Two state senators and two San Quentin program coordinators assisted Aaron Martin to win a medical parole after he suffered two post-COVID strokes. Martin was given only 60 days to prepare for his suitability hearing.
The hearing was deemed necessary even though he couldn’t talk or write after a month of physical rehabilitation in Marin General and Kentfield Hospitals. Martin is partially paralyzed as a result of the strokes.
At 23 years old, Martin was incarcerated for attempted murder, robbery, great bodily injury, and assault with deadly force. The Board of Parole had denied Martin seven times before. “They perceived (me) lacking of insight and remorse,” he said. The denials called for rehabilitative programs. Martin completed almost all of the available self-help groups offered at San Quentin.
Martin’s COVID-19 story began June 29, 2020. “During the height of the epidemic, I endured random testing, telling nurses my symptoms just continued. They could not tell me what COVID did to me and moved me to PIA. I filed paperwork for medical attention. Still fatigued, couldn’t breathe right, a racing heart and dizzy; had diarrhea and kept forgetting things.”
On Oct. 23 Martin suffered his first stroke. “They ask me if I could walk! I nodded or shook yes because I could not speak. An ambulance takes me to Marin General Hospital, isolated me, cuffing my leg to the bed,” he said. Doctors estimate that the first stroke affected the left side of the brain, which affects speech. On Oct. 25 he stroked again at the hospital. The new episode damaged motor functions on his left side.
“My speech, gone—I started to bark like a dog. I knew what I wanted to say but couldn’t get it out. Rehab taught me singing comes from the opposite side of the brain from talking—so I would sing what I wanted to say.” Doctors told him that two strokes are rare.
Martin fought to get back to San Quentin. If he stayed in the hospital, he would miss his board date and be rescheduled one year later or possibly receive a three-year denial. “I actually had to 602 (file a grievance) to leave the hospital, as I could not confer with my attorney,” said Martin.
When Martin returned to the prison, the board delivered 18 questions and two essays to which he was given six days to respond, though he could not speak or write. “I thought I couldn’t do this because I don’t have time and can’t use my hands. My counselor faxed it and somehow they got the answers on time. To this day I don’t know how I did it.”
Board commissioners could not understand him and asked for a continuance. They proposed either a postponement for seven to eleven months or a continuance for three months. A continuance would result in the same commissioners. A postponement would result in a new board and starting all over again. He requested an immediate hearing but the commissioners refused. Stipulating to a continuance, board members admitted that this was all new to them. “We need to figure out how to communicate with you,” they said.
“At my hearing, they actually made yes and no signs! Even asked me to type on ZOOM! Of course, I could not, so they said just write it down. My board took an extra hour compared to someone without a stroke,” said Martin.
Mentors Mick Gardner of No More Tears and Jacques Verduin of GRIP, along with state Senators Skinner and McGwire, lobbied for his release. The board weighed Verduin’s words heavily because he knew Martin very well.
Martin believes that other long-haulers should be released. “I do believe they (the board) were…sympathetic. (But) my district attorney and victim’s family made closing statements, saying if I got out, I would attack someone else in my victim’s family…I understand their objections…but do you believe a paralyzed man could attack anyone?” The experience with COVID taught Martin empathy, “not only for my victims, but also for people in general. I almost lost my own life. Now, I know how precious life is…Almost dying made me realize the impact of my crime.
Martin’s final prison words? “I am not angry; I am disappointed…the board demands we possess empathy, accountability, remorse and insight, yet these are tools they do not possess. It’s ironic. Board members want us to have attributes they do not possess.
“To say I was lucky to be paralyzed…and then having to complete a task that is tougher than any free person could imagine—standing and debating the fact I was safe to return to society after almost dying. I will not rest until all long haulers get out.
“My biggest fear almost came true… dying before I got home to my wife, but I do forgive them.”