Jeff Long: Probation officer treated me as a man and not a criminal

Published 12:27 pm Monday, May 16, 2016

By Jeff Long

For the Salisbury Post

It was July 28, 2015, and once again, I was walking into a court room to go before a judge. This time was different because the outcome for me, Jeff Long, was being recognized by Judge Charlie Brown for my “great effort, motivation, and compliance on probation.” This was quite a turn of events for me. Usually I was on the receiving end of facing a prison term or jail time, but not this time. I was being congratulated. I was among one of the first to receive the MVP (Most Valuable Probationer) award.

Judge Brown asked me if I would share with the people in the courtroom (some who would be there for probation violations) what it took for me to overcome the threat of relapse. First off, I told him it was by God’s grace and mercy. So here is my story.

I was 53 years old with a long history of alcohol, drug and adult sex-related offenses. These had led me to probation many times, jail a few times and prison once. This time was going to be different. I knew on Sept 9, 2014, sitting in my kitchen while watching officers go through my house, this time was the last. I was tired of the hassles and embarrassments that my unlawful conducts were responsible for.

After being led away in handcuffs, taken to the police station, interrogated, put in a holding cell after being charged and then being bonded out, I knew my life was on a pathway to a better place.

I started my counseling for the kazillionth time, but this time, I wanted help so I could change. I was given the opportunity to have private therapy sessions so that I could reap all the benefits that it would allow. This counseling was part of my sentence as well as being put on probation for 30 months.

My first probation officer this time (I’ve had three since the beginning of this probation) treated me as a man and not a criminal. My past experiences with probation officers seemed to make me feel as though they expected me to mess up, violate. This time, I was told, “We all make mistakes, let’s fix it and move on.”

I applied myself in my counseling, my assignments given by my probation officers, and started looking for other activities to keep me busy and out of trouble. I started volunteering at a food bank, started a diet, and through Pastor Mike Motley’s guidance I went back to my childhood church, Trading Ford Baptist.

I stayed busy at good things. I also started at Celebrate Recovery at my church. You see, this time I wanted to change and I followed all the criteria that both my probation officers and counselors gave me. Most importantly, I read my Bible and fellowshipped with God.

My second probation officer was just as optimistic as the first. She encouraged me in all my activities and even told me she was proud of my progress. She’s the one that nominated me for MVP. My picture was put up in the probation office lobby; many saw it and congratulated me both there and outside the office. I was proud of myself as well. For the first time in many years, I believed I had a chance for a better life.

Now I am not only involved with volunteering, personal diet goals, church, recovery groups, Bible studies and other activities at my church. I have also started writing articles for the Salisbury Post’s Faith section. My writing started with an apology to the community in letters to the editor. Then through encouragement by my counselor, I attempted to get an article published in the Faith section. At the time of writing this I have had 26 articles published in the Salisbury Post, most telling of God’s Word.

You see, this time was different because I wanted help. I wanted to change. The probation officers I’ve had this time have been more like counselors.  They have guided me to become more aware of where I am and what I’m doing. Before, my probation officers were mainly enforcers waiting on me to make a mistake.

I feel that the MVP program, relapse prevention homework and the general change that appears to have taken place at the probation office allows us probationers to better follow the paths we should chose. If we’ll combine these tools with the tools that God gives us, such as God’s Word, and fellowship with both God and other members of His congregation, we will not only survive but succeed.

Galatians 6:7-8 says, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”

I understand this as you only get good out if you apply good things in. So follow your probation officer, counselors and most importantly your true God, Jesus Christ our Lord, to a more fulfilling and prosperous life, both now on earth and for eternity.

Jeff Long lives in Rowan County.