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From Death Row to Parole

W. Scott Cole

Posted on April 7, 2020 23:57

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I had the opportunity to meet and talk to a former State of Colorado death row inmate. I found his story to be an interesting one as it offered a very small glimpse into, not only the life he spent in prison, but the man himself.

Jim was born in 1940. He grew up with an abusive father and he left home at a young age to get away from him. When he was in his 20's, he got married and started a family of his own with the birth of a daughter.

He would not give details of his family life but he was convicted and sentenced to death in December, 1970 for the murder of his wife’s boyfriend. He admitted to me that he was guilty and said that, in identical circumstances, he would do it again. In his words, the man was “taking my family away from me”.

While on death row, he decided he would not allow the state to murder him in the gas chamber, so he started hoarding and hiding his medications, determined that when his time came, he would die his way.

Then came 1972 and the United States Supreme Court ruling that the death penalty as applied by all states violated the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. All death row inmates across the nation had their sentences commuted to life in prison. In Colorado, that meant parole eligibility for Jim in 1984. He took all the medications he had been hoarding and threw them out his window into the prison yard.

He was paroled shortly after he became eligible, but soon found himself back inside for a technical violation. In the years following his reincarceration, he taught himself how to paint and became very good at it. He also took up crocheting and sold most of the things he made to prison staff and visitors through the prison hobby sales program, while giving his time to help new inmates learn how to navigate the system. In short, he became a model inmate and caused no problems over the years.

During that time, his family and friends either died or drifted away. He stopped communicating with the few that didn't and told them to stop visiting and writing, like so many inmates with long sentences do.

Jim was paroled again in 2019. After almost 50 years, he is out of prison at 80 years old. He was released into a world that he has no experience with, one that has changed so much during his time in prison. It's a totally new world. He has no relevant job experience, and at his age and with a felony conviction, the chances of finding a job he can do are very slim indeed.

Because he spent so much time in prison, he contributed almost nothing to Social Security, so his “retirement” checks will be minimal; probably between $800 and $900 a month, which is not enough to even pay rent in the Denver area.

He has gone from death row to parole, but it seems to me that he is still being punished.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on April 7, 2020 23:57

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