Nearly a month after his release from jail after serving time on assault charges, Carlos Henriquez is back home in the community he represented on Beacon Hill for nearly four years and beginning his adjustment to life as an ex-convict.
“I face a lot of the same challenges a lot of people face coming home from jail. I now have a record,” Henriquez said in an interview with the Reporter, adding that he worries about what his future will be like.
He was convicted in January on two counts of assault and battery stemming from an altercation with a young woman who said Henriquez hit her after she refused to leave her mother’s house with him. The prosecution accused Henriquez of angrily backhanding the woman, who had gone out with him several times before, when she refused to have sex with him.
Released on April 30 from the Middlesex House of Correction in Billerica, the former lawmaker talked about his new situation and how he got there, maintaining his innocence while agreeing that his punishment was in line with the crime he was erroneously convicted of.
“If I had committed that act, either one of those acts, and I was guilty of it, I would say everything that happened to me should have happened to me. I think it should have been a tough punishment, it should have been a tough message sent. It’s just a lot harder to deal with when you didn’t do it,” Henriquez said.
Politics is not a priority for him at the moment; he’s concentrating on family, friends, and other aspects of life. In the weeks leading up to his release, rumors swirled on social media and elsewhere that he would run for his old seat, either in the Democratic primary or as a write-in candidate. The Fifth Suffolk District seat Henriquez occupied from 2011 until he was expelled this year is now held by Evandro Carvalho, the winner of a five-candidate special election.
In voting to grant Henriquez his release early in April, the Parole Board set requirements that had to be met before he could go home. He had to have a housing plan, he had to enroll in a counseling program for batterers, and he had to wear a GPS monitoring bracelet, according to a spokesman for the state’s Public Safety department. In addition, he was ordered to stay away from the victim.
He left the jail on April 30, a day after candidates for the House needed to turn in signatures to qualify for the ballot in the fall elections. Henriquez said he doesn’t know what factors held up his release after his parole was granted, but he doesn’t think it had to do with an effort to keep him off a ballot. According to the elections divisions of both the Secretary of State’s office and the city of Boston, campaign proxies could have filed the necessary paperwork on behalf of a candidacy.
“I don’t think the sheriff’s department had anything to do with it,” he said. “It would be speculative of me to say. If it was a chess move, it wouldn’t have been a good one because it wouldn’t have prevented me from doing it anyway. … When you’re sitting in a cell for 20 hours [a day], you think of a lot of different angles. So I won’t speculate for a big conspiracy theory.”
When asked if he could be an effective legislator if he did decide to run for public office again, Henriquez conceded that even though he had served in the House for months after his arrest, others’ perceptions of him may have changed after his conviction, creating an insurmountable disadvantage for a lawmaker. “The jury conviction doesn’t change the truth of what happened that night, but some people look at the jury conviction as pretty black and white,” he said.
After Henriquez was sentenced to two and a half years in jail, with six months to be served and the remainder suspended, the House Ethics Committee recommended that he be expelled from the Legislature. On Feb. 6, the full House did just that, removing him by a vote of 145 to 6.
“I knew it was my expulsion day,” Henriquez said, later adding that he decided to return to prison before lawmakers debated his case because he thought his removal was a foregone conclusion. He could have spared his colleagues the unpleasant work of having the House vote out one of its own for the first time in nearly 100 years by heeding to the near-universal call from his fellow politicians to resign.
Henriquez said the House rule he was found in violation of did not apply to his case, but he understood the optics of having someone convicted of a misdemeanor in the House. “I understood the calls to resign, so I understand that I was forcing their hand to take a vote,” he said, describing his deliberation over whether or not to resign as a struggle between the good of the many who would benefit from his maintaining his innocence and the good of the few House members who would have to take an uncomfortable vote.
“Do I fall on the sword and possibly damage myself when I’m innocent, and not stand tall to my truth, for someone else’s comfort?” the 36-year-old Henriquez asked.
Today, he is spending a lot of his time processing what to do next, putting many of the best practices for reentry he learned as a lawmaker into practice for himself and honing his views on how to reform the prison system. “My time incarcerated was eye-opening. You get so far past anecdotes in terms of what you see and what you come into contact with,” he said.
Henriquez thinks a more fiscally responsible approach to incarceration is necessary to bring the issue to statewide prominence such as a shifting of funds toward programs to reduce crime and recidivism. “If we’re not going to change where we’re spending our money, it’s just lip service at that point,” he said.
After his arrest, Henriquez said, he became more interested in the issue of domestic violence policy, which he described as a male issue since most who commit the crime are men. “It’s much like the conversation around racism. Do you make the victim be the lead advocate or does the perpetrator become the advocate?”
Correction: In an earlier version of this article, the Reporter erroneously referred to Henriquez as a "convicted felon." He was not convicted of a felony, but rather of misdemeanors. The story has been corrected to reflect that. The Reporter regrets the error.