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Still Blocking the Exit, ACLU, 2015

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About this Report

web
mrji.org
mandalaenterprise.org
email
waltermandalalomax@hotmail.com
mrji4phases@yahoo.com
phone
443.413.6076

This report is about Maryland’s broken parole system for individuals
serving life sentences. It was authored by Walter Lomax, Founder
and Director of the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative, and Sonia
Kumar, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, as a joint project
of both organizations, with tremendous assistance from the people
who are profiled and quoted throughout and their loved ones. We
also want to acknowledge the many people who are part of this
effort but whose stories we could not tell here.
The Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative advocates for and
promotes humane and sensible criminal justice and sentencing
policies for those incarcerated long-term in Maryland prisons.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the civil rights and civil
liberties of all Marylanders.

METHODOLOGY

web
www.aclu-md.org

Special thanks to the many colleagues who helped assist with the
drafting and editing of this report, as well as the Abell Foundation,
Fusion Partnerships, the Open Society Institute of Baltimore, BMe,
and Research Associates Foundation. Nicole Miles of ndmDESIGNS
created graphics and layout.

Unfortunately, Maryland does not routinely collect
or report information about the subjects covered
in this report, such as demographic information
of those serving life sentences, those who have
died in prison, and those who have earned the
recommendation for release by the Maryland
Parole Commission. In response to a query, the
Maryland Parole Commission indicated that it
forwarded 79 cases to the Governor between 2006
and the present, and provided the names of 13 who
were recommended for either regular or medical
parole, but was barred from releasing information
about those whose commutation requests were

rejected. Through painstaking work, MRJI has
been able to identify and compile information
about 63 of the individuals involved in these
79 cases, as well about how our systems operate
more generally. Over many months, MRJI and the
ACLU compiled the numbers and anecdotes in
this report using available records, personal or
firsthand knowledge, written communications
with lifers themselves, news reports, and reports
prepared by other organizations. Wherever
possible, we have verified the information in this
report against official public records.

WE BELIEVE THAT THROUGH ACTS
OF RESTORATION, REDEMPTION AND
RECONCILIATION, WE CAN CREATE
LONG-TERM SYSTEMIC CHANGE.
Real Justice is Restorative and Inspires Hope
The Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative is a grassroots
community-based organization advocating for sensible
criminal justice reform. Among our members are family
members who have lost loved ones to violence, individuals
who have committed serious acts of violence, those who
are both those things, and everyone in between. We do not
take lightly any person’s loss or pain.
But, rather than healing or reducing pain, we see that our
system is often adding to the pain in our communities—often
in ways that are invisible to those who are not part of the
communities most affected by crime and our responses
to it.
Among our membership are mothers who have been in
the horrific position of having lost one son to violence and
another to prison for violence. At our town hall meetings,
the shared sentiment of every speaker is one of unhealed
pain and a lack of hope.
We cannot bring back those who have lost their lives to
violence. But we can look for ways to ensure that tragedy is
not multiplied. And we can start by re-examining the values
and approach of our criminal justice system.
In Maryland, as is the case across the country, we have
allowed our criminal justice system to make promises it
cannot keep — promises about reducing crime, serving
victims, and making us better off. The United States has
the largest prison population in the world. Maryland
is no exception.

We are only now, as a society, acknowledging that this
approach has extraordinary human and financial costs
that are passed along inter-generationally. We are
starting to confront what it means for children to grow up
in communities devastated by mass criminalization and
incarceration. And we are beginning to acknowledge that
the ills of the criminal justice system are disproportionately
borne by people who are the most marginalized in our
society. The result is that communities, and the families in
them, are brutalized not only by crime, but also by a system
that favors punishment over healing and restoration.
In no way is it our intent to minimize or deny the harms
associated with serious crime, nor to suggest that
individuals should not be held accountable for their
actions. But neither should we continue conflating the
harshest punishments with justice and confusing excessive
sentences with healing. MRJI and our partners advocate for
sensible criminal justice policies because we know it will
make our communities stronger, not weaker. Our justice
system should affirm our humanity, not deny it.
Walter Lomax
MRJI Founder
and Director

Sonia Kumar
MRJI Member and
ACLU of Maryland
Staff Attorney

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

3

FOREWORD

M

aryland’s Cour ts generally take no
position on legislative policies, so I note
initially that this foreword is unofficial, does not
represent an opinion on behalf of any Maryland
court, and represents only the personal opinion
of one person, although based on many years of
experience in the court system.
Many years ago, the Maryland General Assembly
established two categories for life sentences —
with the possibility of parole and without the
possibility of parole. The law requires that judges
imposing the first type of sentence must advise
each defendant that he will be eligible for parole
“after serving 50% of this sentence” — statutorily
deemed as 20 years.
During the past 20 years since 1995, however,
e a c h M a r y l a n d g ove r n o r p ra c t i c a l l y h a s
obliterated the distinction between the two types
of life sentence. Each Governor has vetoed every
Parole Commission decision in favor of eligible
life inmates who offered proof of rehabilitation
and of no further risk to public safety. While each
inmate clearly must be assessed on a case-bycase basis, the collective and uniform denial for
all such inmates may be seen as an important
public policy issue.
Sonia Kumar, staff attorney with ACLU-Maryland
and Walter Lomax, Executive Director of Maryland
Restorative Justice Initiative, here have gathered
both inmates’ personal histories and official
statistics to remind us that the actual risk to our
communities presented by parole-eligible life

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STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

inmates is extremely rare. They also point out
that, in 47 of 50 U.S. states, legislatures now have
given parole commissions a vote of confidence
to make evidence-based decisions and have
taken governor’s political concerns out of the
Parole process.
But the price of keeping over 2,000 life sentenced
inmates — nearly 10% of all Maryland prison
inmates — is greater than the $38,000 per person
per year or over $70 million per year collectively.
The price also includes the loss of hope for all
within our prisons. As David Blumberg, chair of
Maryland’s Parole Commission, has explained:
“[Parole] is a reward for good behavior and lowers
the threat of violence on our prison staff. If you
were a lifer and knew you could never get out, you
could do what you wanted to. Parole is the primary
reason inmates adjust to prison.”
“Still Blocking the Exit” offers a well-documented
history of this problem in Maryland’s correction
system. It invites the public, state legislators and
a new Governor to revive, once again, Maryland’s
parole law and, at least, to give hope to over 2,000
Marylanders now incarcerated with life sentences.
Philip Caroom
Associate Judge
Circuit Court of Maryland for
Anne Arundel County

INTRODUCTION

A

bout 2,100 people are serving paroleeligible life sentences in Maryland, more
than 340 of them for crimes committed when they
were 17 or younger. These men and women were
sentenced with the understanding that if they
proved themselves genuinely rehabilitated they
would be paroled. But, in fact, they are now more
likely to die in prison, often after serving many
more decades than anyone expected, than they
are to be paroled.
This is because Maryland’s system is one of only
three in the country where the Governor must
approve parole for lifers, a process that has
become highly politicized.

acts within six months to reject it. At the time,
many were hopeful that this statutory change
would change the practice. Instead, the Governor
summarily rejected dozens of cases pending. A
token three cases were commuted.
In other words, even after this change to the law,
lifers with parole-eligible sentences are treated no
differently than those people serving life without
parole. It is commonly understood that parole is
futile for lifers — that they will never be released,
no matter what.

The result is that among this group of lifers are
individuals who have been rehabilitated, who
have done everything asked of them, who have
sometimes even earned the forgiveness and
support of victims’ family members and the
Maryland Parole Commission, but who continue
to languish in prison, at taxpayers’ expense, until
they die. They are held in legal limbo, promised
by the letter of the law a meaningful opportunity
to be paroled upon rehabilitation but denied
this chance in reality. No one disagrees that they
were involved in serious crimes that warranted
serious consequences. But, with the passage of
time, repenting, and hard work, they are not the
same people they were at the time of their crimes,
and incarcerating them after they have been
rehabilitated has its own negative consequences.

