Note: This transcript is a radio script, which means it includes production notations and occasional syntactical errors and quirks of writing for audio storytelling.
Episode 2: First Day Out
EMILY: How are you feelin?
LAVENETS: Nervous. Very nervous. Excited, nervous, all the above.
Josh gets out of prison on a spring morning in New Hampshire. The trees are just starting to turn green, but the sky is gray and it’s raining. He’s not dressed for the weather. He’s wearing prison issued sweat shorts and a tee shirt.
Still...Josh seems immune to the dampness and the chill.
EMILY: You got a bounce in your step.
LAVENETS: Oh yeah.
LAVENETS: When’s the bus show up? Usually?
CASHIER: What was that?
LAVENETS: When’s the bus show up?
CASHIER: About 7:40ish.
CASHIER: Alright you’re all set. Have a good day.
These are Josh’s first moments as a free man in two years. His face, his walk -- you can see this battle between exhilaration and apprehension. Like he’s so light he could float straight into the air -- except -- something is pulling him back down. And he keeps repeating this refrain about how he’s feeling.
Very excited. Very nervous.
LAVENETS: Very excited. Very nervous.
The bus is early, but Josh hustles across the parking lot, like he’s worried it’s gonna leave without him.
I’ve never followed someone around on their first day on parole before. But I had an idea how that day must play out: hitching rides, emotional reunions, maybe a really good meal. Josh’s first day will be most of those things.
And it’ll be a lot more. Everything will go as planned - until it doesn’t.
And getting on this bus -- Josh... and I -- have NO idea what we’re getting into.
From New Hampshire Public Radio this is Supervision, a podcast about a life on parole. I’m Emily Corwin. This is Episode 2: First Day Out. And just a warning to listeners -- this episode has some disturbing events that are hard to listen to.
BUS DRIVER: Going to Ossipee as well? There you go. Thank you.
Josh chooses a seat near the front, and drops a clear plastic garbage bag between his feet. In it I can see some magazines, a tube of toothpaste, and a few bottles of pills.
LAVENETS: Yeah I didn’t sleep very good last night. /// I’ve been up since about 3:30.
EMILY: Oh my god.
LAVENETS: I went to bed about almost one. ///
EMILY: What’s going thru your head all that time?
LAVENETS: The reality of it. Everything’s sinking in. That I’m actually gettin’ out. /// I wonder how my mom’s doing right now. /// Probably the same as me. Nervous, excited.
Actually, Josh tells me, it’s not just last night. He’s hardly slept for days.
LAVENETS: Op! There’s Mount Chocorua. Right there!
Josh sees his favorite hike - Mount Chocorua. He strains to see out all the windows. He points out tree stumps, a Walmart... everything is fascinating.
LAVENETS: Oh yeah, I forgot about people in crosswalks.
As we drive farther from the prison, I notice Josh’s hands...he keeps furling his bus ticket into this tight little roll and then unrolling it again.
EMILY: Little bit of nervous energy there?
LAVENETS: Yeah. /// I fiddle around a lot.
His mood -- is shifting. He becomes less happy. More -- somber.
LAVENETS: I’m wicked anxious and nervous. /// I just wanna jump outta my skin right now.
There are so many things that must be on Josh’s mind right now. He hasn’t seen his friends and his family for over two years. He needs to find a job, and an apartment. He needs a drivers license...and a car.
And besides all of that, it’s still only about 9 am... and Josh doesn’t know who’ll be there to pick him up when the bus stops.
DRIVER: Uh, our next stop will be West Ossipee! ///
LAVENETS: West Ossipee, here I come. ///
DRIVER: West Ossipee! [bus sounds.] /// Good luck to you sir.
LAVENETS: Thank you. /// Aw this is so nice.
The bus drops Josh off an hour from home. We start walking toward a beat up red pickup truck.
LAVENETS: Kris still has the dodge.
As we get closer to the truck, I keep expecting someone to get out and greet Josh.
But nobody does. I wonder who’s inside. When Josh opens up the passenger door. It’s his old friend Kris McGovern.
Kris gives Josh a silent once over -- he’s expressionless. They don’t hug or anything like that. It’s a little hard to hear the very first thing Kris says to Josh -- but here it is.
