Friday, February 19, 2016

Heartbreaking--When Hope For Parole Is Dashed, For The 17th Time
The following is by Mr. Gregory Goodman, an honorably discharged veteran and a 25-year Virginia inmate. His 17th parole request was denied last month:

I was at work in the barbershop when my supervising officer told me to report to my counselor's office.

I prayed during the long walk there.

"Mr. Goodman?"

"Yes," I said, while trying to read him for clues regarding my fate on the Parole Board letter he held.

The letter's bold "not grant" wording struck me first; I scanned the rest of the page like a drowning man desperate for a helping hand. I shakily sat down in the cramped office, already dreading having to tell my family the heartbreaking news and hearing the hurt in momma's voice, the hurt and bewilderment in my sister's, and then writing my annual, disappointing letters and facebook messages to my extended family and friends: "I'm sorry, but I didn't make it... Not this year."

As background, two days after my last video-conferenced parole interview, my mother had suffered a heart attack. She was standing on the porch supervising my brother's work on the house. Shawn saw her double over and caught her just before she fell.

At one point my parole interviewer had asked about an earlier meeting my mother had with the Reverend Dr. Lincoln A. James, a Virginia Parole Board member. My family and a friend had reported a very encouraging meeting with him on October 8, 2015. "They said the meeting went great," I said, "My sister thought it went excellent". I smiled remembering my sister's enthusiasm and their happiness about the likelihood of me returning home.

Between their hope-filled account and answering the questions I asked, I was on the phone with my family for an hour. They had submitted my Parole Packet/Reentry Plan and said everything that was on their hearts regarding my crime, remorse, rehabilitation and my preparedness for release after 25 years in prison, as had I myself in my parole interview.

The intervening months had found us increasingly hopeful, and confident that all of our hard work would bear fruit this year. We discussed my homecoming, trips to my parole officer and to Durham's office of Veteran's Affairs (its job programs), my short and long term goals, and momma's list of "Things for me to do".

Being denied parole is like being told of a loved one's death. We, the bereaved, grieve a lifetime of time we've lost and will lose with each other. I am grieving now for the time I'll lose with my ailing mother--and sister, who has been on dialysis for nearly twenty years--both of whom desperately want and need me home. I'm grieving the death of myriad opportunities to serve them and my community, to be the productive citizen I am capable of being. I am grieving the death of my second chance.

Words fall short of expressing how sorry I feel for these losses, how sorry I am for all our losses, the victims of my robberies, and of my family's and good friends' who bury our time together daily, as we have done for over 25 years now.

After being denied parole, my family, friends and I experience a sort of mourning and start offering each other condolences. There is a lot of sorrow and many tears. Sadly, we are all acquainted with this process and the five stages of grief, denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Depression has been particularly difficult this year. Remorse and taking responsibility for ones crimes will do this, especially after acknowledging that I drove my life over this cliff, and that my decisions that day, clouded though they were, caused me to be taken away from my family so long ago. This is all true. But it is also true that undiagnosed PTSD (from my military service) and self-medicating its symptoms provided the fuel.

I have been cycling though all but the last stages of grief, acceptance. I cannot accept acceptance, that I am never going home, or that I am not going home next year. Neither can my family and friends.

We are not yet estranged from hope, though I'm sure that each of us at some point has come close. Like shortly after I'm denied parole and I don't call home as often, or write friends as regularly, because I feel like a failure, and a sore reminder of our collective failure. When all of the rehabilitative programs completed, all of the years of exemplary behavior, coupled with all of our advocacy, Reentry Plans, letters to the Parole Board and meeting with Lincoln A. James are for naught.

Years ago a blessed friend who'd been granted parole showed me his grant letter from the Parole board, his golden ticket home. The letter was short and happily to the point.

It was significantly different from the two-page form letter I've been receiving for 17 years, which ends, consolingly, with "While this may not be the answer you hoped for, please continue your hard work." Preceding this line are several paragraphs of official platitudes that kick me in the gut and crush mine and my loved ones' hearts.

Two days after my mother's heart attack she had quadruple bypass surgery. The operation was a success and momma's recovery is on schedule. Her progress in cardiac therapy occupy many of my thoughts, as does the Governor's Commission on Parole Review, its recommendations, and bills regarding parole reform in the General Assembly. I pray this isn't just hot air that raises spirits to heights that approach fairness and a second chance, only to be shot down again by scorn, unforgiving attitudes and partisanship. Our hopes are already riddled with holes. I am amazed at their resiliency and how they stay aloft.

In the coming months I'll improve my Reentry Plan and my skills as a barber, submit short stories and poetry for publication, and continue helping my fellow veterans incarcerated, "because we were veterans first". I'll help my family navigate whatever challenges 2016 will bring. I'll distance myself even further from the crimes committed 25 years ago on November 19, 1990, and from the negative statistic I was, toward the positive one I am capable of--a successful returned citizen.

This of course will require exhuming our aggrieved hopes and resuscitating them with renewed commitment, as I continue to distinguish myself and qualify for a substantive parole review.

What motivates me?

Like all rehabilitated men and women, I have reached the tipping point, the point where years of evidenced preparations have equipped me with more to offer my family, friends and community than I once took from them.

- Gregory Goodman #1101523 
Augusta correctional Center
1821 Estaline Valley Road
Craigsville, VA 24430

Express your parole concerns to your State Senator, State Delegate, and to the following:

Ms. Karen Brown, chair

Virginia Parole Board
6900 Atmore Drive
Richmond, VA 23225
(804) 674-3081
Mr. Algie T. Howell, Jr., vice-chair 
Ms. Andrea Bennett
The Reverend Doctor A. Lincoln James 
Mr. Sherman R. Lea 
Mr. Minor F. Stone

The Honorable Brian Moran
Secretary of Public Safety
Patrick Henry Building, Third Floor
1111 East Broad Street

Richmond, VA 23219
(804) 786-5351

Attorney General Mark R. Herring
900 East Main Street
Richmond, VA 23219
(804) 786-2071

The Honorable Terrence McAuliffe, Governor
Office of the Governor
Patrick Henry Building, Third Floor
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219
(you can ask for a response)

Here's a link to more posts on parole in Virginia

"The Parole Board's mission is to grant parole to those offenders whose release is compatible with public safety."

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