Except, that is, when lightening strikes, as
happened in Unger v. Maryland, a 2012 state Court
of Appeals case. There, the Court found that, for
years in the 1970s, Maryland juries were wrongly
instructed on how to assess the guilt of the people
before them. Individuals affected by this case are
entitled to new trials. Some will be tried again. But
some, through a complicated process of vetting
and negotiation, and under the supervision of
the court system, are obtaining their release. As
of the printing of this report, about 75 people (all
lifers, because they are the only group likely to
be left inside decades later) have successfully
returned home as a result of the Unger decision.
At least 17 of the people released as a result of
Unger had been recommended for release by the
Parole Commission but refused by the Governor
in 2012. Furthermore, those who had never even
been recommended for release have also made
successful transitions home.

Recognizing this, efforts have been made for
years, through litigation, legislation, and personal
persuasion, to try to change Maryland’s practices
regarding lifers. But lifers’ cases continued to
languish on Governors’ desks. In 2011, legislation
was enacted to change that, by modifying the
statute to allow the Parole Commission’s
recommendation to stand unless the Governor

But there are equally deserving people inside,
held back by politics and a broken law that
privileges politics over rehabilitation, fairness or
merit, at great human and financial expense. The
purpose of this report is to help illuminate the
plight of this group of people and to help show
that all Marylanders will benefit from a fair parole
system for lifers.

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

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TABLE OF CONTENTS
6

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

7

Background

8

Timeline

9

The Facts

10 Experts Say
11 The People Who Are...
12 Still Inside
16 Elderly
18 Women
19 Juveniles
23 Back Home
30 What You Can Do

BACKGROUND:
MARYLAND’S PAROLE
SYSTEM FOR LIFERS

M

aryland law offers judges the option of sentencing
individuals to life with the possibility of parole
(“parole-eligible” life sentences), or life without the
possibility of parole. The people profiled in this report
were all sentenced by judges with the understanding that
they would be eligible for parole if they did well in prison.
(Another 346 people are serving life without parole).
The Maryland Parole Commission, using the intense and
rigorous process shown to the right, evaluates individuals
to determine whether they can safely be returned to the
community, considering a range of factors including the
severity of the offense and proof of rehabilitation. In cases
where someone is serving a term of years, the Commission’s
decision stands. But, in cases where someone is sentenced
to life, the Governor must also agree. Because this process
has become so politicized, for the last two decades, all life
sentences have essentially become “life without parole,”
even when that was not the judge’s intent.

The MPC’s standards are extremely stringent. The
commission rarely recommends individuals for release.
MRJI is not aware of any case in which a lifer did not have
several hearings before being recommended for release.
Between 2006 and the present, only about 71 out of more
than 2,100 parole-eligible lifers successfully made it through
this process and were sent on to the Governor’s office.1

1

Must serve at least 15 years before
consideration. Compile written
record of offense and institutional
history, including victim statements.

3

5

Five were recommended for parole, and 66 for commutation. Parole is
conditional release from confinement, subject to ongoing supervision.
Commutation is an act of clemency in which the Governor substitutes
a lesser penalty than the penalty imposed by the court. In addition to
the above, eight lifers were recommended for medical parole, which is
subject to a different process with its own set of criteria.

2

Parole Commission reviews all available
records and notifies victim, if previously
requested, of upcoming hearing.

Face-to-face interview with two
commissioners, who assess
statutory factors: remorse,
responsibility, behavior behind bars
and plan for reentry.

4

If commissioners agree, referred
for extensive risk assessment
and psychological evaluation at
Patuxent Institution.

If cleared by Patuxent, the
full 10-person commission
considers the recommendation.

7

1

Parole-eligible life sentence

6

If a majority approves,
the paperwork is sent to
the Governor.

Since passage of legislation in 2011,
the Governor must act within 180
days. To date, nearly every request
has been rejected.

8

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

7

TIMELINE
(1969–PRESENT)
1969 Governor Marvin Mandel takes office. Paroles 92 lifers during his two terms.
1979 Governor Harry Hughes takes office. Approves parole for 64 lifers during office.
1987 Governor Donald Schaefer takes office. During his tenure, paroles 25 lifers.
1993 Rodney Stokes, a lifer who is on work release, takes the life of his girlfriend before taking his
own life.
1995 Governor Parris Glendening takes office. Announces that, even though judges believed lifers
would be paroled, “life means life” and he will not parole any Maryland lifers. He has since
stated that he regrets his approach.
In the course of his eight years in office, Glendening rejects every parole request.
1999 Maryland Court of Appeals, in Lomax v. Warden, holds that Governor’s announcement did not
violate the rights of lifers who were being denied parole. Subsequent legal challenges on other
grounds also fail.
2003 Governor Robert Ehrlich takes office. No lifers are paroled. Five are commuted.
2007 Governor Martin O’Malley takes office. Takes no action on pending requests.
2011

Confronted with evidence that no lifers are being paroled and that pending requests are
held in limbo for years, General Assembly modifies statute to require Governor to act upon
Parole Commission recommendation within 180 days. On the day of the hearing, the Governor
announces he has rejected seven commutation requests for lifers.

2012 Forced by law to act, Governor denies the dozens of pending recommendations.
Commutes 3 others.
2012 Court of Appeals issues Unger v. Maryland, finding that, in the 1970s, Maryland juries were
wrongly instructed on how to assess the guilt of the people before them, resulting in the
possibility of new trials for more than 200 people still incarcerated.
2013 Individuals begin coming home in the wake of Unger. About 75 people have come home and are
making successful transitions. At least 17 of the people who have come home were previously
recommended for release. Dozens of others previously recommended are still incarcerated.

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STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

THE FACTS
ELDERLY AND AGING POPULATIONS
• The average age of lifers who were recommended for release but are still inside is 60.2 All but two
of these individuals are 50 years or older. The average age of those released as a result of Unger
is 64 years old.
LIFERS SENTENCED AS YOUTH: AMONG THE WORST IN THE COUNTRY
• Maryland is among the worst states when it comes to the rate of young people serving life sentences:
Maryland leads the nation in the percentage of our lifer population that was 17 or younger at the
time of the offense (15%).3
• Despite Maryland’s relatively small population compared to other states, we have more than 340
juvenile lifers, one of the largest juvenile lifer populations in the country — third after California
and Texas.
RACIAL JUSTICE: WORST IN THE COUNTRY
• Maryland has the highest rate of Black lifers in the country. About 77% of Maryland lifers are Black.
Only about 30% of Maryland’s population is Black.
• There is also a grave racial disparity among juvenile lifers. Maryland is tied with Alabama in leading
the nation in the percentage of our juvenile lifer population that is Black: 84%.
LOW-RISK GROUPS
• Studies have shown lower recidivism rates for lifers than others. For example, a 2004 analysis by
The Sentencing Project found that “individuals released from life sentences were less than one-third
as likely to be rearrested within three years as all released persons.”4 Similarly, a long-term study
of paroled lifers in California found that less than 1% were later incarcerated for new felonies.5
EXPENSIVE
• It costs about $38,383 per year to incarcerate someone in Maryland.6 The cost to the State in 20122014 for incarcerating the 68 people who were recommended for release but denied since 2006 is
about $5.2 million.
• Even after excluding 17 individuals who have obtained release at some point through Unger, the
cost is about $3.9 million. By contrast, state officials have indicated that, if lifers recommended
for parole were released, no additional resources would be needed to supervise the small number
of releasees under community supervision.7

2

This does not include individuals who have since died or who were released as a result of Unger.

3

According to The Sentencing Project’s 2009 report, No Exit: The Expanding Use of Lifer Sentences in America, Maryland was
third highest. However, more recent data compiled by Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services shows that the true number
of juvenile lifers is much higher than the 279 originally reported: 364, about 340 of whom have parole-eligible sentences. See
Fiscal and Policy note for SB 953, 2014. The report’s authors recalculated Maryland’s rankings with this updated information.
All remaining statistics regarding racial composition of Maryland’s lifer population and population counts from other states are
based on the No Exit report.

