Page 11


violent people walk out of those “golden gates:’ Some more than once. For the life of me, I cannot answer the question: Why not Kris? He needs four classes to earn his bachelor’s degree in management from Tarleton State University. He already has two associate degrees and is a certified welder, as well as an EPA-certified air-conditioning and refrigeration technician. Certainly he would be a valuable asset to the working community. He has taken every class offered by the state of Texas geared toward rehabilitation. In the eyes of the parole honchos, what do these accomplishments account for? The only paper he’s earned that seems to matter to them is his conviction sheet. Kris will be 37 when his next review date arrives. By then, he will have been eligible for parole for more than 11 years. When he is 50, he will discharge his sentence day-for-day. If that occurs, after having spent 35 years behind bars, Kris will be scot-free with no leash, no monitoring fall-safes and zero help with re-entry into society. What will he do then? At times, he has lamentably asked me about things I have a working knowledge of, or at least a fading memory of. Kris has never had a girlfriend, nor ever been kissed by anyone other than his mom. He’s never held a real job or a driver’s license and will never get to fulfill his dream of becoming a Marine. My friend Kris came to this place before he was old enough to go to a prom, and when the state finally does release him, he will resume his shattered teen years as a marked, old man. Thousands walk out of Texas prison yearly, only to return soon afterward. Why does this happen? Why do some prisoners succeed in making the transition from this place to the place we call “the free world” while others can’t or don’t? What causes such disparity? Do parole board members truly look at an eligible candidate’s file? Recent news stories indicate that the Sunset Advisory Commission is also curious as to whether the parole system in Texas is just another money funnel. While the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is begging for millions more dollars to build new prisons, the Board of Pardons and Paroles appears to be acting in collusion by holding secret meetings at undisclosed locations and warehousing thousands of inmates who have been eligible for parole for years. Sometimes it seems as if the TDCJ only releases those who have a high probability for failure: those whose lack of education, counseling, and preparation are prime candidates for recidivism, those for whom frustration contributes to their predilection to re-offend. This smacks of a setup that enables politicians and prison lobbyists to justify telling the public, “We told you so!” Perhaps it’s just another form of job security for those who hold the keys, just another sad refrain from that old song called “Mo’ Money.” It’s no great wonder there is rumor of a small, but growing, population of inmates who are refusing parole interviews and writing letters, thereby relinquishing the parole board of its civic duties in their respective cases. The sentiments among some convicts being, “We would rather do our time day-for-day, knowing that it is inevitable, without the setoff chain getting yanked every few years.” Politicians seek election by being hard against crime, promising harsher sentences, and standing firmly on our tired necks as they pose in front of a bank of media flashbulbs. Although her health has declined over the years and Kris rarely hears from his mom anymore, she is not unlike every other mother whose 150,000-plus prisoners serving time in Texas. Their voices are loud and gaining in volume over this tax-draining wants to “lock ’em up and throw away the keys forever”especially when it concerns their children who have served their time. Those who sit in judgment as part of their civic duty in jury trials were all instructed as to the semantics of parole and parole eligibility. Who do parole board members think they are to overrule the concerned public and ignore the Legislature? It is an abuse of power to hold prisoners who are eligible for parole without just cause. They who know us for who we are, not by what we have been convicted of, are tiring of that old soapbox saw … and they want us home. What hope should my friend Kris cling to for the next five years? The next five Christmases, Easters, Thanksgivings, and other holidays? What hope does he the parole board send when it issues such a drastic setoff? Does it matter what one does after the fact when such a mistake is made in life? Why should we not just give up? Good thing there are enough rocks to distract us and occupy our hearts for a new week of sorrows and a lifetime of tomorrows. Andrew Papke pleaded guilty to two counts of intoxication manslaughter in 1997 The summer before, driving drunk, he killed a young Austin couple Beth Early and Daniel Londonin a traffic accident. In prison serving two consecutive 20-year sentences, Papke has become active in Alcoholics Anonymous and a prison mediation program which brings inmates together with crime victims. Kristopher Mewes was convicted of murder with a deadly weapon in 1993 and is serving a 35-year sentence. SPECIAL ORDER THE MOLLY TRIBUTE ISSUE The Observer published and mailed to our subscribers a special issue on February 9 that includes tributes from Molly’s friends and colleagues, and photos from her life. Many readers have requested additional copies, and Molly fans have asked how they can obtain one. through our web site: or MAY 4, 2007 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31