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A day in court

I kept shifting in my seat, it was hard to stay still on the wooden bench. Sitting through a round of hearings in the Jasper County Courthouse for an hour was almost more than I could bear, I would’ve never made it as a Puritan.

I went to court last Wednesday afternoon to check on Jason Purtillo. We featured Jason last November in our coverage on homelessness in Jasper County, and I’ve kept in touch with him and Robyn Taylor ever since. Last year Robyn pulled Jason off the streets and she’s been helping him get back on his feet. It hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows. Jason has struggled to get clean and stay clean.

The last time Jason and I spoke in November, he was behind bars, hoping to get into a rehab program. All Jason could talk about was wanting to get out — holidays and home cooked meals were dancing in his head like sugar plums.

Jason got his Christmas wish. Released in time for the holidays, the court sent him to The Salvation Army’s substance abuse program, but after running into an old enemy, Jason bailed on the program and wound up back in Newton with Robyn. Even though they both knew he’d likely be picked up sooner or later for violating his probation by walking out of The Salvation Army’s treatment center, they focused on taking things one day at a time.

In early January, Robyn came home from work one afternoon and found Jason, high on methamphetamine. It was the worst she’d ever seen him, he was hallucinating and hearing voices.

“He thought I was in with the devil, he thought he was in a coma and someone was coming to give him a lethal injection,” Robyn said.

After Jason panicked at the hospital, it wasn’t long before police showed up to collect Jason on an outstanding warrant for violating his probation.

Wednesday afternoon Jason walked into court, the first time I’ve seen him since November. Everything he’s wearing is orange, from his handcuffs to the plastic shower shoes on his feet. The shackles force him into an awkward half-step, his walk more of a shuffle than a stride. Sitting in the jury box with a jail officer behind him, Jason is eager, he’s ready to get this show over with.

No one shares his enthusiasm on the other side of the room. Attorneys check their phones and shuffle paperwork, pulling clients out into the hallway for a quick conference. On this bright, cold February afternoon a few of the attorneys don’t even bother to remove their coats, they’ve got too many other places they need to be than a sparse courtroom on the third floor of the Jasper County Courthouse.

Assistant county attorney Peter Blink walks in a takes a seat at the table in front of the bench. Resplendent in a grey checked flannel suit and camouflage hunting boots Blink has an unkempt beard and closely cropped hair. Pulling out a laptop, he ignores the chaos around him and starts working.

It takes awhile for the proceedings to get underway, but once they do, it’s off to the races. After a brief conference, Jason is sentenced to serve out the remainder of his sentence with credit for time served, he’ll likely be released in early June.

Robyn admitted things have been up and down since we published our story about Jason. He’s still struggling to stay clean, missing Burger King and Netflix. Many of Jason’s friends from his old life shun him now, fearful they can’t trust him. As hard as it is to see him behind bars, Robyn said jail might be the best place for Jason, he’s off the streets, and she can see him changing every time she visits him.

“People remember him roaming the streets, being crazy, but he’s evolved, he’s come a long ways,” Robyn said.

Contact David Dolmage at

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