LAVENETS: What's UP dude, what's UP.
KRIS: You’re pale as fuck. [Huh?]
You’re pale as fuck, Kris says.
KRIS: You’re pale.
LAVENETS: What do you mean, I been gettin sun!
KRIS: [Laughs.] What’s up?
EMILY: Hey, Kris, I’m Emily.
KRIS: How are you?
EMILY: Nice to meet you.
LAVENETS: Um, yeah...public radio…
KRIS: Right on...
Kris is an old neighbor of Josh’s. They’ve been good friends for years. Kris didn’t visit Josh in prison, but he did send photos from hiking trips - and occasionally, money.
He tells me to hop in the backseat. On it - - among other things, is a disintegrating, red rose.
EMILY: Cool thank you.
KRIS: Sorry about the mess.
EMILY: Oh don’t worry about it.
KRIS: It’s an old rose. Don’t ask me how it got there.
Kris is a master electrician - his truck is full work gear - his helmet, some tools. A box of Junior Mints.
I buckle up for the drive south.
KRIS: Alright. Fuckin freedom.
LAVENETS: Yeah, it’s nice.
KRIS: Finally. /// So where you gotta go, Dover?
We set off driving southeast, towards Dover, where Josh has to check in with his parole officer before the end of the day. It’s about an hour away. To get there, we pass through Rochester, where Josh grew up, and where Kris lives. It’s a blue-collar town that’s just beginning to see the signs of gentrification.
Opioid addiction has crept into Rochester, too. And, into their group of friends.
LAVENETS:Strawberry still alive?
KRIS: I'm surprised you didn't see him.
Strawberry is one of their pals.
LAVENETS: That dope. People are dying left and right.
Josh is surprised Strawberry hasn’t died from an overdose yet. And Kris is surprised Josh didn’t cross paths with Strawberry in prison.
LAVENETS: Wow, what did he do?
KRIS: He was running like a trap house there for a while. [Yeah.] So the city ended up kicking him out, they didn't have any water, they didn’t have any sewer, I guess the toilet was...just mounded over. You know, like, disgusting.
LAVENETS: That’s brutal. /// Hey, Mount Shaw right there. That's a good mountain.
Josh’s buddy Kris is about as understated a person as I’ve ever met. At one point, when there’s a break in the conversation, Kris mentions with his typical nonchalance: he’s gonna be a dad in August.
LAVENETS: So who you having a kid with?
LAVENETS: The “Lisa” Lisa?
Josh’s anxiety appears to be quieting. He seems relieved, even elated to just banter with his buddy. They talk about hiking, work, women, more hiking. Things are going -- the way you might expect them to.
And then...something unexpected happens. And it’s alarming. Even though I’ve heard what you’re about to hear more times than I can count, it’s still hard for me to listen to.
[choking SEIZURE SOUNDS] s
Josh’s fists punch out in front of him and his whole body starts shaking. For a moment, Kris and I catch each other's eyes through the rear-view mirror, but Kris just keeps driving. I can’t read his expression. Josh sounds like he’s choking. It looks like a seizure to me, but I don’t know.
[seizing SEIZURE SOUNDS] (it’s actually here -- 2 seizes; 3rd seize is faded)
Josh’s body collapses into his seat. He’s making gurgling sounds. And then he starts breathing heavily, like he’s gasping for air.
I keep expecting Kris to pull over, but instead, he guns the engine and passes a slower car on the left.
In my mind, I keep thinking this must be their broey-dude way of dealing with this kind of thing. And I fight the urge to say something. I’m a journalist -- I think, “I’m not supposed to intervene.” I take my cue from Kris -- and say nothing.
Eventually Josh opens his eyes.
Kris offers Josh a cigarette, Josh declines.
KRIS: No? Good for you
Good for you, Kris tells Josh.
And that’s it. Slowly Josh straightens up in his seat and they both go back to talking about climbing mountains.
LAVENETS: What presidential mountain did you climb?
LAVENETS: Jackson. How was that?
I can hear Josh is slurring his words. But he doesn’t seem to notice. None of us mention the seizure, or whatever it was.
We just continue to the parole office like nothing happened.
