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Continued: Tevlin: Minneapolis probation officer protects people – from themselves

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: May 31, 2014 - 10:19 PM

The parole job sounded like the worst in the world.

“I didn’t know squat about this population, about addicts and homeless people when I started,” Cunningham said. “I live in Edina.”

The statistics are not what motivates Cunningham. “Some of these people are so helpless they need hand-holding; it’s like working with juvenile offenders sometimes. They have no familial ties, no financial support. They drink on the street and pee in the alley because that’s the only place they have.”

His biggest surprise working with them was “asking a client where he was from and he said Wayzata. They come from all over.”

“Sometimes one day is a success for these guys,” said Cunningham. “Getting a guy to treatment, even if it doesn’t hold, is a small success.”

One young client agreed to get his GED diploma in order to reduce his sentence. He studied like mad in jail, but couldn’t pass the final exam. Cunningham decided he had given his all, and offered to release him. But in a move he sees as major progress, the young man asked to stay incarcerated until he passed.

Cunningham is amazed at how such small things can hold a person back. One got a job in construction but couldn’t afford the steel-toed boots. So Cunningham brought him to the store and paid for it.

Then there’s “the genius,” the author who once said in jail, “I shouldn’t be here, I’m a genius.”

“I said, well, look at where you are,” Cunningham said.

He calls Cunningham frequently to leave the message, “Ron, I love you, man.”

“Sometimes I spend so much time cleaning up the messes they have created for themselves, that when they have the rare lucid moment, it’s interesting to engage them in a somewhat normal conversation,” Cunningham said.

“It’s a great insight into who they really are, which is certainly a lot more than just homeless, or chronic downtown offenders.” • 612-673-1702 Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin

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