4

Ashley Nellis, Life Goes On: The Historic Rise in Life Sentences in America, p. 17. The Sentencing Project. 2013.

5

Id.

6

Vera Institute for Justice, “Price of Prisons,” Maryland factsheet. January 2012. Note: The costs are likely higher, as the costs of
incarceration typically increase as prisoners age.

7

Fiscal and Policy note for SB 953, 2014.

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

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EXPERTS SAY…
There is no reason to believe that the
Governor… has more expertise in this
matter than the members of the Parole
Commission have.

DR. FRANK DUNBAUGH
former Deputy Assistant Attorney General for
Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Justice

[Parole] is a reward for good behavior, lowers
the threat of violence on our prison staff. If you
were a lifer and knew you could never get out,
you could do what you wanted to. Parole is the
primary reason inmates adjust to prison.

DAVID BLUMBERG
Chair, Maryland Parole Commission

It is very, very important that my colleagues understand how important this
issue is. They need to rethink their position. When an individual has met all
the qualifications for release, they should be let go. The Governor appoints
very knowledgeable individuals.

SENATOR NATHANIEL M C FADDEN

It’s unfair to those who enter prison under a certain sentence with the
belief that, at some point, they could be considered for parole based on
what they do or do not do in prison when in fact this is not occurring.

RONALD KNAPP
former Director of Parole and Probation

The parole commission is more on top of the issues — mostly, the inmate
has to show that he has made every effort for redemption. I’ve been
concerned about the sharp line between redemption and punishment.
The more we emphasize punishment the greater the obstacles to work
their way out of prison.

ARNOLD HOPKINS
former Commissioner of Corrections

Many of these young people currently incarcerated plea
bargained, thinking that paroleable life sentences meant
they could be paroled.

CLARENCE T. DAVIS

10

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

THE PEOPLE

I would like to make a plea to the legislature and
the Governor, people that are parole-eligible,
giving them a second chance.
On February 11, 2008, I became a victim. My eldest child was
murdered. Nothing has been harder than losing my child.

Ginger Dukes Beal

When one of the perpetrators showed me so much compassion
and remorse, I could do nothing but forgive. One thing we
know, you can’t see Jesus with bitterness and hatred. But since
this happened, I’ve been a constant speaker at the prison with
lifer women and men so I’ve come to know a lot of them. And I
changed my perspective.
Before passing away in 2013, Ginger (shown at the left) was one
of the strongest supporters for a second chance for Maryland
lifers. Her generosity of spirit and compassion were inspiring.
She is truly missed.

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11

PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN
RECOMMENDED FOR
RELEASE BUT WHO ARE
STILL INSIDE

I

n the last eight years, about 80 people were recommended for release
by the Maryland Parole Commission. Nearly all of them were denied
by the Governor. Nine have passed away. There is no doubt that these
men and women made tragic mistakes. But they are not the same
people they were when they came to prison.

By all accounts, they have gone as far as
they can possibly go in prison to redeem
themselves, earning countless certificates
of achievement, educational degrees,
working in prison industries, mentoring
young people, and demonstrating
impeccable behavioral records. In many
instances, they have earned the respect
not only of other prisoners, but also of
the correctional officers and wardens who

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STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

supervise them. At this point, keeping
them behind bars is not only unjust and
a waste of human potential, but also a
waste of taxpayers’ money. In just the last
two years, the cost to the state of housing
those who were recommended but who
are still inside (not those who have passed
away or obtained release through Unger)
is nearly $4 million.

Calvin W. Ash, Sr.
Recommended
for release in

2004

Calvin was 21 years old when he was sent to prison in 1972. He has now been
incarcerated for more than four decades. He began working on self-improvement
immediately, earning his GED in 1973. After that, Calvin enrolled and earned nearly
150 college credit hours, in everything from drug education, to youth counseling, to
business administration. Further evidence of Calvin’s suitability for release was that
he was among the lifers on work release when the program was discontinued in 1993.
By 2004, 32 years after he was sent to prison, Calvin was recommended for release
by the Maryland Parole Commission. He still sits inside, however. After lingering on
the Governor’s desk for years, Calvin’s recommendation was denied in 2011. And, even
though every assessment indicates that Calvin is suitable for parole, he has not been
recommended again since then — as he told Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks
in 2011, “I was told it wouldn’t be prudent to try again while O’Malley’s governor.”
And that is how Maryland taxpayers end up paying at least $300,000 — about
$30,000 a year for at least ten extra years — to keep incarcerating a man in his 60s.
Calvin continues to add value to those around him, tutoring other inmates and
serving as a longstanding facilitator for the Alternatives to Violence project.

Charles Chappel
Recommended
for release in

2005

Charles was incarcerated at the age of 21 in 1977. He is now 58. He has taken
advantage of the opportunities made available — earning his GED. After graduating
from the GED program he was given the opportunity to become a teacher’s aide and
enjoyed helping others obtain their education. He has more than 60 credits towards
a college degree.
By 1992, Charles was recommended for work release in recognition of his excellent
progress and the fact that he did not pose a threat to others. The program was abruptly
ended and, since then, more than two decades ago, Charles has been waiting for the
opportunity to prove he deserves a second chance.
In fact, Charles has long been recognized as a good candidate for parole. In 2005
he was recommended for release by the Maryland Parole Commission. That request
was denied in 2011. He remains incarcerated. He believes everyone can change and
that after 37 years inside he continues to pray for forgiveness. He believes people
should not be judged only by what they did decades ago, but also by what they have
done since then.

Frank Early
Recommended
for release over

27 years
ago

Frank has spent nearly half a century in prison for a crime that occurred when he was
22 years old, in 1969. He has accumulated an admirably rich record of achievements
inside. His record speaks for itself, but perhaps nothing speaks as clearly as the
timeline he provides outlining his own history:
I have been recommended by the Maryland Parole Commission for
release on parole to every governor since the Hon. Harry Hughes up to the
Hon. Martin O’Malley.
STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

13

Each time I was given a set-off [postponement] or a denial because the governor
was not signing any releases for lifers.
I have also been to the Patuxent Institution for the Risk Assessment Evaluation
two times and each time was given a favorable recommendation for release;
however [instead of being released] I was given a rehearing parole date because
the governor was not signing any releases for lifers.
Frank is now 67 years old. He was first recommended for parole at least 27 years ago.

Dorian Maddox
Recommended
for release in

2005

In 1976, Dorian was 20 years old when he went to prison on a plea agreement that
everyone, including his lawyer, the judge, and state’s attorney, believed would result
in his being paroled in 20 years. Today, he has been incarcerated for 38 years — nearly
two decades more than agreed, and is currently 58 years old.
Inside prison, he obtained his G.E.D., AA degree, and 90 credits towards a Bachelor’s
before Pell grants for inmates were discontinued. He has worked continuously
while inside and engaged in numerous volunteer programs. He made substantial
progress — so much so, that he was put on work release and worked in the community
until everyone was pulled back in 1993. For the last 19 years he has worked in the
Maryland Correctional Enterprises MeatPlant and is now one of six production
floor leaders. He attributes his personal growth to the availability of programs, and
especially education and self-help programs both as a participant and volunteer. He
writes:
Today I am a matured man whose life has been changed by a profound sense of
personal accountability and responsibility. Over the past 37 years most of my time
has been focused on learning to control my behavior and being more receptive to
other people’s rights. I apologize daily, in prayer, to my victim, her family and my
family for my wrongful behavior. I sincerely hope and pray that they have recovered
from the pain I caused. My overall goal in life is to restore the trust, respect and
dignity in my life that will impact those around me.
In the course of the ten parole hearings Dorian has had over the years, he has been
recognized as a favorable candidate for parole beginning as early as the early 1990s,
but recommendations were delayed by the no-parole policy. The Maryland Parole
Commission formally recommended Dorian for release to Governor Erlich nine years
ago in 2005. That request was denied and he remains incarcerated.

