Second generation parole agent learned about life from dad
By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
For more than three decades, Harvey Watson helped keep parolees on the straight and narrow. In 1975, the department featured his story as a “Day in the Life” of a parole agent. His son, Harvey Watson, Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps. Inside CDCR caught up with the younger agent Watson to see what’s changed over the decades.
Watson has been working for the prison system for almost 27 years and has been a state parole agent for six years, following a three-year stint as an institution parole agent. From 2012 to 2013, he worked with the California Parole Apprehension Team (CPAT). Today he works in the Pomona Parole Office on the San Gabriel Valley 1 Unit.
Life lessons learned from parole
Making healthy choices was something his father stressed at an early age.
“One of the most vivid memories I have of my dad as a parole agent was watching him in the evening writing his notes in his field book at the dinner table,” Watson said. “He would share funny stories of parolees and also give me life lessons about what to do and not to do in life. He would share stories of parolees who had it all and chose the wrong path and those who worked hard to do better and became successful.”
His father’s work made a lasting impact.
“One time my family was in Los Angeles shopping and a large man approached my father. The man brought his family of eight over to my dad and introduced them,” Watson recalled. “He thanked my father for his help and assistance while he was on parole. At first I was afraid because he appeared to be larger than King Kong. But after the interaction, I felt proud and admired my father even more.”
While dress codes for parole agents today are more casual, back in the 1970s, things were different.
“Another memory of my father was admiring how clean and sharply dressed he was each day he went to work. My dad wore slacks and suits to work daily. He maintained this dress code from his PA I days to his administration position as a PA III,” he said. “Back then, agents dressed in business attire. Today we blend in with the public and sometimes it’s hard to tell us apart from the public.”
His father passed away in January 2011.
“My dad was with CDCR for 31 years and he retired as a PA III,” he said.
Technology has evolved
In 1975, the tools of the trade were very different.
“Some of the biggest differences in technology from the 1970s to now are computers, cell phones, GPS and fax machines. These are the things my father joked about. My father used the Thomas Guide, which is still used on occasion. (The Thomas Guide is a series of small, spiral-bound road maps.) He used a phone booth to make calls or would drive all the way back to the office to make calls because at times it would be unsafe to stop and find a phone booth in the inner city,” he said. “My father would use a dictation machine and have clerical type it or he would slowly hand write a report. These (advances) have allowed agents to work faster and be more efficient.”
His father constantly reminded him where his efforts should be focused.
“One of the hurdles that I have faced is still the lack of viable resources for our clients even with new programs and facilities available,” said Watson. “These programs may not suit our clients and most tend to (be temporary). Also, because of the computer being a new tool for more efficient and faster work, it has caused the agent to become more tied to the office. … My father would tell me that you are field agent, sometimes you may have to take that parolee to a job.”
He said he believes 40 years ago, agents had more opportunities to work with parolees in the field.
“An agent now has more responsibilities to complete various tasks in the office and on their computers,” Agent Watson said. “Sometimes it keeps them busier in the office. What is the same, is the danger and unpredictable nature of the clients we deal with on a daily basis.”
Big shoes to fill
“I did follow in my father’s footsteps. I have always admired my father. I saw him as hard worker and a fair man. He was a strong man mentally, physically and spiritually. The life lessons my father gave me came from his experience from childhood to his adulthood and were a road map for my life,” he said. “My father always encouraged my brother and I to ‘don’t talk about be about it’ and to be humble and let your actions and hard work speak for themselves. My father treated everyone with respect. He was calm and laid-back man with a great sense of humor and a strong presence.”
Helping those in need is something he learned from his father.
“There have been a couple of instances in which I have helped out a parolee or parolee family. My first year at the Pomona Parole Office, I created a parolee clothing closet. I got donations from fellow agents from the complex and received support from the District Attorney to do the closet. The clothing was used for parolees and their families. The closet provided everything from suits to jackets and shoes,” he said.
A day in the life
6 a.m. – “Unlike my father, a typical start to my morning is preparing my duty belt and putting on my protective vest because I would be in the field visiting parolees at their residence. Typically I am on the road between 6 and 7 a.m. trying to negotiate through traffic and to get to my first attempt at a home visit. I check my voice mail on my phone to see if any of my parolees have called. On my voice mail, I have a parolee in need of housing and another phone call from a parent asking for me to remove her son, who is a parolee, from her house because he is ‘lazy.’ I log my mileage and get on the road. During my day I will stop by each of these homes to address these issues and hopefully solve everyone’s problems or at least guide them in the right direction.”
10 a.m. – “After three or four hours in the field, I head back to the office. I greet my fellow agents and check in with my supervisor as I continue down the hallway to sign in on the board and greet the clerical staff. I check my box for mail, reports, etc. I return to my desk and check my phone for messages as I wait for my computer to configure and welcome me. I double check my ‘to do’ list on the (sticky) notes I posted the day before.”
3 p.m. – “I check my emails and the Parole Violation Disposition Tracking System (PVDTS) for any arrests. Once I have addressed the issues, I write notes in my field book and make return calls and emails that need to be addressed. Time has passed quickly and it is 3 p.m., the end of my scheduled shift. I write on a (sticky note) and a calendar of the things to address the next day, sign out for the day and say good bye to my hardworking office partner and hardworking San Gabriel Valley Unit.”
About Agent Harvey Watson, Jr.
Agent Watson earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Oregon in 1984 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice/human services.
“I attended the academy a month after graduating from college,” he said. “I began working for the California Youth Authority in 1989 at the Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility as a group supervisor. By 1991, I promoted to youth correctional counselor.”
In 2002, Watson transferred to Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility in Chino. In 2006, he started working as a background investigator for the Department of Corrections, as it was known at the time.
“In 2007, I returned to Heman G. Stark and was promoted to parole agent. In 2010, after the closure of Heman G. Stark, I was given opportunity to go to parole academy,” he recalls. “My first unit I was assigned to was the Pomona Parole Unit as a Parole Agent I. In 2012, I was given the opportunity to work a temp assignment with the California Parole Apprehension Team (CPAT). In 2015, I returned back to the Pomona Parole Office where I currently work on the San Gabriel Valley 1 Unit.”
- Read the original 1975 story on the senior Harvey Watson, http://www.insidecdcr.ca.gov/2016/07/cdcr-time-capsule-1975-a-day-in-the-life-of-parole-agent-harvey-watson/