I will not forget the moment.
“Mr. Carter,” said Michigan Parole Board Chairman John Rubitschun, “if I told you that I have a slip of paper in my pocket that will allow you to walk out of here right now with Mr. Tjapkes, will you confess to the crime?” My innocent friend Maurice, with all the dignity he could muster while dying of Hepatitis C, said, “I will never admit to something I didn't do.”
The incident is fresh in my mind right now, because in recent days our office received two reports of a disturbing but familiar message: Unless the prisoner admits guilt, the Parole Board apparently refuses to consider release.
The first report came from the friend of a woman, age 60, who has already served 27 years. Her earliest release date is this year, so she could be released. But her Parole Board interview last week did not go well. Her friend told us this: “...what happened was that if she would not say that she did it, she is not going anywhere! What should she say? She has maintained that this did not happen for the past 30 years.”
The second report came in the form of a letter from a 52 year old inmate whose earliest release date was last year. “Last year I was denied parole because I maintained my innocence. My parole guideline score is high, I have completed all recommendations, I have no misconducts, and I have good job reviews. I cannot, as a Christian, lie to the Parole Board.”
Both should be free today. Both seek our advice. And frankly, we don't know the way around this one. It's a ridiculous position that the Parole Board takes, but it's been around forever and it shows no sign of weakening.
In the past 15 years, we know of three professional persons who tearfully admitted to us that they changed their stories...they lied, in an effort to obtain freedom. In two of the three cases, it worked! What a sad commentary on the system.
Is this what the Parole Board really wants? What twisted logic demands that a prisoner admit guilt, whether factually guilty or not, before a release can be considered? Is this a face-saving measure? Is it the position of the state that the judicial system never makes a mistake...that every prisoner is guilty?
These questions remain unanswered. And meanwhile, the stories continue to come in, and the Michigan prison population remains steady.