punishment, we would stop. Yes, Trey has made mistakes, but he is a good and loving person. We will never stop fighting for him.” They want to help Trey get a new sentence, if possible. And they want to raise awareness to make sure this doesn’t happen to other families in the future.

What can be done
for people like Trey?
  • Require that officials establish individualized probation terms for each person based on their needs and specific public safety risks and set milestones that incentivize people with early release from probation once each objective is met.
  • Stop incarcerating people for technical violations.
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