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Olson: System leaves probationer out in the cold

Published: Friday, Feb. 28, 2014 11:42 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 4:40 p.m. CDT

Joseph Waldrop has been sleeping on the street in DeKalb since he got out of jail Tuesday.

He wants to go home to Texas, and it’s probably best for everyone if he does.  But that might not happen any time soon.

“All I want to do is go home,” Waldrop, 30, said. “I’m not asking these people to drop these charges against me, to drop probation against me or anything. I just want to go home where I can be with my family, that’s it.”

Waldrop’s not an angel. He was arrested and locked up in January in connection with a methamphetamine ring centered around a “lab” that police uncovered in October at the Travel Inn in DeKalb. He was one of several people who bought cold medicine that contained pseudoephedrine, a necessary ingredient in cooking the poison.

He spent 36 days in jail before his release Tuesday in exchange for pleading guilty to possession of a methamphetamine precursor, a felony. In addition to fines, substance abuse counseling and court costs, he must serve 2½ years of probation.

At the time of his arrest, DeKalb police gave Waldrop’s address as 118 S. Chapel St. in Elgin; records with the DeKalb County Clerk state he lived at 1236 Pleasant St., Apt. A, in DeKalb.

Those addresses were housing provided by the carnival ride company he was working for as a seasonal employee, Waldrop said. He’s not welcome there now. The only other people he knows in the area were his co-defendants in the meth case; staying with them would violate the terms of their probation.

I first met Waldrop on Thursday morning. He’d taken the bus to the Daily Chronicle office, and showed up in a stained skullcap and zippered sweatshirt and looking every bit like someone who had spent the night outdoors.

After he left, he panhandled enough money for bus fare, went back to DeKalb, and spent the day ducking in and out of stores where he could warm up. He said he panhandled another $2.50 and was able to buy a chicken sandwich and a cup of coffee at McDonald’s – his only meal of the day. The low Thursday night was minus 10, and he said he slept outside again.

Waldrop’s 30. His girlfriend and their two children, ages 9 and 4, live in Sulphur Springs, Texas. He said he was living in Illinois for five months as a seasonal worker with a carnival amusement company when he got caught up in this methamphetamine business.

At his plea hearing Tuesday, Waldrop produced a letter from the his girlfriend, Adrienne Hogue, saying that he returns to Texas after his seasonal employment; and that she wants him to come home, where there would be a job waiting for him. A second letter from a longtime acquaintance verified a standing offer of employment.

“He would work and if I needed something he sent me money,” Hogue said. “He takes care of us. It’s killing us right now, because I’m trying to find work but I have a 4-year-old and child care is expensive.”

DeKalb County Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert signed off on an order saying Waldrop could return to Texas once he was accepted by the state probation authorities there.

That’s where it gets complicated. Waldrop wasn’t on vacation when he committed a crime – he was living and working in northern Illinois. So his Texas residency isn’t as clear-cut as someone from another state who was arrested while visiting for the weekend.

Despite the signed order of the judge, Waldrop will have to wait as long as 45 days before he learns whether probation authorities in Texas will accept him. There’s nothing that says they have to, either.

These types of cases are governed by something called the “interstate compact,” a national agreement between all 50 states that is one of the few things that can supersede a local judge’s order.

Tom McCulloch, the DeKalb County public defender who represented Waldrop, said in cases like these, the state bureaucracies make things tougher. Waldrop’s request has to go through an office in Springfield, which will review it and send it on to an office in Austin, Texas, which will forward it to Texas probation authorities, who will get to it … when they can, presumably.

“We’ve taken a guy who has a place to live and family and a job and he isn’t freezing to death in Texas,” McCulloch said, “and we have sort of involuntarily held him hostage here in Illinois where it’s 2 degrees and he has no job and he has no family and no money.”

Waldrop said he feels as though he’s being set up to fail. Hope Haven, the local emergency shelter, requires its guests be DeKalb County residents, which Waldrop is adamant he is not. He doesn’t like panhandling, he said. He knows it could get him arrested.

With him living on the streets, chances seem good he could be arrested again – or worse.

“You can’t put a person out somewhere and expect them to do something when there’s nothing for them to do other than to wander around and face a vagrancy charge or face a panhandling charge or whatever the case may be,” Waldrop said. “I will either end up deathly sick, jailed or in the hospital within 2 weeks because the human body is not built to survive in weather like this.”

Margi Gilmour deals with interstate compact cases all the time. She’s been the head of court services for DeKalb County since 1997.

Yes, there’s a lot of bureaucracy involved in allowing movement of people who are in the system, but it serves a purpose, Gilmour said.

“Here in Illinois, we don’t want people just coming here willy-nilly and take up residency if they have criminal backgrounds in other states,” she said.

Gilmour didn’t want to talk specifically about Waldrop’s case. But she said this issue comes up fairly often for people on probation or parole.

“For individuals sentenced in one state that want to move to another state there are all kinds of rules,” Gilmour said. “… There’s a lot of things that come into play to determine if they’re a resident or not, a lot of people don’t meet the definition of residence in the state they want to go live.”

Local probation authorities could be fined if they violate the compact rules, Gilmour said. Sometimes people find themselves stuck, either temporarily or permanently, in a place they don’t want to be.

“Some people get caught up in a situation where it’s not ideal for them, and they get caught in the state where they were convicted,” Gilmour said.  “… My heart goes out to people who are caught in the middle, and we try to do the best we can to facilitate that process and sometimes that takes longer than many people realize.”

That leaves Waldrop on the street. His family is unable to send him money. If he travels to a shelter in Aurora or Elgin, he’s not sure how he’d get back to check in with his probation officer.

Waldrop said he might ask Judge Stuckert to allow him to stay with one of his co-defendants. Failing that, maybe he’ll try to withdraw his plea and go back to jail, where the taxpayers can pay for his shelter.

“At least that way I know I’ll have three meals a day and have a roof over my head to keep me out of the weather,” Waldrop said.  “I’m kind of lost, you know?”

• Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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