When it comes to living a series of gritty soap operas, it would be hard to beat John Loven's life.
He’s a probation and parole officer for Northern Carroll County.
The world he sees things could not be further from the hotels, ski resorts and lives led by most people.
In the first of an occasional series looking at a day-in-the-life of some of the people who work in North Country, NHPR’s Chris Jensen followed John Loven as he made his rounds.
“Boy, am I glad you put that note up. If you hadn’t put that note up I would have been looking for you all day long today.”
That’s how probation and parole officer John Loven began his day on a recent May morning. His day was all laid out in a two-inch thick pile of papers on the front seat of his car. Names and photos and crimes and conditions set by the court.
Loven’s job is to make sure the people in those files are following those court conditions. If they don’t they can go directly to jail.
Many of the problems relate to drugs or alcohol. But the stories and the challenges of the people he visits vary.
“Each probation or parolee,” he says, “ is really an individual, they have individual problems, individual needs.”
Before going to work for the department of corrections he was a career Navy officer. He’s been working probation and parole for about three years.
It is not unusual for Loven to drive a couple hundred miles in a day. For the most part his visits are a surprise. He says he wants to catch them off-guard.
“To see how they are living. What they are doing. Check the trash cans, what they are drinking last night, see if there are any marijuana pipes. Anything laying out. Just to see how they are doing.”
One exception is a young woman in her early 20’s. Loven told her he was coming.
“She had a problem with drugs over a year ago,” he said. He’s been seeing her pretty regularly to try and make sure she is not using.
Loven says he’s had some concerns and that is one of the reasons why we were going to her residence.
She was using serious drugs.
“Her main problem is heroin,” says Loven. “It was drugs. It was definitely drugs. She was using drugs to compensate for a lot of issues that she had. She ran away from home a couple of times.”
But when we arrived she wasn’t there. Instead there was a note saying she would be back in five minutes. She was.
Loven was clearly pleased that she wasn’t going to be in more trouble. She smiles and Loven enters her basement apartment in a small house outside Conway.
“These are my clothes,” she pointed out. “I have to do laundry today.”
Loven looks around the small room. There’s barely room for a couch, table and old television. The young woman is shaking slightly. She says he hasn’t had the chance to get her methadone prescription filled.
“Why don’t you just relax for a few minutes. Okay. You seem to be extremely nervous.”
“No, I am not,”
“You are not?”
“No, I have a lot on my plate today. I have to go pick up my brother tomorrow.”
“You dropped some paper right there.”
“I have so much on my mind. I have to fill my script.”
Loven looks around. Behind a couch. In the refrigerator.In the drawers in the bedroom.
“Is there anything hidden in here?”
“Nope. We already went through this. Paper work. Junk. Underwear.”
She comes across as eager to please, terribly challenged by her problems and very fragile. A phone call interrupts the visit. It’s about a family problem and in seconds it reduces her to tears.
“Are you kidding me? Noooooo. Why?”
Loven stops checking around. Instead he gives her some advice on how to work out that problem.
“Think things through. Is there an alternative? Yes, there is. Okay?”
Then, Loven motions to her long sleeves.
“Let me take a look at your arms. Where did they draw blood the other day? There?”
“Right there. They used the big one, too. It hurt. And they couldn’t get it there, so they did right there. They used the tinier one. And, they did it right there. That’s old.”
“I know. The bruising is gone from the last couple times. You said you are still putting on some lotion or something?”
“Yeah, I put it on every day.”
Loven reminds her she needs to check in with him in two weeks and that’s important because she missed a previous appointment.
She says she tried.
“I have to make this appointment to get the note and then I have to go there and oh, my head was boggled.”
“Are you going to be okay?”
“Yes, I am.”
She tells Loven she’s going to get a ride from a friend to pick up her methadone.
“Actually my friend gets out at 1:30. Do you know her? Probably not, " she laughs, "because she’s a good girl.”
Then, she tells Loven that she has a job interview in the afternoon. She’s clearly excited about it. She insists she will be completely honest about her past and her problem. She’ll cross her fingers and hope they’ll give her a chance.
“You are shaking. You don’t look good right now.”
“That’s because I am not on my medicine.”
“When you go to your interview you make sure you are on you are on your medicine and you answer all their questions. Okay? Don’t try to lie to them.”
“I’m not going to.”
Then, they wish each other a good day. Loven heads back to the car. Throughout the day Loven blends investigating with counseling.
“My bachelor’s degree was in criminal justice,” he told me, “and my graduate degree is community counseling and psychology.”
He visits a sex offender, a couple more people with drug or alcohol problems and a guy who wrote bad checks. They live in run-down single-family homes and trailers so battered you wonder how anyone could survive a winter.
He offers advice to job seekers and encouragement when things seem to be going okay. But he’s particularly stern with a tough-looking guy who just got out of prison and failed to contact Loven.
The guy claims he called but nobody answered. Loven flat doesn’t buy it and gives the guy a warning. One more chance.
All in all Loven’s got a juggling act. Wanting to help but not being a sucker.
“You get to know them,” he said. “You get to know their families, you get to know their lifestyles, how they are doing.”
At the end of the day there’s paperwork, lots of paperwork. Loven has 96 cases this month. That’s down from 108 last month. But it’s clearly a lot for one person covering a big area.