At the heart of
prolonged incarceration of it prisoners population it this fallacy: Prisoners are not quite American – (not quite
human) – and so can be denied rights which, according to the Bill of Rights,
are unalienable, among which is the hope of happiness.
A recent national survey shows that the State of
Michigan keeps prisoners confined longer than nay other
state in the Union. So it is no wonder that
Michigan Parole Board interviewer, Jayne Price, told me at my April 22nd
parole hearing: “You have not served
enough time to be granted a parole,” (when, according to the law, I had).
Later, in July, I received a letter from the parole board telling me my parole had been denied because I still pose a danger to society, despite my having no incidence of criminal behavior before or after my only offense.
Now, in a case summary, that same parole board writes that I “…lack understanding of the serious nature of my offense.” Who are these people, and why?
Any mature person who is honest with himself has looked into the mirror and hoped one day to be a better human being. I have looked into that mirror these past years in prison, and I have hoped (and I have prayed) that I would become better, especially in my treatment of, and my sensitivity toward, all other human beings.
Today, I am that better person – I feel it. And I get anxious wondering if I’ll ever get the opportunity to be that “better person” – to model that positive behavior toward the people who matter most to me – my family, my friends, and my community.
The Michigan Parole Board appears to be unconscious of this type of real growth – it would take too much effort for them to contemplate it. So, they replay the same tired phrases echoed over hundreds of years by previous parole boards: “You are not rehabilitated”; “You remain a danger to society”; “You have shown no remorse.” Those lines save them from further work, from thought, even from listening to a prisoner. All they need to do is repeat any one of those lines at the end of the day, and then join their peers for “Happy Hour.” Job done.
I do not wish to sound cynical. But how can any have faith in a system that withholds freedom based upon insupportable allegations? It is easy to tell someone they are “remorseless,” or that they are “a danger to society” when you don’t have to sustain such vacuous statements with proof.
The parole board makes these statements against me to support their own false narrative: that I am not fit to be released. They make up reasons to keep me imprisoned because they have no real reasons to keep me here. I have everything asked of me these past 17 years, and more. I have given the State no reason to hold me, and every reason to let me go.
Now, they tell me that I “appear to lack understanding of the serious nature of my offense.” That flies in the face of years of me agonizing over what I had done, while implying that I have not agonized enough.
For the State to demand that a prisoner maintain a constant state of contrition is an impossible standard for the penitent. It must lead him inevitably to depression, and self-defeat.
All human beings (except prisoners) are encouraged to “move on” – to acknowledge their transgressions, but not to be made to wallow in them. “I’m moving on” has become a catch-phrase for people determined to overcome their mistakes. Why can’t a prisoner, after a considerable period of contrition, “move on” as well? It is the only healthy alternative.
Besides, to speak of my “lack of understanding,” shows a lack of appreciation on the parole board’s part for the frailties of the human condition. I understand that Lillie is dead – a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend…gone forever. Do they think I do not understand death, or my hand in it? Do they think I do not understand my shame, my regret, and my fear of what I have done? Then, tell me: Does any prisoner understand the serious nature of his crime? According to this parole board, the answer must be “no.”
Still, that is no reason to keep that man imprisoned. In fact, it is an impossible threshold that theoretically could keep freedom out of the true nature of his guilt, or his innocence.
Perhaps I do not fully understand what I have done. That does not mean that “I don’t care.” I do care. I care about Lillie and her family – I pray for them every night. But living means moving on.
I have a family to protect, a life to live. I am an American, too. And to all of you other Americans who fear that I, a State prisoner, would dare hope for happiness – it is my right. And yes, I will.