In 2010, Bob Price was charged with a felony DUI and sentenced to Montana State Prison for 15 years with 10 years suspended.
He served nearly all of the five years before being released on parole for a brief time and then put on probation. Once released, he was determined to get his life back together.
“Before, I was caught in the addiction cycle and I didn't feel like I could do anything about it,” Bob said. “I had a sense of relief when I decided to quit drinking. I was determined.”
Fortunately, Bob had a lot of the necessary ingredients to get his life back on track. He already owned a trailer, so he had a place to live. Probation mandated that he work, and he fulfilled that requirement when he landed a full-time job with Bozeman Brick, Block and Tile. He still wasn’t allowed to drive, though, because of the felony DUI.
The only land he could afford to put his trailer was in Four Corners, four miles from his job in Belgrade and 10 miles outside of Bozeman, which is where the probation office and most amenities are located. The buses only ran between Belgrade and Bozeman, and even then, never early enough for him to get to work on time. So, he had to find transportation alternatives to get to his job and probation appointments.
“My niece was giving me a ride to work every day,” Bob said. “My niece was really great and helped me for three years. But, she got to the point where she had so many obligations, she couldn’t do it anymore.”
After two years, Bob had earned a solid record of clean conduct and he was told that he could be considered for getting his license back. He followed advice from his probation officer and wrote letters to the probation and parole board explaining why he needed a driver’s license. He also included letters of support from people in his life — employers, family, friends — to show he had a network of people to help keep him on track. But Bozeman probation and parole continued to ignore his requests.
“I did everything I was told to do in order to make me eligible,” he said. “I think my presentation was very well put together. But I don’t even think they read the letters. And I know three or four other people who are in the same boat as me.”
Bob said he made phone calls to probation and parole to find out what he could do to get his license back, but he got no response. After that, he made the decision to sometimes — when he couldn’t otherwise find a ride — drive himself to appointments or to Bozeman, despite his license being suspended. He knew he was breaking the law, but he was in a tight spot. Without transportation he could miss his probation check-in or lose his job, both of which would violate his conditions of probation.
“There comes a time when you have to drive and you’ve got no choice,” he said. “So that’s what you do. And then I end up committing this crime because I’m going to the store or my job or a doctor’s appointment. I’m in a panic knowing that when I can’t get a ride or get public transportation, I have to drive. What if somebody hits me? What if I get in a wreck?”
Bob has not gotten in trouble for drinking since he got out of the detention center, but he had violated his probation. He had three violations for driving without a license. Each time, the punishment was to take away his clean conduct status for six months. And each time that status was reset, the chances of him getting his license became slimmer.
In 2018, Bob was supposed to be considered for release from supervised probation but an unauthorized driving violation set him back once again. He found himself in a vicious circle where he was breaking his probation rules in order to not break other probation rules.
“They’ll tell you that you need to have a job in order to not violate probation, and that you need to get to your treatment appointment,” Bob said. “Yet they give you no alternative for how you might get there. And I have a support system, but there are people in my same boat who don’t. The only thing I’ve gotten from probation and parole officers is: 'It’s really not our problem. You have to follow the rules, that’s all.'”
Bob said that for someone like him, having some kind of transportation system set up — even if he’s not the one driving — could make all the difference in getting his life back together.
“Getting my license back or being able to access an alternative form of transportation would make a big difference in my life and help me be successful,” he said. “I’ve got a pretty decent job. And I’ve been really successful with staying away from alcohol and drugs. I’ve done that by myself, because I’ve gotten absolutely no help from the system.
It’s like, they’ll let you get to your knees, but they’ll never help you get on your feet.”