GUARD: Ok. Any metal objects on you at all, keys, watch, wallet, anything? OK, come on through. Parole is downstairs.
The office is in the basement of the courthouse - the same courthouse where Josh was charged and pleaded guilty to assault against his wife and stepson, three years ago.
LAVENETS: These stairs are pretty familiar.
The basement office has one of those white noise machines -- for privacy, I guess. There’s a plexiglass window with a slot for papers.
LAVENETS: Hi. Um, I just got out of prison, and I'm here to check in with Greg Morgenous?
CLERK: Ok. You’re gonna put the date and your date of birth there.
LAVENETS: Oh, sorry.
The receptionist hands Josh this huge stack of documents he needs to fill out, initial, and sign. There is an incredibly long list of rules he has to abide by.
He promises to...comply with his parole officer...
LAVENETS: I will diligently seek and maintain lawful employment...
He promises to pay attorney fees, parole fees, restitution; he promises not to associate with anyone with a criminal record unless his parole officer says it's ok...
LAVENETS: Obey all laws and be arrest free.
...he promises not to even be in the presence of drugs...and, Josh tells me the judge instructed him not to consume any alcohol...that he can be sent back to prison if he drinks.
LAVENETS: I will submit to reasonable searches of my person, property, possessions...
Eventually the door opens, and Josh goes inside to meet his parole officer.
MORGENOUS: Josh? Come on in.
Twenty minutes later, he comes out. And he just looks smaller.
LAVENETS: It feels much later than 11. I’m like emotionally beat. ///
EMILY: Was there something about meeting the parole officer that.. like?///
LAVENETS: Yeah, I’m just in for a long ride.
[SFX car doors]
LAVENETS: My first soda in two years [can opens] loaded with sugar. ///
KRIS: Alright where we off to?
LAVENETS: Transitional housing….
Kris drives us to Josh’s new place; it’s a transitional housing facility where Josh is supposed to stay for the next few months. It doesn’t look like a home. It’s a big brick building that shares a parking lot with a county jail and a drug treatment center. Josh heads inside while Kris and I wait for him in the car.
[Chip bag crackles]
Kris eats from a bag of chips in the front seat. It’s the first time we’re alone together, and have a chance to talk about...whatever it was that happened to Josh that morning.
KRIS: I didn’t know what the --
Kris brings it up.
KRIS: It looked like he was getting electrocuted on the way home.
EMILY: Have you ever seen that before?
EMILY: No? I assumed you had. You were so calm.
KRIS: No. Um..
EMILY: So he doesn’t have epilepsy or anything?
KRIS: Never seen that before. In my life. Out of Josh.
KRIS: So I don’t know if it was just like anxiety. Or just being like overcome with emotion.
EMILY: That looked like a seizure to me.
KRIS: Yeah it kinda looked like a seizure to me too. Little bit concerning.
EMILY: Mhmm. Are you gonna talk to him about it?
KRIS: I’m sure in time. Not right away.
Whatever happened to Josh, Kris tells me -- he thinks prison did it. He thinks the prison messed with Josh’s brain.
LAVENETS: Tell you what, Subarus look different since I been in.
Kris and I get quiet as soon as Josh gets in. As Kris starts the car, I make up my mind to ask Josh about his seizure the next time he and I are alone.
About fifteen minutes later, we pull up to Kris’ apartment.
KRIS: Yeah, you want to go out, sit out back with Josh. I’ll go upstairs and grab my dog? EMILY: Sure.
Josh and I are in Kris’ back yard. I look up and see a big, graying pitbull hurtling towards us.
His name...is Hambone.
LAVENETS: You old son of a bitch. /// Puppy!
This is the first time I see Josh rejoice with abandon in his reunion with someone...here, in this world outside of prison.
KRIS: Old timer.
LAVENETS: Yeah, when she came out she wasn’t as spunky. /// Glad I got out to see Hambone. He’s gray around the eyes.
KRIS: Oh yeah dude.
LAVENETS: Yeah he is old.
Hambone wanders away. We stand around the yard. It’s actually a little warmer outside now.
And then, in an instant, this peaceful moment? Is over. The seizure thing -- it happens again.
