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Admit it: By Day 5 of this collective effort to #staythefuckhome because of the coronavirus, your Netflix queue is empty, you’ve learned things about your partner you wished you hadn’t known and you’re desperate to talk to anyone about anything at all. (Where is that door-to-door evangelist who could tell you about the end times from six feet away?)
Yet for a growing number of Americans, staying locked at home is nothing new: Parolees are routinely sentenced to home confinement for months and even years. In 2016, nearly 900,000 people were on parole, many of them serving some form of house arrests.
On the same day that California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that all 40 million Californians should stay home, BuzzFeed News spoke to two men who had been sentenced to decades in prison and months of house arrests for crimes they say — with some evidence — that they didn’t commit, for their thoughts on sheltering in place.
Angel Rodriguez, 51, of Chicago, served 18 years in prison for attempted murder. DNA evidence on the weapon shows that Rodriguez couldn’t have been the attacker, according to recently filed court papers and court testimony. An appeal of his conviction is pending. Rodriguez spent two months under house arrest in 2017, where he was permitted to leave his home for brief job searches.
Daniel Rodriguez, 50, also of Chicago and no relation to Angel, served more than 17 years for a 1991 murder. He is one of more than 50 people who have accused Chicago detective Reynaldo Guevara of framing them for murders they say they didn’t commit. Twenty of those men have been exonerated and dozens more cases are under review. Rodriguez spent 90 days on house arrest in 2008, in which he was only allowed to leave for church service on Sunday.
Interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.
BuzzFeed News: Daniel, what do you remember of your first few days on house arrest?
Daniel Rodriguez: I cleaned everything from top to bottom. Everything in the house was already clean but I cleaned it again. I was trying to give myself structure, a new routine. In prison, everything is structured, when you eat, when you can go to the yard. I did a lot of reading. I did my resumé, put all my school records together. The internet was new to me. I was never part of that world when it was introduced, so everything was like new to me.
BuzzFeed News: Angel, being shuttered inside your home is one thing but how did you handle lockdowns in prison, when you’re not allowed to leave your cell for sometimes days on end?
Angel Rodriguez: I’ve always told people that having a good cellie [cellmate] makes a difference. If you have someone as one of those bogus cellies, it’s gonna be hell.
There were many times when I liked lockdown because I loved it to write. I knew, OK, we’re going on lockdown for one or two weeks, I don’t have to worry if they were going to pop the doors, I could just write straight through. Just write and write and write.
BFN: Out here, we can’t always ask the warden for new cellmates. On house arrest, you lived in an apartment with your wife and your teenage daughters, who weren’t used to having you home. What did you do when tensions ran high at home?
DR: I learned the best thing was to walk away, shut the door and stay in my room. Like being in prison all over again. But everything will pass. Remember that. Just walk into your room and shut the door.
BFN: When was it hardest for you to be on house arrest?
AR: I remember a couple of times actually. I think just the sense of looking out the window and it’s like a beautiful painting. But you can’t go nowhere. You got to stay in the house.
Then when I got out, my daughter’s mother ended up coming around. We were kicking it a lot. She had been living with a man for about 10 years and when I found out, I remember wanting to break my house arrest because we had got into an argument on the phone. It was just the anger, the frustration.
BFN: How did you handle that urge to break out of house arrest?
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AR: I talked to my family that was around and that alleviated a lot. I knew if I left the fence, I’m gonna violate my parole. I didn’t want to put my family through that again.
BFN: What things did you do when you were going stir crazy?
AR: I was living in an apartment with my mom, my sister and my niece and nephew. But I could go into my room and paint. The painting helped pretty big time.
BFN: Daniel, after spending 90 days locked inside your home, what do you remember about that first day you walked out, free?
DR: Our apartment was only about a block away from a park. I used to keep the window open, listening to the kids playing and watching the families. On the day they cut off my ankle monitor, we went to the park and just stayed there for three hours. I couldn’t believe I was actually there.
BFN: What would you tell people struggling with staying home?
AR: Maybe now we can take this opportunity to go back to the basics. We don’t even really have dinner on the table anymore or play a board game. There will be so much benefit for people to start looking at those things because now you’re forced. You’re forced to think, OK, wait, humanity can be a lot better now. We take advantage of this. Maybe it’s a redo. The next person I see, I can say, “how you doing?” instead of all this negativity.
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