I’m upset with the Parole Board all over again.
I was at the side of another prisoner whose turn it was to appear before a member of the Michigan Parole Board to make a convincing case for parole. The man is in his 70s, in terrible health, and has served 47 years for a horrendous crime. An alcoholic prior to his arrest, the man hasn’t touched a drop while in prison, even though homemade hooch is readily available in all of our facilities. Instead, he remained sober and decided to re-manufacture his life. He went to school, got his GED, then got a college degree, then received training for employment skills, then became a paralegal. With that certification, he began helping indigent inmates who could not afford attorneys. He became a man of faith and decided to follow Jesus. I found out about his plight from the prison warden, who asked if I might be able to help him find freedom in his waning years. He died once in prison but they revived him. He’s had 5 heart bypasses. He’s in bad shape, and he may not be around for long.
I know the Parole Board member felt she was doing her job, because she spent far more than the regularly allotted time for her interview with Mr. H…but she was brutal, demanding that he recall every detail of the crime nearly 50 years ago. And the problem is, it was committed during an alcohol blackout. When he learned the actual details of the crime after sobering up, he was aghast and didn’t even seek a trial. He read the gruesome information, pleaded guilty and agreed to pay the piper. He went to prison for life. He could have lied and told the PB questioner exactly what happened…but instead, he chose to tell the truth. He told her all that he could remember, and then had to stop. She refused to accept this.
I tell all of this to lay out my plan for what could be an excellent Parole Board project.
After a prescribed time in prison, inmates get to see the Parole Board once every 2 years. For lifers, it’s once every 5 years. They look forward to this 20-minute interview because it’s their one hope for freedom. If they can convince the PB member that they’re ready for release, they might get a Public Hearing, and then they might catch a parole.
The problem is, most inmates are not prepared. They don’t know what the PB member will ask them, and many are caught off guard by some of the questions and often by the attitude of the questioner. To help offset this, two fine advocacy agencies have published a booklet that will help prisoners prepare for the event. We distribute many of these booklets, and we offer it on-line for families of prisoners. In addition, the Michigan chapter of the American Friends Service Committee (the Quakers), sometimes sends two of its seasoned personnel right into the prisons to do workshops on Parole Board preparation.
But here’s my idea…one that has already been rejected by Parole Board Chairman Michael Eagen.
I propose that Chairman Eagen and I go into the prison together for a public assembly/workshop on how to prepare for the Parole Board interview. For the most part, the prisoners trust me. HFP has a great reputation among the men and women in the Michigan prison system. They know we’re on their side, and they believe me when I make presentations to inmates. I have credibility. I’m convinced that if Mr. Eagen were to go in there with me, the prisoners would listen to him with great respect. We should make our brief presentations, but for the most part we should let them ask questions. Our goals: one, to make certain that inmates know what the Parole Board expects of them; two, to let the Parole Board know the thoughts and fears and concerns of inmates; and three, to show Parole Board members that prisoners are real people, not just a number---and to show inmates that Parole Board members are also decent human beings. This could be a win-win situation!
It would be huge for the prisoners!
It would be huge for the Parole Board!
But it won’t happen. The reason---the 7 most famous words: We never did it that way before!