All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Free at last! Free at last!

“Look at this. I’m walking around with no one hanging onto me! I don’t have any shackles. No one is telling me what to do, where to go!”

It’s early in the morning, dark, cold, with a light combination of rain and snow. For you and me, it would be just plain miserable. But not for Joe. We’re standing in the parking lot of the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility. Joseph Johnson, formerly Michigan inmate #164659, has just walked out the front doorway of this prison for good. His first time without handcuffs and shackles in nearly 40 years! He's free!

“I really don’t have words…I don’t know what to say,” he whispers to me as I give him a bear hug. “You don’t have to,” I reply. “Just savor the moment! These are the moments we live for.”

And that’s the truth. Before the sun came up, I was in the car, driving through marginal weather, heading to Ionia, Michigan. I was in town for less than hour…then drove back home again. But I gotta tell you something: For this 83-year-old man, the thrill of these moments never lessens. What a blessing to walk beside an inmate as he or she takes those very first steps out of the visiting area and into freedom! No more restraints. No more clanging gates. No more barking officers. No more noise.

In this case, the story belongs to Holly. Holly Honig-Josephson is Vice President of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, and our commutations specialist. It was back in 2017, while preparing an application for a commutation of Joe’s sentence, that she reviewed the details of his story. Then she saw red!

The kid was 18, in the year 1980, when he and a friend decided they needed some spending money and used a pellet gun to hold up the operator of an ice cream cart. They got $27.50 in cash. And, for that, a Flint judge gave Joe a life sentence! That’ll teach that naughty black kid not to mess with the law!

Holly befriended Joe and offered her assistance. Her assistance turned into persistence. She persuaded the chairman of the Michigan Parole Board to review the case. She drove to the Upper Peninsula to participate in his Parole Board hearing. She testified at his Public Hearing.

Now, this huge step: Holly and her husband Tony have graciously opened their home and their hearts for the next chapter in Joe’s life. Free at last, free at last… !

The words of Aaron, brother of Moses, come to mind:

“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace. ”
(Numbers 6:24-26)


Bob Bulten said...

It brought tears to my eyes.

Louise Reichert said...

Me,too. Amen!

T. Raisbeck said...

Love ❤️ Love ❤️ Love ❤️