John Martin
Denied
release in

2012

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STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

John was incarcerated in 1980. During his time inside, he has participated in too many
educational, personal development and volunteer programs to list. John says he has
kept his focus on education in recognition that it is key to success inside and out.
He has made every effort to stay productive, holding many different jobs over time
and developing a strong spiritual and religious identity. In the 34 years John has spent
inside Maryland prisons, he has had only one infraction — for possessing cologne.

In recognition of John’s excellent record and the belief that he poses no risk to others,
the Maryland Parole Commission recommended his release. He was denied and
remains incarcerated. Despite this, John says he feels blessed to have the support
of his family, friends, and spiritual advisors.

James Priest
Denied
release in

2012

In the more than three decades James has spent incarcerated in Maryland, he has
made an effort to educate and improve himself and others. He earned his Bachelors
in Psychology, served as a GED and pre-GED tutor, a facilitator for the Alternatives
to Violence Project, and has helped organize everything from a chess group to youth
mentoring programs:
I was 19 years old when this nightmare occurred. I understand the seriousness of my
actions as well as the fact that on that night countless lives were irrevocably changed.
It is my prayer that 30 years later the victims have learned to cope with the assault
and move past it. I pray they live loving productive lives. It is a daily prayer.
The angry, immature, misguided youth who took part in those egregious acts does
not exist anymore. He ceased to exist long ago. Little by little with knowledge,
introspection and maturity he was erased. A myriad of factors played a part in that:
professional counseling, my own B.S. in Psychology, time helped, but maybe most
of all my loving family and support system helped me turn into a man. One who is
ready to become a contributing, productive member of society. I’m 51 years old now
and I believe I have earned a second chance at life. With all my heart I believe it. The
parole board also believed I am deserving of a second chance. They recommended
me for commutation.
The Governor denied this request, along with dozens of others, in 2012.

James Wells
Denied
release in

2012

James has come far since being incarcerated 37 years ago. Even though he was
29 when he came to prison in 1977, James earned his eighth grade certificate at
31 inside, his GED the following year, and, eventually, in 1995, his Bachelors in
Psychology. He has even written several books intended to benefit others with the
lessons he has learned through hard experience. He says:
All I can tell you is that I am not the same individual I was at the inception of this
tragedy. The transition I have made in my life and the metamorphosis that has taken
place within me; you cannot see or feel on this paper. The rehabilitative process has
already been done; I am a better man today. What I need is the opportunity and the
chance to interact with people, so they can see that James Wells would be an asset
to society as opposed to a liability.
James was recommended for parole but denied in 2012.

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

15

GROWING OLD, ILL,
AND DYING IN PRISON

M

aryland’s practice with respect to lifers means that, in effect,
our system does not distinguish between life sentences with or
without parole. In our system, every life sentence is a sentence to die
in prison. Many lifers believe that they will die in prison no matter how
much they have changed or what they do.

“[We should] keep
prisons from becoming
geriatric wards. … In
the latter stages of life,
they’re having a hard
time getting out of a
chair, let alone doing
harm to anyone … We
need a process with an
objective decision from
a medical point of view,
as well as a societal one,
rather than a political
point of view.”
–Senate President
Thomas V. Mike Miller,
The Baltimore Sun,
March 13, 2011.

In fact, many lifers who were promised a meaningful
opportunity for release when they were sentenced are now
elderly. They often have health problems. For example, among
the Unger cases, at least two men were brought to court in
wheelchairs. One was on a gurney.
The average age of lifers who were recommended for release
but are still inside is 60.8 All but two of these individuals are
50 years or older.
Charles Ford was born in 1931. The Governor denied his recommendation for release
two years ago. He is now 82 years old.
Gordon Contee was born in 1935. He will be 80 years old next spring. He was
recommended for release but denied by the Governor.
John Chesley will be 78 this November. His recommendation for release was denied
two years ago.
Lee Moore is 76 years old. He was born in 1938. He was recommended for release
but denied by the Governor in 2011.

8

16

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

This does not include individuals who were recommended for medical parole, individuals who have died,
or those who were released as a result of Unger. The average age of individuals released as a result of
Unger is 64 years old.

IN MEMORIAM
At least nine people recommended for release since 2006
have passed away.
Yusuf Rasheed (Joseph Westry) died the day he obtained
his release through Unger, at the age of 72. He had been
recommended for parole in 2012.

MEDICAL PAROLE
IN MARYLAND
In 2008, the Maryland General Assembly passed a law
establishing medical parole for incarcerated individuals
who are so incapacitated by a medical condition that
they pose no danger to public safety. Medical parole
was previously governed by the internal regulations of
the Department of Public Safety. Between 2006 and the
present, eight lifers were recommended for medical parole
by the Maryland Parole Commission. All eight were denied.
Six of them have since passed away in prison.

Tarif Abdullah (Gregory Allen Jones) had been
recommended for release but denied by the Governor. He
has since passed away.
Gordon Gaskins was recommended for release but
denied by the Governor. He was later recognized as a
potential Unger release, but passed away before obtaining
his freedom.
Lewis Wade, who was born in 1927, was 83 years old when
the Governor denied his recommendation for release on
medical parole. He has since passed away.
Wallace Creighton, who was born in 1927, was 83 years
old when the Governor denied his recommendation for
medical parole. He has since passed away.
Troy Reid was denied release on medical parole in 2011.
He has since passed away.
Baysic Gallimore was 85 years old when the Governor
denied his recommendation for release on medical parole.
He has since passed away.
Robert Myers was five days shy of his 71st birthday when
the Governor denied his recommendation for medical
parole last year. He has since passed away.
Clifton Anderson was recommended for medical parole,
but denied in March 2006. He passed away three years
later, at the age of 53.

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

17

WOMEN
IN MARYLAND

M

aryland has an extremely high rate of women lifers compared
to national rates — three times the national rate. About 10% of
Maryland’s lifers are women, compared to about 3% nationally.
Eraina Pretty
“Governor, I don’t want to die here.”
Eraina was 18 at the time of her arrest in 1978. She has now
spent 36 years in prison. She is 54 years old. At the time
of her arrest her lawyer told her she would serve 11 and a
half years and then be sent to a pre-release unit. She has
served three times that long now.
Nonetheless, during her time, Eraina has taken advantage
of educational programs and vocational opportunities,
even earning her Bachelors degree in Sociology from
Morgan State University. She speaks openly about how
transformed she is after years of therapy working through
the pain she carried with her from childhood abuse. She
speaks openly, too, about being so wracked with guilt for
her victims and hopelessness that she asked then-Governor
Erlich to put her to death.
Eraina has been involved in service opportunities, like
the Canine Partners Dog Program, training service dogs
to help individuals with physical impairments, and an
array of jobs, including, her current position as a clerk.
Recognizing these accomplishments, the Maryland Parole
Commission recommended Eraina for release. That
recommendation was denied in 2011, three years ago.
Eraina has received numerous letters of support since
then — including one from a Captain who’s known her for
21 years urging “serious consideration” for her release and
describing Eraina as a positive role model for young and
first-time offenders — “dependable, reliable, hardworking,
conscientious, honest, peace-loving and courteous.” A
Letter of Commendation from the prison warden states:
I commend you for your exemplary behavior and
the self-discipline that you exhibit at the Maryland
Correctional Institution for Women.

18

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

I have been working in the field of corrections for over
thirty years and I rarely write letters to residents. I am
writing you because you demonstrate good behavior. In
my opinion you will do well in society when you return.
Moreover, I want to thank you for being a positive
example for the residents at the facility. You provide
living lessons to them each day which helps me to
manage a safe facility.
In your case I had to write and let you know that I find
that you are very respectful and are always helping the
facility move and grow in a good manner.
Eraina remains incarcerated to this day.

