Another Massachusetts Outrage

[Note: Friends of Justice is a personal blog. I speak only for myself.]

So far it’s been a lousy day.

I became involved in criminal-justice issues back in 1995, because of my concern for the falsely accused and wrongfully convicted. But over the years, my concerns have broadened. For one thing, I came to know people who weren’t 100 percent innocent who had still been wronged by the system — such as the friend who I’ve been calling “Kevin” on this blog.

I also have met some who have never denied their crimes, have taken full responsibility for them, and who have worked hard to rehabilitate themselves.

One such person, who I will call “William,” was a very close friend of Bernard Baran’s in prison. His friendship and support did much to help Bee survive all of those years when his case seemed hopeless. Bee thought “William” and I should become friends, partly because we are both recovering alcoholics.

“William” committed his crimes when he was drunk and stoned. He was 18 at the time. He doesn’t even remember committing his more serious crime. But he has always taken responsibility for his crimes. An alcoholic serious about recovery never excuses unexcusable behavior by saying, “I was drunk” or “I was in a blackout.” But those of us inĀ  recovery also know that we would never have done the terrible things we did, had we been in our right minds.

Our “true” nature does not reveal itself when we are drunk or high. Our true nature only reveals itself after a (sometimes long) period of recovery.

I believe, and most recovering alcoholics and addicts would agree, that no one is hopeless, “no matter how far done the scale they have gone.” I believe — based on my own personal experience — in recovery, rehabilitation, redemption.

“William” is now in his 40s, having spent the last quarter of a century behind bars. He has worked very hard on himself. Five years ago, he asked a jury to look at his progress and to declare him not sexually dangerous. I attended his trial and testified for him. The jury was out about half an hour and came back in his favor.

Since then, he has hopefully gone before the parole board every year. And every year he had been denied. I got to dread those phone calls after his hearings, because I know how high his hope had been. But he knew he could not afford the luxury of self-pity.

This year he called me in jubilation. His parole had been granted! He was told he had to find housing and have a phone installed. He would be coming out under intensive parole, which meant wearing a monitoring bracelet, strict curfews, frequent check-ins with his paole officer, and many onerous restrictions. But it meant leaving prison and “William” was anxious to prove himself.

I hope you don’t think it is easy to find an apartment for someone who has been convicted of a sex offense. But we did it. (The landlord willing to give him the break is a former police officer.) His family and friends found him furniture and stocked his refrigerator. Jim and I bought him a bed. His parole officer approved the apartment. He found someone to pick him up at the prison. He was told that it would only be a couple more days.

And then, two days ago, they called him in and said, “April fool!”

The Massachusetts Department of Correction had somehow forgotten that his release needed the sign-off of the District Attorney of Dukes County. Even though he was declared non-dangerous by a jury, the DA has the right to try to get another jury to recommit him.

Given his record, it’s highly unlikely that a DA could get him recommitted. But the DA can just sit on the request and do nothing. He has until September 5th to decide one way or another.

“William’s” family is far from wealthy. They were able to scrape up one month’s rent and the security deposit. We have personally pledged to pay his May rent, but we can’t really afford to do much more than that.

But we will deal with this situation a day at a time.

It is unfortunate that the credo of American politicians is, “Millions for prison and puncishment, but not one penny for rehabilitation.” The prison-industrial complex is based on the premise that rehabilitation doesn’t work. America has five percent of the world’s population and twenty-five percent of its prisoners. The cost of maintaining these prisons is enormous. Even greater is the cost to society when these mistreated men and women and sent out into society without any resources. The prison-industrial complex needs them to fail. And far too often, that is exactly what happens.

After all of these years battling our dysfunctional criminal-justice system, I have lost most of my capacity for outrage.

But I have not lost my capacity for pain. And the pain has been intense today.

-Bob Chatelle