LIFERS IN A DYING SYSTEM
THE CHARACTERS WERE:
• Parris N. Glendening, Governor of Maryland;
• Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Lt. Governor of Maryland;
• 154 men serving life sentences within the Division
of Correction (DOC), State of Maryland, who had achieved pre-release security
status--me being one.
In the years prior to the Glendening/Townsend administration,
men with life sentences (not to be confused with life without parole) served
time with the hope and possibility of eventual freedom. Regardless
of how heinous their crimes may have been, each man had the opportunity to
gradually progress through the system. Many entered the Maryland Penitentiary
as teenagers. Those who survived maintained an exemplary disciplinary
record and exhibited a significant effort toward self-rehabilitation, indeed
achieved pre-release security status after having served nearly two decades
of their sentences. After functioning in that least restrictive level
of security for a while, parole was a viable likelihood (a second opportunity
to function in free society as a productive citizen).
As of June 1, 1993, there were 154 men, so-called “lifers,”
housed in pre-release facilities throughout the state. These places
were quite unlike the Penitentiary--not being surrounded by fences, razor
wire, nor guard towers, there was a relative sense of freedom. Of these
154 lifers, 54 had achieved work-release status and entered the mainstream
of society each day, maintained full-time responsible employment, paid taxes
plus an average of $100.00 per week from their pay as rent to the DOC, thus
contributing to the cost of their imprisonment. We also earned regular
monthly leave privileges and began the process of reestablishing significant
roots within communities of the general public. A number married, fathered
and supported children.
The overwhelming majority of lifers having achieved
THAT level of security were not committing infractions. However, the
actions of two lifers in April 1993 were used to rationalize policy changes
that affected the 154 who had complied with and succeeded in the transition
programs. It also affected all others serving (or to serve) life sentences,
including sentences of life with all but a designed number of years suspended.
In April 1993, one Samuel Veeney, a lifer who had gotten
to work-release status, failed to return from a weekend leave. He was
subsequently returned without incident.
Several weeks later, another lifer, Rodney Stokes,
did not report to his job assignment. Instead, he obtained a firearm
and proceeded to the workplace of his estranged girlfriend, killed her,
then took his own life.
As you may well be aware, society has adopted an “anti-crime”
and “anti-criminal” position. Virtually all politicians govern based
upon society’s current desires and poll readings. As one would expect,
the murder-suicide committed by a lifer while on work release generated a
great deal of publicity, and then-Governor William Donald Schaefer decided
to arbitrarily return the lifers back into higher security facilities.
The “check-in” mass movement was orchestrated and executed
with Nazi-Gestapo efficiency. The camps were simultaneously raided
on Tuesday, June 2, 1993, whereby squads of DOC officers, with state troopers
as backup, converged upon us. At precisely 12:10 a.m., every lifer
incarcerated in the pre-release system was rudely awakened to what would eventually
become their ultimate nightmare! Each found himself surrounded by guards
clad in black, in full riot gear and equipped with handcuffs and shackles.
Each man was ordered out of his bed and manacled. Our logical questions
were met with cold silence. We submitted and were marched out into
the wet darkness and loaded into waiting vans without incident. Virtually
all of us were without shirts, most without pants, and some without shoes…many
The lifers were then transported to various medium-
and maximum-security institutions throughout the state. Those of us
taken to the Eastern Correctional Institution (ECI) were paired and placed
in cells, cold and damp, under punitive disciplinary conditions. For
the next 36 hours, we remained on lock-down status without the benefit of
personal hygiene items. We were not allowed to gather any personal
property when we were removed from camp and none was provided to us.
It would be a grave understatement to say that we were disappointed, and I
believe I speak for all when I say that the 36-hour period was spent in shock.
We were disoriented, confused, angry, hurt. We felt the loss of jobs,
separation from and possible loss of families, and wondered what our overall
fate would be. We saw our lives flash before our condemned eyes!
Men who had survived the school of hard knocks and succeeded in the difficult
task of achieving the status we had earned and enjoyed now wondered, “Was
it all for nothing???” We were all men convicted of serious offenses--the
elite of Maryland’s convicted social deviants, regarded as tough and hardened
convicts; yet this ordeal was overwhelming. We felt such gut-wrenching
pain and agony that the only sounds made in the dark cells were the sobs
of men who had lost their recently acquired dignity.
How does a man explain to his children why he wasn’t
there to take them to the park that weekend? “You were being good,
weren’t you, Daddy? If you didn’t do anything wrong, why did they take
you away again?” It’s very difficult to explain to sweet and innocent
children something practically incomprehensible.
