“Prisoners Exercising” – Vincent Van Gogh
My wife and I would like to live a few more decades before the natural ebbing of life takes us to another world. We want to avoid being stabbed to death.
“He got parole!” Jay’s mother gleefully announced.
Jay was a dangerous man. He’s also our nephew. How could the state of California do that?! What the hell are those guys thinking, on the parole board?
“Help me, help me, please!” Jay moaned, lying in the front yard of a complete stranger. A woman peeked at him through a window and summoned her husband from another room. Jay was a teenager barely two months into adulthood. Beneath his veneer of desperation lay a darker desperation. Jay was in a blind, drunken rage. He had decided to kill the first person he saw, and he hoped to draw someone from the house.
Why the rage? Was it because he imagined he was jilted, by a girl he had a secret crush on in high school? No, according to the transcript it went much deeper than that. This was merely the trigger.
Was it because he’d been raised by a mother who had abdicated ordinary parental supervision, losing herself in a fantasy world of Wicca and hoarding? Perhaps, but his rage also plumbed deeper than that.
Was it due to living in a house with boxes piled to the ceiling, blocked off rooms, and narrow aisleways between the junk, crowded in with his mother and brother? Claustrophobic conditions can be stressful, but there were even deeper depths to Jay’s rage.
Was it because his brother, who was six years older than him, still lived at home? This same brother who had molested him at a young age, and who bullied him throughout his life? Certainly this could produce rage, but there was still more.
There was also a father who’d been tragically killed in a car accident when he was only two years old. A good father, who would have protected him from his crazy mother and deviant brother.
So Jay had sipped vodka from his hidden flask, while at high school, then walked home feeling angrier and angrier with each step. Normally alcohol calmed his rage, but this time it was like throwing gasoline upon a fire. At home he drank more, until his vodka-fueled rage propelled him from his house like an unguided missile, and with murder on his mind. He vowed to kill the first person he saw.
Her husband left the safety of their front door to assist this prostrate stranger in his front yard. She watched him lift Jay off the ground, then saw the young man draw a knife from his waistband. A bloody struggle ensued, as Jay plunged the knife repeatedly into her husband’s body, and slashed at his defensive arms and hands.
Had Jay been sober, her husband would not have stood a chance. But he drunkenly lost his balance, and in that split-second her husband grabbed a large rock and clobbered Jay over the head. Dazed, he broke off the attack and staggered away.
Within minutes an EMT team staunched her husband’s bleeding and saved his life. Over the next few months and years, surgeons repaired much of the damage to his arms and hands. But he will never be completely whole again, either physically or emotionally.
Deputies tracked Jay’s muddy footprints to his house and arrested him the next day. Initially he plead not guilty by reason of insanity. But later he changed his plea to guilty and received seven years to life. The DA promised he’d never be released.
But now, after just ten years behind bars, he’s being released.
Our fear was that he was crazy enough to hurt someone again. Perhaps us. We’d never harmed him, but neither had the stranger he stabbed, who was simply trying to help him. Suppose one day he showed up at our front door, asking for help? Would we dare let him in? Would we dare to even open the door?
How could the parole board possibly release someone as crazy as Jay? Especially when it was his first try for parole? It’s rare to release anyone with a life sentence on their first time up for parole. What the hell were they thinking? I contacted the parole board for an answer. They sent me a transcript of the parole hearing. I read every page.
Jay has spent the last ten years doing everything possible to reform himself. He’s kept out of trouble, for the most part. He’s stopped drinking, and attended substance abuse and self-help classes in prison. He’s reflected deeply on his crime and his childhood. He’s developed an impressive philosophy about life. He seems truly contrite and empathetic with his victim and victim’s family. He has a detailed plan for earning a living outside prison. And he plans to stay away from his mother and brother after being released.
Here is a man who has not lived in denial. He’s confronted his crime and his childhood with candor, and with determination to change his life.
He made an unusual impression upon the parole board, which they admitted.
The parole hearing occurred several months ago. If Jay stays out of trouble, he will be released before the end of this year. He will settle in a city far away from his victim, and far from where my wife and I live.
After reading the parole transcript we feel less worried about Jay’s upcoming release. But still, who knows?
Only time can prove the wisdom of the parole board’s judgment.