Clara Matthews
Clara is a 71-year-old survivor of domestic violence.
She has spent the last two decades inside. The Parole
Commission recommended her for release, but she was
among those denied by the Governor in 2012. As a result,
she remains incarcerated.
During her time inside Clara has been a model inmate and
an incredible source of support and organizing for other
women struggling with their incarceration. She has held
various jobs, tutored other women who are incarcerated,
and participated successfully in every re-entry program
available to her, including religious programs and numerous
programs for survivors of domestic violence. Recently she
started a program, “Women for Change,” to help women
who are incarcerated focus on self-improvement.
Clara says that participating in programs and working have
been a source of fulfillment for her and have helped her
grow, and that she is ready to return to society to be a taxpaying citizen. She hopes for the day that she will have a
second chance.

GROWING UP
LOCKED DOWN

“Whether viewed as an attempt to express the
community’s moral outrage or as an attempt to
right the balance for the wrong to the victim,
the case for retribution is not as strong with a
minor as with an adult.”
Roper v. Graham (2005), U.S. Supreme Court
case abolishing death penalty for juveniles

M

aryland has one of the largest juvenile lifer populations in the
country, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Karem Hasan and
other Unger releasees highlighted in this report who were juveniles
at the time of their crimes, are living proof of what juvenile lifers can
accomplish when allowed to rejoin society.
Maryland is among the worst states when it comes to the rate of young people serving
life sentences:
• Maryland leads the nation in the percentage of our lifer population whose
offenses occurred when they were 17 years or younger (15%).
• Maryland has one of the largest populations of juvenile lifers in the
country — third after California and Texas.
• Maryland is tied with Alabama in leading the nation in the percentage of our
juvenile lifer population who is Black; 84% of our juvenile lifer population is
Black, while about 30% of Maryland’s population is Black.
In the last ten years, drawing from brain science showing how the human brain is still
developing into early adulthood, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued ruling after ruling
limiting the harshest punishments for youth. These rulings recognize that, because
of their immaturity, vulnerability and changeability, kids are different from adults and
these differences must be considered when it comes to punishment.

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

19

Odell Newton In 1974, at the age of 16, Odell Gary Lee Miller
Newton was sentenced to life in prison for a robbery gone
bad. It was his first offense — at the time, Odell was in
school and had a job.
In the 40 years since he was sentenced, Mr. Newton
has, by all accounts, been a model inmate. He has not
had a single infraction in 36 years. As early as 1988, in
recognition of his excellent record, he was approved for
the state’s work-release program and commended by the
Parole Commission for his “excellent progress” and full
compliance with everything that was asked of him. He
continued to work outside the prison without incident until
the program was suspended in 1992.
Over the years, he has taken advantage of many of the
educational and self-improvement opportunities offered
to inmates. And, but for Maryland’s broken parole system
that denied a meaningful chance for release to any lifer,
Odell could have been contributing outside prison walls
decades ago.
Mr. Newton has been recommended for parole on four
separate occasions, to three different governors, and been
denied each time. He remains incarcerated.

Calvin McNeill In 1982, at the age of 17, Calvin
McNeill was sentenced to life in prison for his role in a
shooting arising during the robbery of a dice game. Calvin
is now 50 years old. Over the three-plus decades Calvin
has been incarcerated, he received only three infractions.
While in prison, Calvin has engaged in significant selfimprovement and has earned the strong support of a
number of individuals who have observed his growth.
In July of 2011, Governor O’Malley denied the Parole
Commission’s recommendation that Calvin’s sentence be
commuted. He has not had a parole hearing since then.

Gary was arrested at the
age of 16 in 1967 for homicide. Now 61 years old, Gary
has spent nearly half a century in prison for a crime that
occurred when he was a teenager. Since his incarceration,
Gary has taken full advantage of any and all available
programming offered by the Department of Public Safety
and Correctional Services. He has earned his G.E.D. and
also a college degree. He has completed courses in basic
and advanced electronics, received certification in the
welding program, certification for electrical wiring for
residential dwelling, and a Stationary Engineer License
for operating steam equipment.
Gary was recommended for the work release program twenty
years ago, in 1992, by the parole commission. But, sadly,
the program was suspended before he could participate.
Gary’s involvement in self-help programs includes
consistent membership and participation in: Jaycees, Seven
Steps, Colts Corral, Music/Band and Prisoners Against Teen
Tragedies (P.A.T.T.), where he has spoken to hundreds of
at-risk teens from Maryland high schools and juvenile
offender programs located in Maryland and surrounding
states. He also appeared on television’s A&E network in
connection with the P.A.T.T. program.
Gary’s last parole hearing was attended by members of
the victim’s family, who extended their forgiveness to
him. In his file, the parole commission wrote that Gary
“has been able to maintain a good adjustment, continues
working and keeps a positive attitude. The victim impact
and forgiveness of family are very powerful in helping
to attempt partial closure of a tragic and senseless
event.” Gary’s family and friends provide him with love and
support in the hopes that he will one day be released so
he can continue to counsel teens to avoid the pitfalls that
destroyed his life and caused others to lose a loved one.

The adolescent’s mind works differently from ours. Parents know it. Th[e Supreme] Court has said it. Legislatures
all over the world have presumed it for decades or more. And scientific evidence has continued to shed more
light on how and why adolescent behavior differs from adult behavior. … These studies also demonstrate that
the brain continues to mature, both structurally and functionally, throughout adolescence in regions of the brain
responsible for controlling thoughts, actions, and emotions. Together, these studies indicate that the adolescent
period poses vulnerabilities to risk taking behavior but, importantly, that this is a temporary stage.
–Statement of the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
in joint amicus brief in Miller v. Alabama (2012), U.S. Supreme Court case limiting life without parole for juveniles
in homicide cases.

20

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

Alonzo E. Turner-Bey Alonzo was involved
in a homicide when he was 17. That was in 1989. Now,
Alonzo has been incarcerated for 25 of his 42 years. Since
1990, Alonzo has been a member of the Moorish Science
Temple of America. He has earned his GED and numerous
credits toward his college degree. He has amassed a wealth
of certificates and recommendations from his involvement
in academic and vocational programming. He has more
than 20 letters from correctional officers and staff written
on his behalf. One such letter, written by a correctional
officer, describes his courageous actions in saving her
from a vicious attack. Alonzo’s actions on behalf of that
correctional officer exemplify the very best of humanity.
They demonstrate that he is now a mature, responsible
and courageous person who stood up to protect another
human being in her moment of need.
Alonzo’s support system of family members and friends visit
him and will be able to provide the resources necessary for
his successful reentry back into society.

I made a bad decision, which has changed my life. If
only, I keep telling myself. I had to learn that violence
isn’t the answer for any solution. I had to realize that
there is a better and more productive way to handle
situations without being violent. … I’m not that 15 year
old teenager who enjoyed fighting in the streets, I am
now a 39 year old mature adult, moving forward to
better myself, as well as my future. … I’m hoping to one
day be given the chance to prove to society that I have
changed, and ask that I am allowed a second chance.”
ToWanda’s family members and friends, as well as members
of the community, continue to support efforts toward her
eventual release from prison.

