I love to participate in Parole Board interviews.
As the President of HFP, my presence is requested from time to time by inmates who must appear before a representative of the Michigan Parole Board for an interview. Often this request comes because the prisoner has no family or friends nearby, and sometimes it comes because he or she has no more family or friends on the outside.
Either way, I love it, and I say this not to make me look like some sort of hero. That I am not.
But here's the deal. An appearance before a Parole Board member might be rather rare in the inmate's life, and he or she wants to make a good impression. The minute the date is set, the prisoner cannot stop thinking about it. There's hope. There's a possibility the Parole Board might vote to give that person a second chance.
Then there are the worries that invariably crop up in their minds: they might say the wrong things, they might just “blow it” and give the wrong impression; there are dozens of stories of brutal and vicious interviews by PB members, that left the inmate rattled, shaken, weeping and incoherent.
And so, when asked and if my schedule is free, I go...no matter the distance.
The preparation is never pleasant. The travel time can be long, and chances are the wait after arrival will be even longer. Numerous interviews are usually scheduled on the same morning, and the length can vary from 10 minutes to hour. Meanwhile, all representatives there to be at the side of an inmate, wait in the lobby for their turn. It's not uncommon to wait a couple hours.
All this for a very short presentation. The representative of a prisoner is usually not allowed to speak until the very end of the interview. I always prepare my remarks, never to exceed about two minutes. Depending on the length of the drive, this can turn out to be an all-day event for just two minutes of talking.
But for the prisoner, it's a very special two minutes. I carefully craft my words, and that inmate who so often feels so worthless and so often is treated with such disdain behind bars, discovers that there is a representative of Jesus who cares, who can be kind, and who believes that he or she has worth. For two minutes, that prisoner feels great, and grateful.
And regardless of the Parole Board's eventual decision, you can't take away those two euphoric minutes.