By P. Berman, A. Hosack & K. Hecht
I will do this for Davy and Claire. I will stay away from them and sell drugs for the gang.
He had only had about two minutes, but he had been learning enough from Manuel to know what a good husband and father would do; he would stay away from Claire and Davy. Larry would keep pretending he was done with Claire. He would keep his burning desire to see her and Davy a deep secret so the gang would have no interest in them. Selling drugs would give him the money to live a fast life- something just a few years ago he might have found appealing. Now, these thoughts left him feeling cold and empty.
It was strange, but the lies he had been told to tell the parole board by the lawyer, weren’t exactly lies. Larry had been reading about relationships and being a father. He had been going to church, to make Manuel happy. While he didn’t know how to be the responsive partner and father the books told him to be, he did understand that to bring Claire and Davy to Philadelphia, was to destroy any chance they had for a life free of crime. Going to church and reading had helped him learn to care for their welfare, even if helping them gave him pain.
Larry walked in to the parole hearing feeling calmer than he had all week. He had come to a decision and he respected himself for what he had decided. He was not rubbish, unlike his father, he was putting his girl and his son ahead of himself. Larry sat down where he was told, across from the parole board. The hearing examiner of the United States Parole Commission introduced himself and the other board members to Larry and explained the process.
The board members all looked serious and angry. The hearing started with the hearing examiner asking Larry to explain how he had ended up in prison. Larry let out a deep sigh and then spoke slowly, choosing each word he said carefully, and looking each member of the board in the eyes. “I had been dating this girl since high school, her name is Claire. I loved her and hadn’t seen her for a long time because her parents were abusive, and she had been sent to foster care. My parents treated me like a punching bag too, but I stuck it out at home until I graduated high school. Claire and I had always dreamed of graduating and then getting decent jobs and having a life together.
I was going to find her and show her I had begun to make our dream come true. It took me a long time to find Claire because her foster family lived at the other end of the county from where we grew up. She was looking great and was so happy to see me; I thought we were on our way together. I took her to a restaurant, I got frustrated with her because she kept talking about her kid Davy. I didn’t understand why she would want to talk about this kid, and not focus on us after all our months apart. Finally, I punched her to shut her up; I was being my dad- violent and untrustworthy.”
“Why should this board think you have changed,” he was asked. “Being in prison was boring. I began going to the library, just to distract myself but then I met the librarian assistant, Manuel. He helped me find some interesting books to read about families. I began to see that the way Claire and I grew up, was deviant. I was so surprised to realize that most families weren’t violent at all. I began to talk to Manuel about the stuff I was reading; he was a lot older than me and had children himself. He convinced me to start going to church, he said the Priest could help me learn about being a good man who wasn’t violent. I started going, just to have something to do. I was surprised, the priest was really something – just like Manuel said. He treated me like I deserved respect despite everything I had done. This is what got my attention, for real. I began to listen to him and hear his talk about God wanting each of us to be our best selves. I asked him after service what he meant, and he stayed late at the prison talking to me. I realized that everything I thought I was supposed to do as a man was all messed up. The Priest, has become like a father to me- the right kind of father, who helps you learn how to live like a good person.”
“You might want to change, but that doesn’t mean it is safe for other people for you to get out early,” one man said. He hadn’t looked at Larry even once, just kept writing something on a pad of paper.
“I don’t want to be like my dad. A violent thug who scares his own children to death. I am not going to be him. Whether I earn early parole or not, I am going to keep going to church and learn more about who I can be in life. If you will let me out, I believe I have a chance to make something of myself. My attorney works at a law firm that helps people like me. I have been offered a job. It isn’t anything important. I will be driving around dropping legal documents off at different court houses. This job will give me the chance to show you, and myself that I can work really hard, be responsible, learn on-the-job. I am going to learn how to earn an honest living and I am going to never hit a woman, or anyone else again.” Larry stopped talking. He again made sure he looked everyone in the face.
Larry was excused from the hearing and sent back to his cell. He lay down on his bunk and closed his eyes. The hearing had been such a weird experience. In some ways, he had been totally lying but in others, he had been telling the whole truth.
I really don’t want to be like my dad. I was acting like him at the restaurant. No wonder Claire testified against me.
What will the parole board decide about Larry? Is the decision “fixed” by the gang?
Parole boards usually make decisions based on the judgment of the Hearing Examiner. To see details about how hearings work and who can attend go to:
Research suggests that algorithms that are automatically scored do better at predicted who is and who isn’t safe to let on our parole than the judgment of individuals and groups. These algorithms work by statistically combining data on past criminal history, gender, age race/ethnicity, reason for admittance to prison, length of stay in prison, educational level, past employment, substance abuse, associated with antisocial peers and behavior in prison. It costs more in the short-run to use algorithms but is cost effective in the long-run as it reduces the expense of keeping people in prison, prosecuting those who re-offend, and the costs sending them back to prison.
Many people hold the myth that “being tough on crime” results in less crime.
Consider doing a social advocacy step by telling a social group you belong to about the real facts about keeping society safer.