once you’ve lost everything

Below is the letter I wrote to my judge prior to my modification hearing.

I headed into court with what turned out to be an absurd amount of optimism since my case manager had told me another inmate whose case and situation mirrored mine in every way imaginable had just been released directly from court and into his family’s arms at his modification hearing.

My parole hearing officer had recommended that they let me go almost a year before this hearing, and although that didn’t turn out so well, I figured my judge’s sentiments would mirror his. Turns out I was wrong, and as much as I hoped that maybe these were the magic words that would end my incarceration, looking back I’m pretty sure I could’ve played a kazoo for two minutes and gotten the exact same outcome.

But then I suppose the process of writing the letter below was part of rehabilitation in its own way, despite the outcome.

Your Honor,

For the 20 months of my incarceration I’ve been an educational aide in a classroom that solely instructs inmates who are between 18 and 22 years-old and have at least one educational disability, which can range from emotional-behavioral issues to the residual effects of Baltimore’s lead paint poisonings. Some of them desperately want to learn but seem incapable of processing and retaining the material, some of them are just here to get out of their cell and collect their Good Days, and some are both determined and capable of getting their GEDs.

During this time I’ve had the chance to tutor a young man whose first memory is watching his father get shot to death in front of him and another who’s spent his entire life bouncing from one foster facility or another and suffering various types of abuse along the way – but what every student in this classroom has in common is an utter lack of the advantages and luxuries that I grew up with.

Without coming in here I never would’ve realized how much I owed to every single teacher and mentor I’ve ever had, and how lucky I was to grow up not only with a stable loving family, but in a community where there was next to no violence and what I now realize is extraordinary stability all around me.

My crime wasn’t just a betrayal of my and my victim’s families, it was a betrayal of our entire communities – everyone who’d ever reached out to me or looked out for either of us, or sacrificed for either of us. I had a lot going for me, far more than just about anyone in here prison as far as I’ve been able to tell, and yet I threw it all away because of my selfishness and hubris.

And I don’t have a drug addiction or any mental health condition to blame, only myself.

I continually placed myself in a situation that I mistakenly and arrogantly believed I could control, and let a relationship where I was supposed to solely be protecting someone tum exploitative. And that’s something that I’ll spend the rest of my life regretting, and the rest of my life trying to atone for.

I’ve spent the last two and a half years studying as much neurology and psychology as I’ve been able to get my hands on – since Amazon book orders are allowed every four months and I’m allowed to subscribed to several different science magazines, I’ve been able to develop a far deeper understanding of the path that led to my mistakes and of my own innate limitations. And although this started as an effort to understand my own flawed decision-making process, it soon grew into a determination to understand the broken, angry men around me and the different communities they came from.

Despite the fact that building a professional life for myself so that I can continue to contribute to society won’t be easy since getting any sort of corporate job will be all but out of the picture, I’m fully confident that upon my release I’ll be able to use freelance writing as the starting point to build an economic and professional life. Granted making a living as a writer isn’t easy, but I think I have a unique perspective to write from being that not many Harvard graduates end up serving two-and-a-half-years in a state prison while spending the majority of that time tutoring the youngest and most disadvantaged guys in here.

In addition to that, beyond that unique combination of experiences, I’ve used this time to read as much as I could about neurobiology, psychology, sociology, evolutionary anthropology, as well as our criminal­ justice system and its origins. All of that combines to give me a what I’m hoping is a singular ability to not only use the contrast between my upbringing and what most of the guys in here experienced growing-up as a starting point to help argue for meaningful reform, but to pull from a wide range of academic writings and scientific sources to help outline what constructive reform would look like – synthesizing science with on-the-ground realities of America’s prisons.

Included with this letter is a list of the books I’ve read during my incarceration which tie into my future freelance writing career, all of which I’ve extensively annotated and plan on drawing from as I begin writing. At the end of this list is a few more on my “to read” list, which I have in hard-copy but haven’t yet had time to read. And in addition to these books my father has sent in several dozen Wikipedia articles as I’ve needed them to help me comprehend particular topics better, and I’ve had about two years of Psychology Today, Scientific American, Scientific American: Mind, Newsweek, Time, The Economist, and The Washington Post, delivered which have helped me stay on top of current events.

With all that in mind, also included with this letter is a selection of excerpts from some of the writing I’ve already been able to do, hopefully they demonstrate my capability as a writer and the style I’m using which I think is a unique blend of hard and social sciences mixed together with my own personal experiences.

At my sentencing hearing I didn’t realize that my character was going to be put on trial since I had very little interaction with my original lawyer, nor did I realize that deterring others was a big part of our penal system. As far as deterrence goes, with my father’s help I’ve contacted roughly 100 different college coaches and athletic directors in Maryland hoping to come talk to their athletes about not making the mistakes that I did, or other mistakes that involve sex offenses on their own campuses, but none of them expressed any interest. All the same, I’ve included that letter along with this one to help demonstrate my sincerity.

I’m also now working on a longer more detailed letter to send out to them hoping to dissuade them from starting down a path that could lead them to prison, or otherwise damaging their communities, but I’d feel disingenuous finishing it until I’ve been released and am able to write about what life is like on the sex offender registry, which is a huge part of the consequences that come with the decisions I made.

And in terms of my character, I’ve included some excerpts from the letters written on my behalf for my May 2016 parole hearing, words that are easily the kindest and most heartening sentiments anyone’s ever said about me. Since they trace who I’ve been for the past 20 years and how my time in prison has lead to increased growth and introspection, I’m hoping you’ll weigh them against how my character was portrayed by the State at my initial sentencing.

Thank you for your time and consideration and for being willing to have a hearing for my sentence modification, and I’ll be looking forward to answering any questions you may have for me in court.

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