By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Max Marshall had been in and out of prison four times when finally he connected with Eric Bandonis.

“We formed a relationship because I accepted his accountability. He let me earn things like leaving the area to go fight wildfires,” Max said. “He’s given me references for other things and he’s been my best advocate. I’ve been off parole for a couple of years and he’s still a resource for me.”

Bandonis is the Keizer Police Department’s resident Marion County Sheriff Office (MCSO) parole and probation officer. Unlike most parole and probation officers, who work out of central offices in Salem and elsewhere, Bandonis has a dedicated space in the Keizer police station where he meets with clients and attempts to keep them on the straight-and-narrow path.

Ten years ago, the Keizer police station was designed specifically to incorporate a parole and probation officer and Bandonis’ resulting relationship with Keizer police and his clients pays big dividends, according to all involved.

Eric Bandonis

“KPD is a phenomenal partner. They were so forward-thinking to say they wanted community corrections to be part of what happens there, and we couldn’t be more humble to be part of that family,” said Parole and Probation Division Commander Jeff Wood.

Bandonis said his role in the community is part police officer and part counselor.

“We want to focus on cognitive issues and provide clients with tools so they don’t reoffend,” Bandonis said.

Bandonis supplies assistance in areas as simple as crafting a resume or as complex as conflict resolution and just about everything in between. He also checks in with clients regularly to make sure they are attending court-mandated appointments and paying restitutions and other fees.

“Parole officers ensure that they take care of those things and, if they don’t, we make sure there are consequences,” Bandonis said.

Parole and probation officers have specialized caseloads. For Bandonis, it means working with about 45 Keizer-based parolees who have run afoul of the law in mostly drug-related crimes, but the list includes those convicted of assault, robbery and theft. Much of it is made easier because of his close proximity to his clients and the ease with which information flows between his office and the Keizer Police Department.

“It’s very team-oriented here and it’s a lot easier for me to grab one of the Keizer officers to help me serve a warrant or do a check on somebody. I work closely with the Community Response Unit and, if they have a suspicion that one of my clients is involved with drug activity, I can go with them to the scene of a investigation,” Bandonis said.

Bandonis spends about half his time in the field and the other half in his office meeting with clients to help them navigate re-entry into society and even work on behavioral issues. Helping someone with a resume can lead to conversations about larger issues at work in his clients’ minds and skill-training he can assist with.

Overcoming thought processes that are hard-wired in those struggling with addiction is one of the regular hurdles Bandonis encounters. It leads to focusing on “tapes and counters.” Tapes are automatic thoughts attitudes and beliefs that help someone justify criminal behavior, Bandonis said.

“Someone might have come to believe that they had to deal drugs because they need to support their family,” Bandonis said. “What we teach them is how to counter that with thoughts like: I shouldn’t be doing this because it is against the law, it will end up putting me in jail and it won’t help my family at all in the future. I should find a stable job because it’s the right thing to do.”

Other skills Bandonis can assist with range from how to listen to how to handle embarrassment.

“I don’t tell them how to solve it, I prompt them to figure it out through role-playing and working with someone they know,” he added.

Successfully navigating parole and probation conditions depends on the parolee being a willing participant. Max said prior to meeting Bandonis he viewed parole officers as the enemy and, each time he got out of jail, he would do well for a couple of months before reverting to the habits that got him in trouble.

“In my mind, I wanted to change, but my actions weren’t matching up. Within a year, I would be back in prison,” Max said. “I met with Eric right off the bat and this time I wanted to change. I was willing to do what I had to do to do that. Eric was very firm and fair and he didn’t give me any rope. He gave me homework and assigned me things that I was willing to do this time.”

Max said the relationship he was able to form with Bandonis was based on rewards and consequences, but that he was able to achieve bigger and better things as he proved his trustworthiness. Max was given permission from the court to leave the area as a wildfire firefighter for months at a time during the summer. He held onto those achievements and set new goals – like becoming a crew boss. This summer he is crew boss-in-training. He also started college at Western Oregon University and earned a bachelor’s degree in business in June.

Bandonis also helped Max build his relationship with his wife, Tera, while she was still in prison for drug-related crimes. Even getting into the prison for visitation was complicated because of Max’s past crimes, but Bandonis acted as a reference for him. Tera officially finished her parole and probation this week and is going to school to become a counselor.

While Bandonis was not Tera’s official parole officer, she developed a relationship with him through Max.

“I went to his office last week and I asked him if I could get a reference from him. To have somebody there like that is priceless,” Tera said. “I see that it’s easy for people to slip backward knowing they won’t see the PO for a month. It is a mindset. Having somebody local is good because it’s more accountability.”

Bandonis still drops in to see Max and Tera regularly despite having finished his official duties in Max’s case. Max said it’s not unusual for them to get introduced to the latest trainees or to assist others going through the system. He and Tera have helped provide transport to other parolees in need and sometimes just sit and share their story.

“Any time that we reach out to help people, I’m convinced I get way more out of it than they do. It helps remind us where we could go back to. Everybody in our church and workforce knows our story because if they hear it and reach out for help, it’s a beautiful thing,” Max said.

In addition to having a resource close by, having Bandonis stationed at KPD helps in other less visible ways. Most Keizer officers are familiar with Bandonis’ clients and can help him track down ones that go missing or offer words of encouragement in the community that foster accelerated growth.

“We will go out with him and do parole and probation check-ups and that builds up familiarity with them to help hold them accountable,” said Sgt. Bob Trump, of the Keizer Police Department. “We can show our appreciation for what they are doing and it’s a real positive interaction.”

Wood, the parole and probation division commander, added that Keizer officers’ familiarity with some parolees can help create changes in the approach the courts take with some clients. In one recent case, Keizer cops noticed a parolee who was involved in an escalating series of crimes. At the time, the suspect was not one of Bandonis’ clients, but Keizer officers advocated for closer supervision of the man and Bandonis now oversees his case.

“Keizer police help me hold my clients more accountable. I love working with the clientele and the officers here. It’s like working with a family at this facility,” Bandonis said.