Shawnte Perry Shawnte was only 15 years old
when, in 1995, she was sent to prison. At this point, she
has spent more than half of her life, 19 years, in prison. She
is currently 34 years old. Shawnte describes the path she
was on as a youngster:

“I was raised by my mother in a single parent home.
At the age of 15, ToWanda
I made excellent grades in school and I had dreams for
was sent to prison for her involvement in a homicide.
some day becoming a psychiatrist. I was helping to raise
ToWanda has spent 26 of her 41 years behind bars. When
my baby brother and take care of my grandmother who
she entered prison she was terrified, and was so young
had Alzheimer’s disease.” As a young teen, however,
that she had to be separated from
Shawnte says that she started
the other prisoners because of her
“loving someone who introduced
“[F]rom a moral standpoint it would
age. But she immediately began
me to the gang life and that’s how
be misguided to equate the failings
improving herself. The first change
I even became involved with the
of a minor with those of an adult,
she made was to enroll in the
crime. I wish that I could take it all
for a greater possibility exists that a
educational program and receive
minor’s character deficiencies will be
back and live the life that I always
her GED. ToWanda then proceeded
reformed.”
dreamed of living. I am still very
to computer technology and office
regretful for ever meeting certain
G ra h a m v. F l o r i d a ( 2 0 1 0 ) , U . S .
practice, and then earned her A.A.
people in my life at that time, but I
Supreme Cour t case abolishing
degree in Business Management.
also wish that I was strong enough
life without parole for juveniles in
To W a n d a a t t e n d e d E s s e x
at the time to have made better
non-homicide cases
Community College, Baltimore
judgment calls and decisions in my
Community College, and Catonsville
life. I have suffered and matured
Community College, where she obtained her Human Service
since my incarceration, and am very remorseful for
Certificate in 2000. She also gives back to the community
the harm I have caused.”
by training seeing-eye dogs for the blind, which she has
Since her incarceration Shawnte has done many things
done since 1999.
to strengthen herself and mature. She has participated in
She says:
many groups, such as Thinking and Deciding for a Change,
“I do regret what happened, and am deeply sorry Communication and Relationships, and P.U.S.H., a group
for what I did. I’ve always taken responsibility for that speaks to youth about straightening up their lives so
my actions, and never once have I denied my part in they do not end up in prison. Shawnte is currently working
the confrontation. If I could change the past, I would. toward her A.A. degree. She continues to utilize her time to

ToWanda Jones

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

21

improve herself and improve her capacity to help others.
She says, “I now have a true desire to reach out to youths
that are heading in the wrong direction. My biggest dream
right now is that I will someday be released so that I can
do what I can in life to truly make a difference.”

worked in the Graphics Art Shop for Maryland Correctional
Enterprise. He participates in self-help programs and also
gives back to the community: he is a mentor for a group
called M.E.N. FOR L.I.F.E., is a board member of A.M.E.,
and was the chairman of the Inmate Advisory Council for
15 years.

Wayne Brewton

Wayne was 17 years old
when he was arrested in 1979 in a homicide case. He is
Douglas went to prison 35 years
now 52 years old, having spent 35 of those 52 years in ago for an offense that occurred when he was 17. He does
prison. Wayne earned his GED and accumulated credits not make excuses for the crime in which he was involved, nor
toward a college degree. In spite of the change in parole minimize the harm experienced by the victims involved. But
policy Wayne continues to progress. He has developed his he has demonstrated that, now, 35 years later, he is not the
skills in upholstery, masonry, and
impulsive, thrill-seeking teenager
woodshop. He tutors as a teacher’s
he was then, having earned a
“[T]he distinctive attributes of youth
aide, edited a prison newsletter,
bachelor’s degree and served as
diminish the penological justifications
and worked on the camera project.
a tutor and administrative clerk
for imposing the harshest sentences
He has been and continues to
for other inmates for 15 years. He
on juvenile offenders, even when they
be involved in a wide range of
also served in leadership roles in
commit terrible crimes.”
programming directed towards
a range of constructive activities
Miller
v.
Florida
(2012),
U.S.
Supreme
self-improvement and giving
inside — such as the Christian
Court abolishing mandatory life
back to the community, including
Council, which helped intervene
without parole for juveniles and
as membership director of the
with individuals who were not
requiring sentencing to consider the
Jaycees, a member of Lifestyles,
adjusting to life inside, the Veterans
unique characteristics of youth
a facilitator for the Alternatives to
Group for incarcerated veterans,
Violence program, and a facilitator
and the first Maryland prison
of Youth and Gang Emancipation. Wayne also leads a Poetry chapter of the NAACP. Twenty-five years into his prison
discussion group. He has the full support of his family term, the Maryland Parole Commission began to move
members and friends, who visit him regularly and will his case, recommending him for release. Governor Robert
provide a support system when he is released.
Ehrlich denied his request, and in 2007, the Commission
forwarded his file to Annapolis again, this time to Governor
William was arrested O’Malley with a recommendation for commutation. The
in 1968 at the age of 16 in a homicide case. Now 61 years case stalled for four years, when the Governor rejected the
old, William has spent nearly three-quarters of his Parole Commission’s recommendation along with dozens
life — 46 years — in prison. He has been infraction-free for of other pending recommendations.

Douglas Wiley

William A. Gardner

more than 27 years. Two different Wardens recommended
his release. He was in the work-release and family leave
programs until they were discontinued in 1995. While in
the program he met his wife and fathered three sons, now
24, 27, and 30, who all continue to visit and support his
release.
William earned his GED, and obtained college credits before
that program was discontinued. He has become skilled at
Auto Mechanics, Meat Cutting, Welding, Masonry, Fork Lift
Operation, and Carpentry. For the last fifteen years, he has

22

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

Douglas says that he has a strong family support
system — born to two loving parents who migrated to
Baltimore in search of opportunity after spending their youth
as sharecroppers on tobacco plantations in North Carolina.
They are still together after 58 years, and his siblings
and religious community provide additional support.
He remains hopeful that one day he will have the
opportunity to demonstrate success outside prison walls.

PEOPLE WHO
HAVE COME HOME

I

t has been nearly two years since people started
coming home as a result of the Unger case. About
75 people have been released, including 17 who
had been recommended for release by the parole
commission but denied by the Governor. This
group is living proof that lifers can be welcomed
back into the community with great success.

In no small part, their success is due to the support they give
each other, as well as the support of family members who
love them — sisters, mothers, brothers, and kids, and also as
a team social workers and case managers who are helping
with housing, jobs, medical care, and more.

In the many years we worked with Cookie Washington,
who tirelessly advocated for a second chance for her three
brothers, she never smiled. With the release of the last of
the three, her younger brother Robert (shown here hugging
her) she finally started smiling again.

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

23

Karem Hasan (born Karl Brown) was 17 when he went to prison in 1976. He was
incarcerated for 37 years. Now 55 years old, Karem is working at a wastewater
treatment plant, living with his fiancée, and making remarkable progress in his
reentry back into society.
Before his release as a result of the Unger case, Karem had accumulated a wealth of
certificates for his ongoing involvement in positive projects while inside. He admits
that, when he first entered the Maryland penitentiary he was not a model prisoner.
He was still angry at society. But it was the possibility of release that motivated him
to turn his behavior and life around; a friend of his brother showed Karem that if he
did not change his behavior he would spend the rest of his life in prison.

Karem Hasan

Karem set upon a quest to not only face and accept responsibility for his actions,
but to better himself in all ways possible. And his record truly bears out that Karem
fulfilled that promise: In 1979, he completed a Basic Electronics Course, joined the
Jaycees, and completed an individual development course (AACC). By 1985, Karem
had earned his GED, and by 1989, he had earned a place on the National Dean’s
List at Coppin State College. Also in 1989 he completed a course in Continuing
Education and Workforce Development (AACC). Karem was 12 credits away from
receiving his Bachelor of Science in Sociology when the Pell Grants were discontinued.
He participated in a variety of self-help programs and gives back to the community
through programs like Scared Straight, Project Turnaround, Project Choice Counsel,
and Alternatives to Violence, among many others.
During the nearly 40 years he spent inside, Karem was recommended for parole at
least twice, but denied. When he was released, it was the first time that his mother
saw all seven of her children together in 37 years. Karem is grateful that she saw him
come out of prison, get a job, a driver’s permit, and do other positive things before
she passed away seven months after his release.

Etta was sent to prison in her early 20s and built a strong record of success inside,
including through excellence in vocational programs. At one point, like a number of
other lifers, she was on work release, working in the community and paying taxes,
before Governor Schaefer shut down the program. After that, the Maryland Parole
Commission twice recommended her for parole, but she was kept in prison by
Maryland’s lifer policy. She spent 36 years inside and is now 61 years old. “I was afraid
I was going to die in prison,” she recently told a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.
Now, Etta is living in her own apartment, hoping to contribute to the community
around her. Her successful transition back into society could have come years ago,
but for Maryland’s broken parole system.

