When the governor rejects parole to a lifer, it’s devastating both to the inmate and his family. The family members become faceless victims.
To illustrate the point, we interviewed three lifers who were found suitable for parole by the board, but the governor rejected their parole dates. To safeguard their privacy, no names are used.
He joined a Los Angeles gang at age 14, in part to flee a physically abusive father. He committed a senseless murder at age 17. Arrested in 1989, he became an unwed father a month later.
Twenty years later, serving a term of 15 years to life, he was found suitable for parole after repeated denials. This restored some of the faith his family had lost. “I knew there was a nearly 90 percent chance that the governor’s office would systematically reverse my first finding of suitability. When the actual (denial) news came, I was more concerned about the impact it would have on my family.”
His mother’s heartfelt letters to the governor pleading that he let her son’s parole date stand went unheeded. “I understood how my actions, my selfishness, my past conduct, has contributed to the pain and suffering my family has had to endure. I also have come to understand how I affected the lives and well-being of my victims and their families and loved ones.”
“The governor’s office is directly responsible for the pain and suffering of our families and loved ones. If I were still doing wrong or committing crimes or not trying to comply with the board’s expectations of rehabilitation, then I would be responsible for their continued suffering.”
He was asked how he would respond to those who argue that he took a life and the victim’s family still suffers and so what does it matter if his family also suffers. He said, “During the Vietnam War, pilots said that at first they had no qualms bombing villages. He recently graduated from San Quentin’s Patten College. Professors wrote to the board supporting his parole. They described the clear potential he has for academic excellence and leadership qualities. He earned Navy certification as a substance abuse counselor and is valued by professionals in the juvenile justice system .
As a 20-year-old he left his mother and sister in Portland, Ore. and their neat home with its manicured lawn to serve his country in Vietnam. In 1969, his skull was shattered by a Viet Cong rocket. His right side was paralyzed. A metal plate was placed in his skull. He was awarded the Purple Heart.
CHANGE HIS LIFE
He returned home disabled and vilified for his service to his country. His Class 1 driver’s license was revoked due to epilepsy seizures linked to his head injuries. “That license was my ticket to driving multiple axles and making money (so) I got fired.”
He turned to using and selling drugs, eventually beating a woman to death he believed had stolen from him.
In prison he slowly reconstructed his life. He became a journeyman machinist and an active leader in the Vietnam Veteran Group of San Quentin. One of the most decorated colonels in the United States military supports his parole
He longs to reunite with his aged mother and his sister. Their home is in disrepair and the lawn overgrown and choked with weeds. Angry neighbors cut the lawn to the dirt, attempting to eradicate a neighborhood blight. With pain in his eyes he said, “My mother will be 84 this month. My dad is 85 and I’m surprised that he’s still alive. They have kind of given up. My family is looking for answers and I don’t have any.”
After serving 23 years of a 15 years to life term, he was granted a parole date. The governor cancelled it, saying he needed to examine his “Vietnam experience” to gain more insight into his crime. He said his heart and commitment are for his fellow veterans. “I guarantee in the next 10 years there’s going be hundreds of vets coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan and they’re going to need help. I want to be there to help them. I can be an asset for them. This country needs us Vietnam vets to still fight for this country. I want to do that by counseling them on how to deal with the challenges they will face and help them make better choices than the one’s I made.”
As a young drug user, he killed a friend who he believed had provided his girlfriend with “bad dope.”
“I was 19 years old and I made some serious and very foolish mistakes,” He says. “I took my friend’s life. It started with a foolish argument over the bad drugs. I had known him a very long time. At the time of the crime I was on an eight-day drug run.”
He offers no excuses but reflects that when his “father left his mother, leaving him without a man in his life, He took on the responsibility and became a man at age 13. But I had no guidance, because there was no role model in my life to steer me in the right direction.”
He received his first parole date in 2006, but as a result of a malfunction of the recording system, the date was vacated. In 2007, he was again found suitable. He says, “I felt that when they gave me the first date that they were telling me that I was still a human being. I had hopes and dreams to reconnect with my youngest brother in Texas,” His younger brother was his last living brother.
His wife returned from Central America after his second parole date, but it was vacated too. “She was back at my side for support. When she came back, I had just lost my second date. I also found out that I had bone cancer. This was so devastating and I felt so helpless. I wanted to be there for my wife.”
He was granted a third parole date in 2008. The day before the hearing he was told that his leg may have to be amputated up to the waist due to the cancer. He was found suitable and began the vigil to see if he would go home. Forty-nine days before he was due to be released, he was notified that his younger brother in Texas was murdered, shot in the back by a homeless person he was helping.
The governor took the third parole date too.
His cancer is in remission. “I refuse to give in to hopelessness and despair. I learn from these experiences that I’m not alone and to be more humble and allow people to be a part of my life.”
Note: A referendum passed by California voters in 1988 and enacted the same year, Prop 89 gave the State’s governor veto power over all paroles granted to persons convicted of first or second-degree homicide.