The next two months pass quickly. On the diving barge, which is moored in Los Angeles Harbor, I am teaching the night diving class. It gives the students a feel for diving in a working harbor in the dark, which can be disorienting and dangerous. We start at sunset and wrap up the class by 10:00 pm. I had to get special permission with a letter of explanation from the college to arrive late back at the halfway house.
Standing on the wet rusty deck of the diving barge, I stare out over the dark water at the lights of the harbor. The College of Oceaneering is but a mile from Terminal Island Prison. We are a bit up the channel on the same side of the harbor, the sights are so like what I saw through the prison fence.
I am deeply disturbed by the prison’s foreboding presence, which lurks too close to where I am standing. Sometimes school business takes me near the institution’s gray walls, which always causes me to tremble deep down inside.
Beyond the floodlights of the dive barge, I see the dark hills of San Pedro. The view recalls too many prison memories. I see the same city lights on the hills and all but hear the prison’s siren call and feel it is seeking to pull me back into its walls. Shadowy inmate memories linger about me and haunt my sleep. I do not rest well at night as phantom DEA agents, prison guards, and inmates stalk my dreams. Often I wake up in a cold sweat. I live with the secret terror of a simple parole violation, such as missing daily count at the halfway house.
On the dive barge, we run long securing the equipment on a lightly raining night, and then I hit heavy traffic caused by an accident. I am later than I should be as I walk through the office door to sign in—then stop in my tracks when I see a horrifying sight. Sitting on the clerk’s desk is a cardboard box stuffed with the few possessions from my room.
‘Are they sending me back, just for being a little late?’
I stand there at a total loss and in complete dismay. My heart collapses into itself as I vividly remember the cold and dank TI holding cell, which is where they would take me for a parole violation. It is the closest federal prison.
“About time you got here, Arrington,” grumbles the night clerk shuffling papers. “Sign these discharge papers.”
“Discharge papers?” Did I hear him correctly?
“The judge commuted your sentence to three years.”
I scan the document, Judge Takasugi has ruled on an appeal my attorney Rick submitted over two years ago.
‘Who would have ever thought he would rule on my appeal after my release from prison?’
“You know you can’t spend the night here.”
“Served your sentence, therefore, the halfway house cannot be responsible for your safety around the inmates.”
‘He said the inmates, I think gleefully, not other inmates. I am no longer an inmate, I am now a parolee!’
I sign the papers, grab the box and dash out the door.
I drive Revelstoke to Huntington Beach and slip into a parking space after paying a five-dollar overnight fee.
Too excited and full of energy to sleep, I walk along the water’s edge, staring out to sea. The rain earlier in the evening has washed the Los Angeles smog from the night sky. Stepping across this threshold is so unexpected. I still have three years of Special Parole. This means any violation will launch me like a lightning bolt back inside prison walls. Yet, I am no longer Inmate Arrington; just call me, Steve.
Early the next morning, I drive Revelstoke to the college arriving before sunrise. I park by a little green lawn. It is a tiny park in the middle of the college. It is smaller than a house lot, but there are three trees, some flowering bushes, the little green lawn and two wooden benches.
I stare at the college’s wooden administration building with the upstairs classrooms. Beside it is the hyperbaric chamber room and two huge diver-training tanks with portholes for viewing underwater training. A raised platform provides a deck for tending the divers. To the right is the rigging locker, knot-tying classroom and the rigging yard. Behind me are three diving barges with various complex underwater projects.
In the middle of it all is Revelstoke. I perk a pot of coffee and take a cup outside to sit on a wooden bench. I arrived early to revel in this moment. My life after prison has come together in a very rapid, surprising way. I also know that I serve a purpose. What better place than a college to teach young men and women not just the commercial aspects of diving, but also about life.
I love camping at Huntington Beach at night and beside the little park in the day. However, there is a sign in the parking lot that says camping is limited to ten days. I begin the search for a place to live where I can park Revelstoke on a long-term basis. It needs to be affordable and close to the college. I rent half of a Mexican family’s driveway on the poorer side of Los Angeles Harbor in the town of Wilmington for 40 bucks a month. It is only a mile from the College of Oceaneering so Terminal Island Prison still lurkers in the near distance.
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