Dale's story

After spending the better part of the last 15 years in jails and prisons in the region, Dale is trying to live a normal life.

But while the 52-year-old Coolville-area resident has paid his debt to society through his prison time, he is far from having paid off his debts to the court system, and it is unlikely that he will ever pay off all of the nearly $10,000 worth of the fines, court costs and other legal expenses that he owes.

Dale is a happy and engaging individual, and when you sit down to talk with him you’d never expect that he has spent so much time behind bars. He has made his share of mistakes in life, though, and did not share his story so that he could gain any sympathy or special assistance. He simply explained some of the challenges that he faces as an ex-offender trying to rebuild his life.

Most of Dale’s arrests were related to his drinking. He spent time behind bars numerous times for crimes such as aggravated robbery and domestic violence, and was found guilty of DUI seven times. He doesn’t see himself as a bad person, but someone who continuously got into trouble as a result of his problems with alcohol.

“I’m not a robber or a thief or a murderer,” Dale said. He thinks many of the charges against him were overblown by the courts and the legal system, and said he is not the person that he was made out to be.

“They just want to send everyone to prison,” Dale said. “That’s their answer to everything.”  He has received counseling for his drinking and other issues, and feels that some of the counseling helped while some was a waste of time. He particularly likes the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and said that they have been very helpful.

“I haven’t had a drink in two years,” Dale said. “I just gave it up.”

There was a time, he added, when he was constantly in and out of the Southeast Ohio Regional Jail because of his drinking.

“I’m like Otis (from “The Andy Griffith Show”) up there, they knew to keep a cell open for me,” Dale said. Often when he left the jail, people would ask him when he would be coming back. He added that he also got to know one sheriff’s deputy in Meigs County very well over the years, as that officer arrested him four different times for DUI.

One time when he was sentenced to spend six months at the Septa treatment center in Nelsonville for a charge related to his drinking, he drank when he was out on a release, and had six months added onto his sentence.

Today, his days of drinking are behind him and his legal troubles are, too. The repercussions of those legal problems, though, will always be there.

When Dale got out of prison the last time, his sister invited him to live with her. She provides him with a bedroom and food, and he is happy to be able to stay there. He also has a small camper that he can go to for his own space. His sister made his transition into a normal life outside of prison much easier, and he is thankful for all of her help.

One aspect of a normal life that he does not have is the ability to drive. He does not have a driver’s license and has little hope of getting it back for several years or possibly ever. Without a driver’s license, he can’t get a full-time job because he has no way to get to work every day. And without a full-time job, he has no way to pay the massive amount of fines that he owes.

Some would argue that with seven DUI convictions, maybe he shouldn’t have a driver’s license ever again. At the same time, though, he is out living in the community and has no way to work a full-time job or live a normal life if he can’t drive and there is no public transportation where he lives.

In order to get his driver’s license back, he would have to pay at least $2,000 in fines. His license is also suspended for three years, so he could not drive right away even if could pay the fines. He can’t pay the fines, though, and has pretty much given up on them and on the idea of ever having a driver’s license again.

Dale also owes at least $800 in additional fines and court costs for a few of the other crimes he was found guilty of committing. He has a lengthy court record and has paid thousands in fines and costs over the years, but said he has no way to pay off all of the fines he owes today.

“I haven’t got any money. It’s like trying to get blood from a turnip,” Dale said.

And in addition to what he owes for fines and court costs, he also owes more than $7,000 in back child support payments.

“It’s from the 1980s,” he said, explaining that the payments were originally due 20-30 years ago. He is supposed to pay $104 a month, but can only afford to send in $20 a month.

When he was in prison, he made $20 per month by working in jobs like handing out clothes. Of that $20, child support enforcement took $5 each month for the back payments.

Dale often works cutting grass and taking other odd jobs that he can get a ride to. He knows that some employers automatically will not hire him because he has a felony record, but he works when he can. He has a friend who works as a contractor, and when that individual needs extra people for his crew, he contacts Dale. On those days, he will pick up Dale and then take him home after work. Dale enjoys the job and is thankful for the opportunity to earn some money.

When he was younger, Dale worked for 10 years or so “on the lines,” working up on the telephone poles in the region fixing the phone lines. He dropped out of high school to take the job because it paid well and he needed the money. The work was steady and Dale lived a fairly normal life before the drinking and all of the arrests changed his world.

In order to help him get by today, Dale receives Food Assistance and health care benefits. He is applying to the medical disability program because of his health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, gout and arthritis, but does not know if he will be approved or not.

Dale thinks his legal troubles are behind him, and despite all of his problems, he is happy with his life. He laughs and smiles a lot while he talks, and he does what he can to get by. He likely won’t ever pay off all of his fines, get his driver’s license back or hold down a full-time job again, but he doesn’t let all of that bother him.

He’s sober, he’s out of jail, and he’s back with family and friends. He’s trying to live a normal life.