Etta Myers

24

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

Glenn was 19 when he went to prison. Even though Glenn was previously recommended
for release by the Maryland Parole Commission, he spent 40 years inside before being
released the day after Christmas in 2012 as a result of Unger. Now, Glenn lives with
his fiancée, and, when he’s home from Towson University, his son. Glenn says that
their relationships are growing and strengthening day by day.

Glenn Watkins

Since returning home, Glenn has been employed at a fast food restaurant — and
promoted several times as a result of his work ethic, although he hopes to soon find a
better-paying job with benefits. He recently obtained his driver’s license and believes
that it will facilitate him finding a better job with opportunities for advancement.
Upon release, Glenn was placed on supervised probation for three years with the
understanding that it would be reconsidered after the satisfactory completion of one
year. Earlier this year, he met that milestone. He says, “After 42 years, I was finally
completely severed from the Maryland Criminal Justice System… Be assured that I
plan to stay free and never return to prison.”

The average age of those who have come home

64 years

. Many believe that, but for this
is
case, they would have died in prison.

Karriem was only 18 years old when he went to prison. He spent more than four
decades inside. He was recommended for release by the Parole Commission, but
denied by the Governor.
Karriem’s younger brother Kevin was only 15 when his big brother went to prison.
Like so many other family members who have welcomed loved ones returning home,
he was overwhelmed with emotion upon his brother’s release.

Karriem Saleem
El-Amin

Now 61, Karriem has been in the community for more than a year. He is working and
living with his new wife. He wants the victims of his crime and others to be able to
find peace. “I want them to know I’m not that guy that I was,” he told the AP when
he was released.

“If these people posed a danger, it would be worth the money to keep them locked up. But the records of the
people released after Unger demonstrate that this is not the case. In fact, many of the people released had been
recommended for parole and would have been released years ago if not for the dramatic change in parole policy
that occurred in 1995.”
–Mike Milleman, Becky Feldman and Brian Saccenti, counsel for many Unger releasees, in The Washington Post,
August 22, 2014

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

25

Hercules was released in 2013. He is now 70 years old. A 2010 article by Baltimore
Sun columnist Dan Rodricks describes Hercules’ story:
Mr. Williams has been in prison since November 1972.
He has always claimed innocence. Many years after the trial, one of his coconspirators came out and said Hercules Williams had had nothing to do with the
Alston murder, but judges who heard Mr. Williams’ appeals were not persuaded
to alter his sentence.

Hercules
Williams
People who have been
released have spent,
on average, about

four decades
in prison.
But at the time
their cases were
decided, the uniform
understanding across
Maryland was that
they would have
the opportunity for
release, with good
behavior, in about
15–20 years.

Hercules Williams is now 67 years old…Everything indicates that Mr. Williams
has progressed as a human being while in prison. He’s received all kinds of
letters of commendation and certificates.
He was cited for rendering first aid to a correctional officer who was stabbed
by another inmate at the old Maryland Penitentiary in 1978.
He was on work-release on the Eastern Shore for a time in the 1990s and earned
an employee-of-the-month award from a chicken processor. But the governor at
the time, Parris Glendening, ended work-release for anyone sentenced to life,
so Mr. Williams went back inside.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from Coppin State University and was in the midst
of studies toward a master’s degree when Congress, informed by conservative
talk-show hosts that a tiny percentage of the federal budget was going to
college grants for inmates, withdrew the funding that had made Mr. Williams’
education possible.
There have been several different chairmen of the Maryland Parole Commission
during his time inside the walls, and the parole commission has recommended
that Mr. Williams be released at least three times.
In 2012, Hercules was, again, among those rejected
for release by the Governor. But he obtained his
release thanks to Unger. Now, he has completed
the Life Skills program and is living with a sister,
enjoying long-overdue time with his nieces,
nephews and other family members.

David Belton
David was 27 when he went to prison. He is now 70 years old, having spent 40 of
those years inside before obtaining his release through the Unger case in 2013. He
was recently profiled by The Washington Post:
During four decades of incarceration, Belton transformed himself into a model
inmate. He earned two degrees and became the director of a youth-mentoring
program. He rose before the sun each morning for prayer, followed by 100 pushups and 100 sit-ups — a habit he keeps today.
Guards, administrators and other inmates agreed that if anyone should be
released from the medium-security prison in Hagerstown, it was “Mr. Dave.”
‘He is a positive role model, an infraction-free inmate, and a good human being,’
Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman

26

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

When I first began
working on Unger
cases and shared with
people the work we
were doing, they would
inevitably ask “What
will they do now?” It
seemed impossible for
people to successfully
return home after a
lifetime of incarceration.
Almost two years later,
we have seen this
group accomplish the
impossible.
Joanie Shreve, LGSW,
O f f i c e o f t h e Pu b l i c
Defender

The men and one woman have
overwhelmingly been successful
in their transitions. There are
many challenges returning to
a society that has changed so
dramatically over the last thirty or
forty years. Yet again and again
these challenges are met head on
and overcome.
–Elizabeth Smith, Licensed Social
Worker who has been working
with individuals returning home
as a result of Unger for nearly
two years.

Mark A. Vernarelli said in a 2012 letter supporting Belton’s parole. ‘I hope
and pray that he will one day soon be able to leave prison to become a
successful taxpaying citizen again.’
Three times, the parole board backed Belton’s early release, but each time,
the governor’s office shut him down.
‘I have a lot of regrets for taking a human life,’ Belton said, silver whiskers
woven through his thin mustache. ‘But I can’t change what happened. I
have to live with it.’
The year since David’s release has confirmed the wisdom of those who kept
urging his release. He is adjusting to a changed world after so many years in
prison, but he is doing it well. He lives with his daughter, works full-time, and
is making plans for the coming years.

In addition to the above profiles, MRJI has compiled information
about — and wants to acknowledge — the success of others released
between May 2013 and July 2014.
Idris Alaoma (left) is 68 years old.
He spent more than four decades
incarcerated, having gone to
prison when he was 26. A year
after being released, Idris is living
with his new wife and getting to
know his family again. He is
making a successful transition
back into society.
Frankie Askins was only 19 when he was incarcerated
and is now 63 years old. The Governor rejected the Parole
Commission’s recommendation for his release in 2012.
Now, Frank has adjusted to being a free person again. He is
living with one of his brothers and looking for employment.
Marcello Chambers was 18 when incarcerated. He is now
55 years old. He is living with family members and looking
for employment.
David James Cockey is 70 years old. He spent most of
the last half-century incarcerated, having gone to prison
when he was 22. David now has his own apartment, and
is adjusting to living in free society.
Marshall “Eddie” Conway had been incarcerated since
1970. He spent nearly 44 years in Maryland prisons. He
obtained his release earlier this year as a result of the
Unger case. Since coming home, Eddie has continued his
activism on behalf of incarcerated people.

Clarence Cowan (left) was denied
parole in 2012. But thanks to the
Unger decision, he is now living in
his own apartment, working parttime and making a successful
transition back into society.
Ernest Dubois is 75 years old. He
spent 42 years in prison. Now,
Ernest is living with one of his sisters and spending time
with his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
James Featherstone was 16 years old when he went
to prison. He is now 51 years old. He is working, living
in a transition home, and has completed MRJI’s Life
Skills program.
Craig Fellows is now 63 years old. He spent 44 years in
prison after being incarcerated at 19. Craig is living with
family members, and adjusting to society.
Clarence Ford-Bey is 62 years old and spent 42 of those
years incarcerated.
Eugene Frye recently completed the Life Skills program
offered by MRJI. Eugene, who was incarcerated at the age of
19, is now 58 years old. He is living with his fiancée, looking
for employment, and adjusting to living in free society.

