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After Years In And Out Of Jail, A Father Struggles To Break The Pattern

Calculating the exact cost of time behind bars is almost impossible. The meter starts running at the moment of arrest, and doesn’t stop after someone’s released. From lawyer fees to jail calls to probation, going away is expensive. Just ask 37-year-old Stanley Walington, a father of five. 

Walington has spent 10 years of his life locked up. We met him in jail in Bonham, Texas, in August to re-trace a decade of missed wages, unpaid child support and a family struggling to survive on the outside.

It wasn't an easy childhood in Chicago. Stanley Walington's family was poor. His mom was addicted to drugs. Still, he and his siblings made it work.

"Shoot, a stick and rock was a baseball and a bat for us," he recalls. "Milk crates were basketball goals, and stuff like that. We were pretty happy. That's what we were telling my granny. 'We're fine! We're happy!'"

Still, Walington's grandma turned his mom in and he ended up in foster care at age 6.

"She kept telling [my mom] to stop. You know, 'Go back to school. I'll take care of the kids while you're at school,'" he says. "She never went back, so ..."

He was eventually sent to live with his father's sister, an aunt he dearly loves, which is how he ended up in Fort Worth.

Walington talks about his childhood through a plate glass window, a phone pressed to his ear. He's finishing up his time in the Buster Cole State Jail in Bonham, two hours northeast of his home. He's ready to get back to a normal routine, one that he can control.

For example, he'd like to eat his first meal of the day after the sun comes up.

"I don't normally wake up," Walington says. "Breakfast is at, like, 3 in the morning."

Walington has a lot of experience behind bars. He's been sentenced to at least 23 years for crimes ranging from drug possession to firearms violations to theft. He says he's served about 10 years in all.

The first time he got arrested, he was playing high school football for the Eastern Hills Highlanders in Fort Worth.

"When I was getting booked in, some officer looks over at me and says, 'Hey, aren't you that football guy?'" Walington says. "All I could do was put my head down, I was like, 'Lord have mercy.'"

And from the moment he got out, he says his friends were on him.

"'Look, bro, you already got in trouble for stealing,' Walington recalls them saying. "'So, I suggest you go on and come in the hood with us, and I'll show you how to make some real money.'"

Walington says once you've got a criminal record, legitimate work that pays a decent wage is hard to find, especially when you're young. So when a friend offered him some drugs to sell, he jumped in.

"I ended up finding a little hot area to go to, and I was ending up making way too much money in one night — $700 to $800 a night," he says. "It was too much, too fast, and it actually is a life you get trapped into sometimes. That's a lot of money."

He inevitably got busted and locked up again and again. It's a pattern he's fought his entire adult life.

Why did Walington continue commiting more crimes after getting released? Hear him share insight into his choices, view more photos of his family, see a chart on recent recidivism rates and read the rest of Walington's story here.

Walington's story is the first in our Price of Prison series, where we share stories that highlight the true cost of incarceration — for offenders, their families and for society. It's part of the KERA One Crisis Away project, which focuses a spotlight on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Copyright 2020 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Stanley Walington at Buster Cole State Jail in Bonham, Texas, in August.
Thorne Anderson /
Stanley Walington at Buster Cole State Jail in Bonham, Texas, in August.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.