Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Niklas Ohlrogge on Unsplash

Recently, a friend and co-worker received the news that she would finally be reunited with her loved ones after 30 years of living inside these prison walls. Her journey to this point has been a very long, uphill battle. I first got to know this woman — I will call her SP — through work.  

A tall, kind-eyed woman with a lot of patience, SP is articulate and talented. She can make any animal out of paper. SP was part of the “FETCH a Cure” dog training program and always talked about how if she were to be released tomorrow, she would bring home the dog she was training. She loves animals, especially cats. 

SP has always held a job and has always been willing to help others. She was a tutor, took classes, completed vocational school, received certificates, attended college and earned degrees. 

SP had received a life sentence with parole for a murder. In working closely with her, I witnessed firsthand the heartache of her being turned down repeatedly by the parole board even though she had no infractions and was respected by staff and offenders. The reason for the denial was always the same, “nature of the crime.” 

I remember a conversation between SP and a counselor that had been with Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women for more than 20 years. He said that, “he would much rather live next to a murderer in the free world.”  

“Why?” I asked him. 

He told us that it was because most people in prison, especially women, who were convicted of murder did so in an impossible kill or be killed situation or in a momentary lapse of judgment, and it was often their first offense. 

SP and I nodded in agreement. 

One thing I know for certain is that SP isn’t the same person she was 30 years ago. A few years after working with SP, we were moved into the same housing unit. We spoke a lot about her being turned down by the parole board and what she could do differently to get her parole granted. She had done everything she could possibly do inside these prison walls: 

Model offender ✔ 

Enrolled in school ✔

Received certificates ✔

Held a job ✔

Respected staff and offenders ✔

Rehabilitation ✔

Reformed ✔

Punished ✔✔✔

What more did the parole board want to see?

Virginia needs to have mercy for those who have served so much time. More importantly, the state needs to see those convicted of crimes as people first. They should look at what they have done with their time in prison. Would they pose a threat to society? The “nature of the crime” will never change, but the person who committed it may have. Granting parole is one way to make things right. 

In 2020, SP went up for parole again for the 17th time and again was denied because of the “nature of the crime.” I have never seen SP so defeated. 

In Virginia, parole results are shown online whether they are granted or denied. 

As fate would have it, an immigration lawyer saw that SP had been denied and filed an appeal on SP’s behalf. This woman with no parole experience took a leap of faith and helped a stranger. 

Two months later, SP was free.

There is no doubt in my mind that God intervened, and the rest is history. 

She has adopted two cats and is spending time taking care of her mom. Her nieces decorated her bedroom and she couldn’t be happier and more grateful. 

It shows that 17 turndowns and 30 years can’t stop the power of hope. 
I miss you SP!

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Donna Hockman is a mother of two grown children as well as a grandmother. She is incarcerated in Virginia.