Shortly thereafter, we were informed by the respective
institutional administrations that the “check-ins” were “merely a temporary
safeguard measure.” It was also implied that after individual evaluations,
we would return to our previously earned status.
The 1994 gubernatorial election resulted in Parris
N. Glendening (a mean-spirited man with misdirected political aspirations)
and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (a neurotic, not-so-liberal Kennedy who has
publicly compared all convicts to the likes of those who murdered her more
famous relatives). Along with them appeared an increasingly harsh attitude
toward crime and punishment. In response to the unresolved plight of
the lifers still held in limbo, Glendening chose the new Maryland House of
Correction Annex as a backdrop to announce his new and Draconian policy in
September 1995, i.e., that no lifer would henceforth progress through the
system beyond medium security, nor would he sign or authorize parole for any
person with a life sentence! He further decreed that “LIFE means life
and that the Parole Commission need not even send the case file of anyone
serving life to him--effectively changing parolable life sentences to life
without parole (or death).
I shall not bore you with the laws and statutes that
define the fundamental differences between sentences of death, natural life
and life. Suffice it to say that the law does allow the provision
of parole to those serving a LIFE sentence, and judges sentenced us with
that eligibility in mind. Maryland governors have previously approved
a conservative percentage of lifers’ parole recommendations, and such remains
mandatory before parole would actually be granted. As it stands now,
however, the Parole Commission will only render administrative refusals (or
set-offs that amount to the same) despite lawful eligibility, because it
is understood by the commissioners that the Governor will not entertain recommendations
for parole. When Governor Glendening issued his decree, he condemned
all persons sentenced to life sentences…to death! Thus far, the courts
have been petitioned on our behalf to no avail. A bill was submitted
in the state legislature which would have relieved the Governor of the responsibility
of reviewing parole recommendations, but it fell on deaf ears.
There is a Christian cliché which states, “Where
there is life, there is hope.” For the 154 affected lifers and any
other inmate sentenced to life, Mr. Glendening reversed that fundamental human
belief. He in essence declared that “where there is a life sentence,
there is NO HOPE.” It is quite a paradox that most of the 154 lifers
having been convicted of some of the most heinous, violent crimes have been
model prisoners since they were returned from pre-release security status.
Imagine the pain, disenchantment and emotional distress these men must feel…men
who had been living a semi-normal life as long as 8 years…men who sensed
a large degree of freedom…only to have it unjustly replaced with a lifelong
diet of bitterness and despair. I had been recently married before
that nightmare began. My new wife and I spent daily phone calls and
weekly visits planning a belated honeymoon. She endured the disappointment
of my being returned to prison through no fault of my own for a while, but
when Governor Glendening resentenced me to death, reality set in! She
left in despair, abandoning hope of ever being able to have a meaningful
relationship of marriage with the man she loved. She understandably
believed she could not have much of a marriage if I would never be released
I could convey 50 or more stories to you--stories of
men who made mistakes when they were young--but the mistakes made during
a few brief moments of irrational fear or rage in no way dispels their general
character. Notwithstanding their past, they followed the rules, educated
themselves, paid their debts (and taxes) to the society in which they longed
to be productive and permanent parts of…only to have their dreams quashed.
We are literally the walking dead!
It may interest you to know that many DOC officials
have not been in agreement with the unjust and controversial policies of
Glendening and Townsend. Perhaps even society in general would be opposed
to many if they realized the price and potential consequences. We,
the lifers, and many other interested persons hope that our dreams may once
again find some vitality--praying that the current policies will change.
Between 1995, if not 1993, and now, many people have entered the DOC with
life sentences and little to no hope, trying to accept the fact that even
20 or 30 years later they will not have any opportunity to progress through
the “correctional” system. Most seem to believe there is not only nothing
to gain but nothing to lose. Prison construction and costs have increased,
and practically all related problems are escalating. Such mismanagement
may be related to an increasing number of young offenders being more prone
to “hold court” in the streets. When there is nothing to gain, not
even self-esteem, there is nothing to lose.
Last but not least, I speak particularly for myself
and others who were able to feel humane with pre-release status. We
reach out to you now with passion and reasoning for a reversal of the dead-end
policies so carelessly and inhumanely imposed by the previous administration.
If you have any concerns or questions that may be answered realistically,
rather than being glossed over by those with self-serving political aspirations,
please take a close look at the digressions currently in practice and give
due consideration to dramatic improvements, thus political accomplishments.
I would welcome any interviews or evaluations which you may deem appropriate.
© Copyright 2003 Charlie Hatfield
The Predator by Charles Hatfield
should they get parole?