I was asked to write a letter giving a brief testimonial of my life regarding my involvement with past legal issues and how I have adapted to them and forged a life worth living. This letter is written with the hope that my story can be of benefit to someone whose life is perpetually suspended in a seemingly endless trap of hopelessness where they are helpless to make positive change regardless of the amount of effort they put forth. One of the most painful and valuable discoveries a person can have while sitting in this trap is to realize that no one is to blame but themselves and they are caught in a snare of their own making.
At the age of 16, on January 13, 1984, two other young men and myself decided to rob a cab driver to obtain money to purchase marijuana. There was no plan to harm anyone, but in such volatile situations, things do not typically go as planned. I shot and killed the cab driver out of fear that he would do the same to us as we made our escape. Although I met 5 of the 7 criteria that showed I was amenable to treatment by the age of 21, the judge exercised his “right” to make an example of me and I was stripped of my right of equal protection of the laws and was waived into the adult system. I was found guilty of 1st Degree Murder and sentenced to 45 years in prison.
I served 22 of those 45 years and despite the atmosphere of drugs and negative thinking that was all around me, I managed to obtain my GED and an AA degree before the U.S Government made felons ineligible for Pell Grants. The education I obtained helped me to see doors of possibility and opportunity where before I only saw walls. I believe education is vital in helping people caught in these situations. I also received several years of therapy, both individual and group therapy, and was blessed to have some gifted counselors that inspired me to believe in myself and to question my own negative self-core belief that there was something inherently wrong with me I had held since the age of 5.
Things were not always so positive for me while I was incarcerated. There was a time, about 10 years into it, midway between my education and extensive therapy, that I felt very hopeless. I believed there was no light at the end of the dark tunnel I had decided to walk into and no matter the regret in my heart, there surely was no path back. I flirted with the idea of “freedom” that a lifer had. A lifer is someone who knows they are never getting out and has resigned themselves to a life behind bars. They are “free” to do whatever they want, even if that means hurting someone if they want to. There is no reason to control oneself as there is nothing to hope for. At this time of my life I was blessed, once again, to have a young woman visiting me who had a newborn baby and she would bring him in to visit me and I held him in my arms and watched him grow to about the age of 5 before I was transferred to another facility. I remember holding that baby and thinking, “This is the meaning of life.” Connection with other human beings is what I genuinely wanted and needed. I decided that I had to figure out a way to have that in my life if I wanted to survive this nightmare of my own creation.
I was lucky enough to have accepted a plea bargain that enabled me to be released into the world as a 38-year-old man. After overcoming institutionalized thinking patterns and struggling with sales jobs that promised large amounts of money fast because I felt so horribly behind in life, I finally decided to emulate the counselors who had helped me to lift myself out of the suffering I created. I went back to school and obtained my Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling degree at the age of 46. Since then I have been a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor and have hopefully helped people from all walks of life to have less suffering. I plan to continue this path for as long as I am physically and mentally capable of helping.
While I was incarcerated, and specifically during the time I spent living in treatment units, I met other men such as myself that had victimized others as well as themselves, realized their mistakes, and had a desire to mend what they had torn. A lot of these men are not as fortunate as I to have an eventual opportunity to give back as their sentences are far less forgiving. When the idea was presented to me that a periodic review process could be established that could give men sentenced at a very young age to life-long sentences a chance to prove themselves worthy of reconsideration, I could not, in good conscious, refuse to share my story.
I have met men who have committed horrible crimes, created numerous victims, and who deserve to be held accountable for their actions. Some of these men have come to a point in their own lives where they recognize the pain and suffering they have caused and they internalize that pain and suffering and carry it within themselves. Their focus becomes on repairing that damage in any way they can. Some of these men will also never receive the opportunity to make amends even though they are at a place in their lives where they could and would if given a chance. I believe, with our current system, we let these men who can now help to relieve suffering slip through our fingers, wasted potential, lost to time. Out of great suffering comes beauty. – Theodore Roethke
With that I will end this long letter as I believe the pertinent points have been stated. I do wish to make it known that I am available if further elaboration is needed or desired.