Consideration for parole hearing makes lifers insight into their crime a mandatory stepping stone to pass.
Greetings, I would like all of the lifer families and my fellow lifers to share in some very important information pertaining to the lifer parole process. There are some developments in the law of late, but I’ve neglected to write about this important topic and I have seen such a dearth on this, arguably the most important factor for gaining parole suitability among the lifer community.
Does anyone know why the Board requires that a lifer have “insight” before they will grant parole? Insight is probably the most accurate predictor of future recidivism, not to mention re-offense. Although I disagree with the Board on a lot of topics, I firmly believe in insight and cannot argue against them in light of the incredible behavior I have personally seen from those I know and can affirm do not have what the Board calls “insight.” Most recently, Richard Sena was found “suitable”; reversed by the Governor; reinstated by the lower court; and while the Board was in the process of giving him back his parole date that the Governor improperly took, he got a write up for exposing and touching himself in front of a female officer. It shows me that my initial impression of him was on par with these acts. It is strange that the Board refuses to parole the more worthy, and they inexplicably conclude someone like that, assuming he is guilty of those infractions, deserves a second chance.
So how does INSIGHT, or a lack thereof, play a role here? Well, I’ll explain. Under the Board’s definition, insight has four elements, beginning with REMORSE. When a person commits a life crime, remorse is generally that feeling of regret for hurting another person or people. Remorse is a driving force behind reform, and it is a motivating factor in change. When a person feels remorse, they usually have a desire or longing to put things right. In the Twelve Steps programs so many Americans use inside and out of prison to become and stay sober from addiction, Step Nine provides an instruction to make amends whenever it is possible without harm. There are three types of amends: direct; indirect; and living amends. The motive for amends is remorse for our past actions that caused harm. Remorse also steers us away from repeating acts that harm others.
The next element of insight is ACCOUNTABILITY, which is acceptance of the responsibility we have in our crimes. You can be responsible for an act, and fail to be accountable because either someone in authority, or yourself if unrepentant, fails to hold you accountable. So there is a distinction. Acceptance of responsibility shows that you are willing to hold yourself accountable, which assures any authority that if they were to invest confidence in your ability to be pro-social, in this case the Board, that they can be well-assured that your remorse and accountability are excellent indicators that you will make better choices than in your past, and will almost certainly at least not reoffend. It is a jumping-off point for a grant of parole. Let me personally assure you: you can read this and put together a script in your mind, but you most certainly cannot fake these two. Remorse and accountability are incredibly difficult to fake. If you are sincere about getting out of prison off of a term-to-life, I would suggest you begin with the following step that leads to getting in touch with remorse feelings and eventual accountability for your own actions. Believe me, it is a very empowering feeling to hold your own self accountable for your own actions, instead of having the authorities do it for you. It’s like running a store and not having to have a guy watch over you at the cash register for fear you’d steal. You can earn that trust for yourself and run your own store so to speak, and not a dime will go missing. That choice is yours.
The following element is VICTIM IMPACT. I recently was chair of the lifer group here at VSP, and the theme I chose during my tenure was “empathy.” So in everything, I found a way to teach the men the importance of empathy in all aspects. We ran a workshop on Dr. Susan Lawrence’s book “Creating a Healing Society.” It teaches the influences of our upbringing, and the impact of trauma in/from our childhood. Everyone, free or bond, should read that hook. I next ran a workshop on “Getting Out by Going In” ( GOGI ) (getingoutbygoingin.org), and three of the twelve GOGI tools are simple: “Positive Thoughts”, “Positive Words”, and “Positive Actions”. What I taught the men was the definition of “victim.” It is anyone negatively affected by our thoughts, words, or actions. It coincided with GOGI’s curriculum, because COGI teaches those three tools, and if we practice them daily, then we cease being victimizers to “anyone”. Again, it is a theme of empathy, because daily we think about how our actions and even thoughts have and do affect people around us. In order to gauge impact as one of the four elements of insight, you have to understand the totality of the impact of the crime. It does not stop at the victim you were convicted in the life offense for. Empathy allows the mind to imagine the depth of that impact, which as in my case, extends to my victim’s little sister because she had to grow up without him, and that is a hell in itself. I know I impacted my little sister as well, because for all the years (20) I have been in here, she has not had my support and now has to take care of our mother alone, who is aging and infirm. Perhaps my victim’s mother is also, and her daughter will not have the support of her older brother whom I killed. Impact extends way beyond that, but these are just two small examples. If you are not aware of who you harm with your actions, how can you be remorseful or hold yourself accountable?
Finally, there’s CAUSATIVE FACTORS, which as an element of insight is the understanding of the root causes of the crime. This is not a justification, it is merely an explanation of the understanding one has of the circumstances that led to the commission of the life offense. I truly had no good reason to murder my victim. There is never any good reason to take someone’s life. I have an understanding of the beliefs I accepted growing up, such as that it was okay to carry a gun, and I know precisely what experience in my life created that belief. That understanding places me at the advantage that I can easily discard that belief, and so I will never be in another situation to enable recurrence of such a crime. As they say, we as humans are creatures of habit. How can I change my habits if I cannot connect the crime’s events to what thought processes I used to put myself at the scene to begin with? Causative factors are those thought patterns we use to either calmly get out of a building during a fire, or go hide in a closet from it. Your beliefs shape your responses to situations; those beliefs could be complexes you may have developed early on from bad experiences or teachings of values; and those things tell us how to interpret influences. It’s important to note that ultimately our choices are what determine consequences, good or bad. Understanding causative factors helps put us in control of making positive choices.
So get a grip on insight. It is probably the most important factor in parole consideration, and we owe it as a community to our victims and the society we want to reenter to be fully in touch with it. The Board is absolutely right on this.
Until my next, I sign off.
Written by Rudy while incarcerated in California.