Twenty-two-year-old Angel Rosso has been incarcerated in Washington state since 2018. His release date was set for January 2023. But, with “good behavior,” he was eligible for release a full year sooner—provided the Department of Corrections approved the address where he’d be staying. He requested his mother’s.
Elisa Rosso has lung cancer, and has been undergoing chemotherapy. When a DOC staffer called on September 7 to make an appointment to inspect her home, she informed them of her chemo and requested that, as she was severely immunocompromised, they wear PPE. The staffer said that wouldn’t be necessary.
Rosso’s mother was taken aback. “I don’t understand why you people have to be idiotic during a pandemic,” she told the staffer.
The call ended. The DOC never visited her house. The release address was denied. (Filter made numerous attempts to interview Rosso’s mother by phone, but was unable to do so as she continues with her treatment.)
Rosso had been living with his wife, but he couldn’t be released to their home address because she had been present when he was arrested. He couldn’t think of any other address where he could go. And that meant he would remain in prison.
DOC stipulations for a suitable home include no other residents with felony convictions; no drugs including alcohol; and that the person being released have their own room.
With the implementation of Washington’s Sentencing Reform Act (SRA) in the 1980s, mandatory minimum sentences were imposed on people with felony convictions, and the parole program abolished.
Before the SRA, prisoners went before a board to be assessed for reform and risk of re-arrest. Today, sentences are much longer. But with good behavior, people can get their sentence cut by anywhere from 5 to 50 percent depending on the charge.
But many, like Rosso, are sentenced to “community custody” upon release. This means that if they can’t find a DOC-approved address, they can be held long past their release date.
DOC stipulations include that a suitable home must have no other residents with felony convictions, no drugs including alcohol, and that the person being released must have their own room. These are high barriers, and many are unable to meet them.
He worked his sentence down with good behavior. He was moved to minimum security.
Rosso grew up in Oakland, California. His father is currently serving a life sentence in Texas. His older brother joined a gang at age 14. By the time he was 11, Rosso had too.
“My mom was really good,” Rosso said from atop an empty steel bunk in our dormitory in Monroe Correctional Complex. “But all my family was involved in gang activity, so it was just the logical step for me to join.”
When Rosso was 14, they moved to Bellingham, Washington, where he and his brother were instantly embraced by a local chapter of their gang. Within two months, his brother was already incarcerated, and soon after, so was he, on charges that were ultimately pled down to third-degree theft.
“I got out, and found out my first daughter was on the way,” he said. “I started selling drugs and tried to stay off the radar.”
He met his current partner when he was 15, and the young couple grew up fast and quickly moved in together. Rosso spent most of his teen years selling drugs to support them. When he was 18, they had a son. Money grew tighter.
“Everything started falling apart,” Rosso recounted. “Drug money was short because people were going to jail, and pipelines got closed. The only other thing I knew was doing robberies.”
He hit a local coffee shop, for which he ended up sitting in county jail for more than a year. He got 67 months for charges including first-degree robbery and possession of an unlawful short-barrel shotgun. “I guess [they] frown on having a shotgun under 26 inches.”
About halfway through serving his time, someone suggested he pursue his GED. “I was already gonna be away from my family for five years, and didn’t wanna keep disappearing on my kids,” Rosso said. “I decided I needed to take his advice.”
He got his GED, enrolled in a DOC-offered Construction Trade Apprenticeship Program and began earning an Associates of Technical Arts degree in small business management through Edmonds Community College. He worked his sentence down with good behavior. He was moved to minimum security.
Without a DOC-approved address, Rosso would be in MCC until January 2023—his release date without good behavior.
After his mother’s address was rejected, Rosso appealed the decision. For about a month, he heard nothing. In early October he was informed his appeal had been successful. But some DOC staffers told him that didn’t matter; the address would still not be approved. He submitted his wife’s parents’ address, and again waited without hearing anything.
The DOC replied to the first of Filter’s several requests for comment on the circumstances of Rosso’s release, but ultimately did not provide answers.
In late October, the DOC suddenly reopened Rosso’s case, prompted by what Rosso believes to be Filter’s requests for comment on this story. On November 4, he was approved for release into the custody of his wife’s parents. His is now set to be released on January 7, 2022.
Without an approved address, Rosso would be in MCC until January 2023—his release date without good behavior. He would remain in the environment that pressures him to embrace his old life, rather than the new one being held out of reach. His children would suffer because his mother spoke frankly.
Photograph via Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0