“Freeway” Ricky Ross on Tuesday faced a situation that could increasingly happen to ex-felons–he was called before a federal judge in San Diego on charges by his supervising parole officer that he “associated” with ex-felons, a direct violation of his conditions of release.
Ironically, the so-called association was not for conspiring to commit a crime but instead Ross said it was for the work he has been doing for the last two years to help youth and others in the community understand the downside to the bling that was his life as the man behind a multimillion drug empire.
“While I was in prison, I saw what Tookie did with the children’s books and I saw him fight for his life.
“. . . guys came to me when I was in prison and said ‘I wanted to be just like you.’ I started thinking about them wanting to be like me, and said that’s crazy; I got a life sentence (this was eventually reduced to 20 years.)
“. . . I decided to use my experiences to make a better life for others,” explained Ross.
He began this re-education process for himself about 10 years before his release from federal prison. Then he began talking to the young men in prison and giving them books to read. He also created a library and book club while in prison.
Business books were one of Ross’ passion.
“They said I was the Walmart of crack cocaine and ran my business like McDonalds. So I wanted to know what I had in common with Walmart and Mcdonalds,” recalled Ross.
“I saw myself in these guys,” said Ross, adding that reading about their stories, convinced the Los Angeles resident he needed to turn himself into a business.
Ross said his first parole officer knew exactly what he was doing.
Eventually, this new supervising agent, wrote Ross up for “associating with felons.” But Ross denies that having brief conversations with ex-felons at his various speaking engagements is association.
He does acknowledge that getting an occasional phone call from inmates he helped while in custody is a little stickier, but still insisted that he was not associating with felons.
Ross also contended that with the high number of Black men who have and are part of the criminal justice system, it can be very difficult to avoid fraternizing with other felons.
Nicole Porter, state advocacy coordinator with the Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C., calls this challenge a collateral consequence.
“It’s problematic given the large number of (people) connected to the criminal justice system,” Porter said. It’s also a challenge given some of the conditions of release that some formerly incarcerated face, such as life-time parole.
According to the United States Bureau of Justice, there are more than 5 million people under supervised release, probation or parole; in California there are 106,035 on parole.
The process for revocation release is different as a federal ex-con. Instead of going before a state parole board the agent writes up a report requesting revocation, and sends it to a judge. The former inmate is called into court for a hearing and has the opportunity to accept or deny the charge.
If the charges are denied, a court date is set and the judge will hear evidence then make a decision.
According to federal sources, judges have wide latitude: they can continue the supervised release. Lock up an individual or even release them from supervision. They can also declare the complaint a non-issue.