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

27

James Gilmore is living in a nursing home, and is extremely
ill. The Governor rejected the Parole Commission’s
recommendation for his release in 2012.
Bryant Lee Goodman was 19 years old when he was
incarcerated. He is now 61 years old. He is living with one
of his sisters, working, and rebuilding a relationship with
his son and daughter in-law.
James Grayson is 67 years old. James was
recommended for release by the Parole
Commission but denied by the Governor in
2012. James was 17 when he went to prison
half a century ago. He spent nearly half a
century inside. He is now living with his
new wife, and making remarkable progress
adjusting back into society. “I trust in God,
and he’s first in my life,” Grayson told The
Baltimore Sun when he was released. “He
opened the door for me.”

a case manager and mediator at Community Alternative
Mediation (CALM).
Julius Lowery was 23 when he went to prison. He is now
60 years old. The Governor rejected the recommendation
for his release in 2012. Julius is living with family members,
seeking employment, and adjusting to living in free society.

“These individuals
are sur vivors and
they have risen to
meet challenges as
they arose. They
are successfully
integrating back into
society.”

Eric Donnell Lynch was only 18 when
he went to prison. He spent 42 years
inside and is now 60 years old. He was
recommended for release by the Parole
Commission, but denied by the Governor.
Now home as a result of Unger, Eric is
living with family, working and adjusting
to living in free society.

Robert Martin was only 15 years old
when he was sent to prison in 1976 for
a homicide resulting from a desperate
–Rebecca Bowmanteenage attempt to protect his baby sister
Rivas, Licensed
Seymour Hall, who was released earlier this
and grandmother from an abusive family
Social Worker
year, is 83 years old. He is living with one
member. He was not released until 2013,
of his daughters, and making a successful
after spending nearly four decades in
transition back into society.
prison. When he was inside, Robert took
advantage of every program available to him. He developed
Gregor y Harris-Bey is 62 years old. He has been an impeccable record. Now in his 50s, Robert is working,
incarcerated since he was 18. He is living with family living in a supportive transition community, and making a
members, employed, and making a successful transition successful return to society.
back into society.
Zachary McCallister was only 17 when he was incarcerated
John Wesley Henderson was 23 when he was incarcerated. 38 years ago. He is now 55 years old. Zachary is living
He is now 57 years old. John is living with his fiancée, with his wife, working, and, until recently, was taking care
looking for employment, and making a successful transition of his elderly father, who just passed away. He is making
back into society.
remarkable progress in adjusting back into society.
Clifton Hinds-Bey is 67 years old and went to prison when
he was 28. He was denied release by the Governor in 2012.
Now a free man, Clifton is living with his wife, working part
time, and adjusting to living in free society.

Stanley Mitchell was 25 years old when incarcerated,
and is now 60 years old. He is living with family members,
enjoying his children and grand children, and living a
successful life adjusting back into society.

Francis Jones is 69 years old. He was 33 when he went to
prison 36 years ago. He lives with family members, and
is working with the University of Maryland Social Work
Department’s case managers in making his adjustment
back into society.

Calvin Montgomery was 28 when he was incarcerated. He
served 37 years in prison, and is now 65 years old. He has
his own apartment, and is making a successful transition
back into society.

Jeffrey Kersey (left) is 62 years old.
He spent nearly four decades of
his life inside after going to prison
at the age of 23. He has a job, an
apartment and just bought a car.
Jeffrey completed the life skills
program. He uses his own life
experiences to guide his work as

28

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

Milton More (left) is 76 years old.
He spent four decades
incarcerated. He has his own
apartment and recently completed
MRJI’s life skills program. Milton is
making a successful transition
back into society.

James Newkirk is 60 years old, having spent the last 40
years in prison. He is living with family and adjusting to
his new life.
Liston Noble (left) is 64 years old.
He was among those rejected for
release by the Governor in 2012.
He spent 37 years in prison. He is
now living with his wife, working,
and adjusting to the changes
in society.
Michael Person is 62 years old. He went to prison at the
age of 22. He is renting a room and working with the VA to
secure benefits from his military service.
Morris Quickly is 62 years old. He was 19 when he went
to prison, and spent more than four decades incarcerated.
He is living with family members and working part-time.
Yusef Rasheed (Joseph Westry) was denied parole in 2012.
He died the day of his release at the age of 72.
Alonzo Reese is 62 years old, having spent most of the last
four decades inside. He is living with family members and
adjusting to living in free society.
James Richardson is 69 years old. He spent 45 years—nearly
half a century — inside. He is now living in his own apartment
and adjusting to having his freedom again.
Clayborn Roberts is 72 years old. He spent nearly all of
the last four decades in prison. He is living with one of his
sisters and making a successful transition back into society.
Salim Sadiki is 68 years old and recently completed the
Life Skills program. Even though he spent the last 37 years
incarcerated, Salim is now living with his wife and has made
a remarkable transition back into society.
Randolph Sears is 72 years old. He spent the last four
decades in prison. He is living with family members.

Donald Shakir was 20 years old when incarcerated. He is
now 61 years old. Donald is living with friends, working, and
making substantial progress adjusting back into society.
He recently completed the Life Skills program.
Elmer Skaggs is 68 years old. He spent nearly 40 years
in prison. Now, Elmer is living in his own apartment, and
adjusting to living in free society.
Tony Smith is 55 years old. He went to prison when he was
17. Tony has completed the Life Skills program and is now
living with his wife.
John Taylor is 62 years old. He was 24 when he went to
prison. He recently completed the Life Skills program. He
is living with family members, recovering from foot surgery,
rebuilding a relationship with his son and daughter, and
bonding with his grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Ralph Timmons is 55 years old. He went to prison when
he was 19 and spent 36 years incarcerated. He is living
with his wife, seeking employment, and adjusting to the
changes in society.
William Sylvester Smith is 72 years old and spent the last
37 years incarcerated. He is living with family members,
and making a successful adjustment back into society.
Jerome Washington was only 20 years old when
incarcerated. He is now 57 years old. He was turned down
for release by the Governor in 2012. Jerome is living with
family members, and making a successful transition back
into society.
Robert Washington was only 17 when he went to prison. He
is now 57 years old, having spent most of the last 40 years
incarcerated. He is living with family members, working,
and making a remarkable adjustment back into society.
William Henry Washington is 62 years old. He was 25
when incarcerated. William is living with family members,
working, and adjusting to living in free society.

“Everyone has the same common goal: ensure that each one released receives everything needed to be successful
during and after their transition back to the community. We stand in full support of this initiative that’s literally
changing the lives of each and every client.”
Lori James-Townes, MSW, LCSW-C, Director of Social Work, Office of the Public Defender

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

29

WHAT YOU CAN DO
1.

Join the movement to establish sensible criminal justice policies in
Maryland, beginning with restoring parole decisions to the parole
commission instead of the Governor.

2. Research and learn about how Maryland communities are affected
by the disproportionate incarceration of people of color.
3. Share this information with your family members, friends, and network.
4. Make phone calls, send emails, write letters, and, when possible, visit
with anyone you believe may be able to support this issue, including
public officials.

30

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

TALK ABOUT IT
1.

Due to Maryland’s broken parole system, taxpayers have spent
millions of dollars incarcerating people who could safely be released,
most of whom are Black.

2. Maryland is one of only three states that require gubernatorial
approval to grant parole to a lifer. This requirement wrongly politicizes
the process.
3. Since 1995, no lifer has been paroled in Maryland, even though more
than two thousand people are serving parole-eligible sentences and
several dozen have been recommended for release by the Maryland
Parole Commission after extensive vetting and review.
4. The average age of individuals who have been recommended for
release but are still inside is 60 years old.
5. These people were sentenced with the understanding that they would
have a meaningful opportunity for release if they were rehabilitated.
Many were expected to serve less than 20 years, and have now served
twice that much time.
6. Studies show that people serving life sentences have lower recidivism
rates than those convicted of less serious crimes. The success of those
released due to the Unger case demonstrates that lifers can return
home without compromising public safety.
7. The parole decision should rest with the parole commissioners who
have expertise and a thorough process.
8.

Without a change, Maryland will continue to spend millions to
incarcerate an elderly and aging lifer population who could live safely
in the community, simply because of politics.

STILL BLOCKING THE EXIT

31

 

 

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