[SFX: SEIZURE SOUND]
Josh falls backwards onto the grass, convulsing. I’m afraid he’ll choke on his saliva or on his tongue, so I put my recording gear down, sit cross legged, and hold his head in my lap.
KRIS: What do we do?
EMILY: I don’t know. I mean if he…
[gasping, seizure sounds fade] ///
KRIS: I’m gonna call 9-11.
EMILY: You are? Ok.
Josh’s breathing slows and deepens. I lower him off my lap.
The minutes pass really slowly. Finally he opens his eyes.
EMILY: Hey Josh? You just just had a seizure. [Hmm.] Have you ever had a seizure before? [Seiz-- seizure?] Yeah. I think it happened in the car, too. Kris is calling an ambulance. Has that ever happened before? [No] No. You fell backward, and you went stiff. /// You were sort of clenching your teeth. /// And are you taking any different -- did they give you any different meds today? [No.]
KRIS TO 911 OPERATOR: Yep, he’s awake. Yep, he’s breathing. He’s up.
LAVENETS: Um, prozac.
Josh does not remember having the seizure. He looks groggy.
EMILY: How do you feel right now? A little shaky?
LAVENETS: Yeah. Excited. [Yeah.] Nervous.
An ambulance pulls up and I help him walk to the road.
EMT: Hi. What is that?
EMILY: I’m a reporter. I’ve been following him all day long.
EMT: Ok. So we’re done for that for now.
Kris and I follow behind the ambulance, to the hospital. We sit in the waiting room for an hour or two.
Eventually, a doctor comes out. He asks me to follow him into ER. I find Josh lying on a gurney in the hallway. The doctor wants me to recall for him and Josh exactly what happened.
EMILY: So the first time we were in his truck…[DOCTOR: Ok.]...and so...
I go through the seizures play by play, and the doctor takes notes. When he leaves, Josh talks to me for a while.
LAVENETS: Seizures, that’s serious. [EMILY: That’s scary.] That’s up there really with diabetes, I dunno. Well, you can die from diabetes. Well, if you hit your head-- I don’t know if you can die from seizures. I’m hoping that was just a weird fluke, no more.
EMILY: Yeah, I hope so too.
I’ve spent another hour in the waiting room by the time Josh’s mom gets off her shift. She hustles past me, walking straight through the ER doors. I imagine Josh: still hooked on his IV, still lying on that gurney as he and his mom see each other for the first time in two years.
A few more hours later, the two of them emerge. Josh’s mom hangs back to give us some room so he and I can talk before they take off.
EMILY: I am just like so sorry that -- I hope you don’t feel uncomfortable with the fact that I was sort of there for everything.
LAVENETS: No. /// I’m drained. I am drained. Um. Yeah the seizures were no good. Really scary. And uh hope that never happens again. What if I’m climbing up a mountain, I have it and Boom head right off a rock. Driving.
It’s late afternoon when we all finally say goodbye. Our voices and body language -- it’s like we’re skating between the sweetness of reunion -- and the dread of what’s still unknown.
EMILY: Josh, it was a pleasure to see you through this day. I’m sorry it wasn’t better, it wasn’t easier.
LAVENETS: Yeah, sorry about that.
KRIS: This is a celebration
EMILY: Have a good evening.
LAVENETS: You too.
EMILY: Bye guys!
By the time I get in my car, the sun is setting. And my head spins. I use my phone to record some thoughts while I drive.
EMILY: I just, I’m worried about this guy. I don’t know.
It’s not until I’m halfway home that I realize -- my only phone number for Josh is the prison’s number.
EMILY: I don’t even know how I’m going to follow up with Josh. Like I didn’t even… he doesn’t even have a phone number.
I can’t believe I didn’t think of that till now...
Next time, looking for Josh...
If you’d like to listen to the next episode of Supervision, the entire series is available in your feed right now.
Supervision was produced and reported by me, Emily Corwin.
Jack Rodolico is Senior Producer.
Editing by Dan Barrick, Cori Princell, and Maureen McMurray.
Sound mixing by Nick Capodice and Hannah McCarthy.
Digital production by Sara Plourde and Rebecca Lavoie.
Special thanks to Vermont Public Radio.
To learn more about the series visit our website: supervisionpodcast.org
Supervision is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.