Updated: Jun 8
My name is Jonathan Norton, and I am currently incarcerated in the Alaska prison system.
When I was 16 years old, I made some poor choices that regrettably resulted in the loss of a man’s life. That was in 1989, over 30 years ago. At that time, I didn’t have much of an understanding of the impact my actions caused. Not only had I taken a life, I had ruined many others in the process. That awareness didn’t come until some years later. I can say now that the beginning of my sentence I spent being what I thought a prisoner was supposed to be. Whatever I had learned from movies, books, friends, and jailhouse father figures, I tried to emulate. To be frank, I got into a lot of trouble.
It took about 10 years for me to grow up and grow out of this prison mentality and start thinking for myself. I didn’t do this on my own and it wasn’t a quick transition. A lot of counseling, programs, and groups all took part in my maturation. A lot of friends and family dying took part in me figuring out what was truly important and having some understanding of what I had done at 16. Since then I’ve tried to be the son my mother always hoped I would be. I do my best to stay out of trouble and be a more positive and productive person. For the most part, I have been successful over the last 20 years.
Last year, February 4, 2019, I saw the parole board. I had support for release from Correctional Officers, Probation Officers, and the Administration of the facility. I had completed just about every program that I qualified for. I had a good release plan, a place to stay, and a strong support system in place. Still, even with that, I didn’t expect to be immediately released from prison. I figured I would be given a date a few years off because that seemed to be the trend the parole board was setting. That is not what happened. I was outright denied parole and told I could re-apply in ten years. I had believed parole hearings were supposed to be about if a person has changed their behavior and beliefs enough to once again be part of society. Instead, the entire hearing was focused on the trouble I had been in during the first part of my sentence. I was literally only asked two or three questions, and only one of those had to do with any growth I’ve made.
I’m close to 47 years old now and I don’t see myself having much of a future other than what I’m living right now. Even if I do try again 10 years from now and am granted parole; I will be 57 years old with no practical life experience outside of prison. That thought scares me more than spending the rest of my days inside these walls. I have to constantly remind myself that the changes I made in my life, I made for me, because the question, “What’s the point?”, is always floating somewhere in my thoughts.