“Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.”
— Psalm 37:4
I haven’t celebrated Christmas in 14 years. No spending time with loved ones. No church. No exchanging of gifts or sharing home-cooked goodies. As I know my people on the inside understand, calling home is painful. Oh how much easier life is on the inside when you can just say, “I’ll see you on the other side.” Solitude is a preferable option when you can’t share space with the people you love.
Parole can change that. Regardless of how it is structured, I still wouldn’t be eligible for years (between three and eleven, depending on how much courage exists among this new set of political leaders). That said, any relief from another 25 years of staring at cinder blocks will be deeply welcome.
There is finally reason for hope! As I write, the Commission to Examine Reestablishing Parole has one more meeting to finalize their recommendations. The official report is due to be released Dec. 1. Will Maine see parole again after 46 years? Will the Commission follow the research, expert testimony, and the overwhelmingly supportive voice of the people of Maine and beyond who have been following their work? Will they strongly recommend that the new Legislature step up and reverse the panic-stricken decision in 1976 to abolish parole?
The desire of my heart is: YES. Through dark days and lonely nights, through the repeated rending of my soul and the torturous reckoning with my past, I have delighted in the Lord. Now, it is my fervent prayer that He will move the hearts of those in power and grant me this desire of my heart. I’m not even asking for freedom; just parole.
No, parole is not freedom. In fact, if it is not carefully structured, parole can serve as one more way to keep people trapped in the prison system. The Separation of Powers clause in Maine’s Constitution means that, even with the reestablishment of parole, those “released” on parole will remain in Maine Department of Corrections custody for the duration of their unsuspended sentence. The only thing that changes is where people would serve their time and what they would be able to do to support themselves, rather than having the State (i.e., Maine taxpayers) continue supporting them. That is why a citizens’ collective joined together when Rep. Jeff Evangelos’ valiant effort for parole was thwarted earlier this year.
As stated by Jon Courtney in his public comment to the Parole Commission, Parole-4-Maine “is a diverse team of Maine citizens who believe deeply in the human capacity for change. We hold that parole provides an earned path to supported reintegration which will make our communities safer and reduce the costs and impacts of recidivism.” With nearly one-third of the adult working-age population in the U.S. living with a criminal record, Maine cannot afford to pass up this opportunity to enact meaningful positive change in the criminal legal system. (Visit parole4me.com for more.)
Maine needs a parole system that is trauma-informed, healing-centered, victim/survivor-sensitive, independent of politics, and transparent. Providing supportive supervision for returning community members for an extended period of time can afford them an opportunity to finally start paying their debt to society. As we explored on the first episode of Justice Radio last month, prisons are not the answer to the social problems that lead to interpersonal harm. Community is.
Like I said when I first started writing for Mainer over two years ago: I am not a good person and I do not deserve to be forgiven for the harm I caused that brought me to prison. I’m not asking for forgiveness. I’m asking for the opportunity to contribute to breaking the cycles of poverty, addiction, abuse and harm that continue to feed this carceral system. And I’m not just asking for me; my commitment is not unique. I’m asking for this redemptive opportunity for all those like me who have dedicated their lives to others. We are many, and we are dedicated to cultivating healing in the same areas we created harm.
The big push for parole is going to come in the spring. Reach out to your local State Representative and Senator. Speak out to Gov. Janet Mills. Let them know that Mainers believe in redemption. Mainers believe in hope. Mainers believe in walking the talk. Mainers are calling for supportive parole. Not for later. For now. What a gift that would be!
Leo Hylton is a recent Master’s graduate of George Mason University’s Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, currently incarcerated at Maine State Prison. His education and work are focused on Social Justice Advocacy and Activism, with a vision toward an abolitionist future. You can reach him at: Leo Hylton #70199, 807 Cushing Rd., Warren, ME 04864, or email@example.com.