I hate Public Hearings. They may be an essential part of gaining freedom for old-timers in the Michigan prison system, but I hate them. I testified at a Public Hearing yesterday, and as usual, left in disgust. Let me explain.
Before a certain population of the Michigan Department of Corrections can attain a parole, they must first be grilled by one or two members of the Michigan Parole Board, and especially by an Assistant from the Michigan Attorney General’s office. Department officials will quote state law when explaining the reason for these hearings:
"A prisoner shall not be given liberty on parole until the board has reasonable assurance, after consideration of all of the facts and circumstances, including the prisoner's mental and social attitude, that the prisoner will not become a menace to society or to the public safety."
The agenda at a Public Hearing is rather simple. The Assistant Attorney General and the Parole Board members spend a lot of time discussing the crime. A few minutes are then spent on the prisoner’s accomplishments over the decades spent behind bars. A Parole officer is then asked to report on possible housing arrangements if the inmate is released. And then the public is invited to speak; first those who oppose the parole, usually friends or relatives of the victim(s) of the crime, and then those who support the inmate.
HFP sometimes sends a delegate when one of our friends comes up for parole, especially if he or she has little outside support. The longer they remain in prison, it seems, the fewer friends and family members either care or are still alive and are able to testify. On occasion I’ve been the only person to speak on behalf of a man being considered for parole. I’m proud to do it.
Here’s the thing I find so completely distasteful: the stark difference between the “haves” and the “have-nots!”
The men and women from the Parole Board and the Attorney General’s Office drive up to the stark little Public Hearing facility at the prison in their expensive sports cars or Cadillac Escalades. They stride into the meeting room dressed to the max. Any and all could be on the cover of a fashion magazine. All are well-paid individuals, feeding from the trough of the State of Michigan.
Then comes the lowly inmate, in chains, escorted by a burly guard, dressed in sloppy prison blues.
And the difference doesn’t stop there. From the moment the hearing begins, the prisoner is never allowed to forget what a privilege it is to appear before these pillars of society. You can be sure that, after intense questioning, sometime badgering, and sometimes outright abuse, the inmate will be reduced to shaking and weeping before the hearing mercifully ends. Perhaps “breaking” the prisoner is an unspoken goal or requirement. I am reminded over and over again of accounts about how slaves were treated in our country. I almost expect the prisoner to reply, “Yes, Masta…yes, Masta.”
I keep wishing that these public officials would stop to consider, There but for the Grace of God go I.