By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
With credit for good time and some political pull, Rollo discharged his seven-year sentence in 30 months. No programs were offered to guide his re-entry and catch him if he stumbled. His jailers just opened the back gates and he walked through them a changed man. "I was an idiot when I came in. I thought I was an outlaw when I left. The world was my enemy."
Few things remain the same when an inmate is released from prison. "The world has changed, and you were not there to change with it," Rollo writes. Your first taste of freedom can be as exciting as it is overwhelming. In the pen, every choice was made for you. In the free world, you are confronted with nothing but choices. Your family, assuming you have any left, doesn't know how to deal with you and can never understand the hell you've been through.
Rollo returned to Shreveport to live his dream, but his father had other plans. He had bought a bar while he was in the pen, and his son began to bus tables. One night a drunk was hassling a barmaid, so Rollo picked up a baseball bat and told the guy to get out. His father intervened, but on the customer's behalf, telling Rollo he was the one who needed to leave. "It literally broke my heart," he says. "Fresh from the joint, I didn't need six weeks of information to know I was an embarrassment to my father. I knew I could not stay in that town."
The following day, an aunt gave him plane fare to Chicago. That is where Sara lived, one of his prison pen pals who had once written him that if he ever needed a place to live, he could stay with her. At the airport, he phoned to tell her he was on his way.
In Chicago, he worked in a factory for a time, did some part-time work on weekends, but only after badgering a department head at the Illinois Rehabilitation Commission did he receive the federal funding he needed to attend school. He was accepted to Roosevelt University in Chicago, which makes it its mission to "actively seek out underserved populations."
"Education brings a clean, fresh energy to your life that helps you redefine your self-image," he says. "You're not an ex-con; you are a student. And you're meeting a nicer group of people."
He broke up with Sara after a year. That's when he became the "happy hippie," a Harley-riding, kazoo-playing dope smoker who lived in a commune and dropped acid when he could get it, which was often. "I was still the outlaw, but marijuana took the edge off my hostility and fear. I was a real nice guy when I was stoned."
"He would come across as fierce and passionate about his ideas," recalls Frank Bulba, who would later become his roommate in Chicago. "And people, particularly women, were attracted to him. It certainly wasn't because of his good looks."
Majoring in psychology, he graduated in 1970. Three months later, he got his first "real job in the business," working for the Illinois Department of Corrections. As a residence counselor in a YMCA halfway house, he supervised freshly released convicts, doing bed checks and calling the police if they stayed too drunk too often.
At 32, Rollo found himself gainfully employed, thinking about graduate school, tiring of drugs and the commune. Things seemed to be finally looking up for him.
If only he hadn't gone down the second time.
In Shreveport, his brother introduced him to a woman who told him she was selling amphetamines to "frustrated Air Force wives through three different beauty parlors," he says. She later phoned him in Chicago and said her source was drying up. She needed 5,000 hits of speed, and he needed money. Was he interested? At first he said no but then wrestled with his conscience. "People coming out of the pen are like functional schizophrenics, totally out of balance," Rollo says. "Here I am a teacher and a helper and a counselor; at the same time I am a drug fiend and a biker. I take pride in the fact that I can kill you or kiss you with equal sincerity."
A few phone calls later, he bought the dope, packed three pistols in his car and headed for Louisiana. On March 11, 1975, he drove to a restaurant parking lot in Shreveport where he met the woman--along with a dozen narcs. He was set up, beat up and tossed back in jail. His days as the happy hippie were done.
For a two-time loser with a history of violence, he got off relatively easy: five years of state time for the drug charge, four years of federal time for the firearms violations, the sentences to run concurrently.