Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mercy, Mercy

I read an article posted on Facebook about a woman who got a clemency release four years before she was eligible for release through regular parole procedures.  She killed a pregnant woman thirty five or forty years ago, and was now in her sixties.  The victim's family objected strenuously, of course.
The story got me thinking about a  couple hearings I did at the women's prison.  The first hearing involved a woman who was a "frequent flyer" who engaged in temper tantrums when she didn't get her way.  She would simply go into a "no" mentality and would not do anything she was supposed to do, or that the officers told her to do.  Like a two year old. I'm going to call her Baby.  Baby came in on a ticket for Disobeying a Direct Order or something like that.  She had some physical disabilities, so another prisoner was assigned to push her wheel chair and be her general aide.We'll call her Mom. Mom aide clearly inspired Baby's total trust.  Mom was very attentive, and very authoritative but gentle with Baby.  Baby responded well to Mom and followed her instructions without question.  I was very impressed with Mom.  I thought about how lucky an elderly person would be to have an aide like Mom taking care of her.  I talked to the hearing investigator, Miss C, about this prisoner.  She told me that Mom was in prison for first degree murder.  I looked the woman up on Offender Tracking Information System and learned that her victim had been a Good Samaritan.  Mom had approached the victim and asked for her help, a ride someplace.  Mom was only sixteen years old at the time, and looked younger.  The victim's husband was an editor at the Ann Arbor News, and I recalled reading about it when it happened. Her defense at trial said she had been influenced, persuaded, coerced into the killing by her boyfriend, who was in his twenties or thirties.  He was also convicted of the crime.  They robbed the victim, took her money and car.   Miss C told me that Mom had a clear record in prison, and had completed school for GED, performed her work details well, and engaged in generally productive activities offered by the prison.  Miss C said there were various organizations trying to petition for clemency for Mom. These organizations were trying to assist women who had been in abusive relationships, who had killed their abusers or committed other crimes like Mom did, under the influence of men.  Based on what I had seen, which was admittedly brief exposure, I thought maybe Mom was a candidate for clemency.
I saw Mom a few months later.  Mom had recently been assigned to work as a porter in the medical clinic. She got written up for assisting a staff member with providing psychotropic medications to prisoners. The prisoners did not have prescriptions for such meds, or they were getting more than prescribed.  Mom admitted what she had done.  She explained that the staff person, who supervised her work detail in the clinic, asked her to tell some story which exonerated the staff member.  Mom went along.  I was struck by how similar this statement sounded to the statements she made at her murder trial.  It occurred to me that Mom was not ready to be released into the world despite all of the positive things she had done while incarcerated.  She still could stand up for herself to people who wanted to use her to do wrong.  It saddened me deeply to realize this, but the conclusion was inescapable.  I did grieve for a while over it for a while.  When you work in Corrections, you hope to make a positive difference in people's lives.  This case chipped away at that hope a little more.