For me, hindsight is always 20/20. Always!
I was up early in the morning yesterday to make the two-hour drive to Jackson, Michigan. The Michigan Parole Board had scheduled a Public Hearing for one of our friends on the campus of the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility…one of several prisons in Jackson. I would be there to speak up on her behalf. The hearing would be held to determine if this woman deserved parole.
The Small room in what is called the Training Center is difficult to find on the prison grounds, and the signage is terrible. The room is drafty, with a single noisy restroom right on the edge of the main space. The hand-cuffed prisoner faces a panel of two Parole Board members, a court reporter, and an assistant from the Michigan Attorney General’s office. His/her back is to the audience, and it's difficult to hear the answer to questions. Public hearings are granted only in rare circumstances, and there’s a window of hope that the inmate might actually be released. Under normal circumstances, the prisoner is grilled for about three hours, after which the AG’’s man invariably points out how terrible the crime was and recommends no parole. The Parole Board member chairing the meeting tries to be more civil than that, but is careful not to offer too much hope.
The public is granted an opportunity to speak at the conclusion of these sessions, and this usually consists of a few members of family and a friend or two. I always attend for our friends behind bars, making the one-way, two-hour drive just to speak for two minutes. Even if my few words mean nothing, it’s important to convey a message to the prisoner that HFP cares.
My remarks are prepared in advance, but here’s what I wish I had said:
My heart was broken this morning when I heard the details of Ms. G’s earlier life, before prison---
A troubled child-hood
Raised by an aunt until the age of 12
Then moved in with her mother and her mom’s boyfriend
Hooking on the streets by age 15 for spending money
Mother of two children by the age of 18
After that, in an abusive relationship with a man who had fathered neither child
Being degraded by men three times her age.
It certainly was no surprise that she killed one of them. It was certainly no surprise that she ended up in prison. It was certainly no surprise that as she struggled to come to her senses and make something of herself, Ms. G received more than 50 misconduct tickets while in prison.
But here’s the surprise; here’s what should make us proud; here’s the reason for hope:
This young woman, who didn’t even have a high school education when she entered prison, went on to
Get her GED diploma
Continue her studies in order to get an Associate’s Degree
Get a Bachelor’s Degree
Take important courses in areas such as substance abuse and domestic violence
Work hard in any prison job she could get
Mentor troubled inmates
Represent her peers when elected to the Warden’s Forum!
Mr. Parole Board Chairman, you made a point of staying that you had conducted the initial PB Interview with Ms. G last January, and it was on your recommendation that this next step was scheduled. I believe your instincts were right on target! After 26 years, this woman deserves another chance!
Mr. Assistant Attorney General, you made a point of saying that you represent your client: the people of the State of Michigan. Then you spent 0 minutes dealing with Ms. G’s accomplishments, and more than 2 hours reviewing the details of the crime of a troubled teenager back in the 1980s. At the end of the session you concluded that the crime was just too heinous, and that this 46 year old woman had not spent enough time behind bars.
I’m asking that you remove my name from your client list. You don’t represent me. This prisoner’s accomplishments under the circumstances make me very proud.
I’m putting my money on Ms. G, believing that if given the chance, you’ll never see her behind bars again!
There’s an old gospel hymn that I love, quoting Jesus at Heaven’s gate saying: “Well done, my child! Well done!”
I’m singing that about Ms. G today.