The young man, now 28, sat quietly in the chair, with his lawyer to his right, and several doctors on his left. His mother sat behind him and his father never came. As a matter of fact, his mother had visited him as often as she could during the past ten years, but his father only came once and even then, he believed, was so his father could make it clear that he did not raise a son who could do something like this. As he blurted out all sorts of obscenities, Jimmy had just sat quietly in the room of the hospital, his hands shackled under the bench, his brain so full of mood stabilizers that even if he did feel something, he couldn’t show what he felt because of his medications. So he sat there, as the drool rolled down his chin, and just stared at the table.
“That’s it, Jimmy. This is the last time you will ever see me. You can’t even look me in the eye like a man. I’m done with you. And if you ever get out of this God-forsaken hole, have a good life. I know I will.”
With that his father had stormed out, and Jimmy hadn’t seen or heard from him again. His mother had told him his father had remarried and evidently hadn’t changed much.
Here he was, ten years later, sitting before a group of men and women that formed the committee of nine who were going to determine, from the results of all the recent physical and psychological tests, if he had successfully completed his treatments. On the panel before him were parole members, addiction experts, mental health professionals and a judge advocate, all of whom he had never met before, who had the fate of his life in their hands.
The man at the center of the table, the judge advocate, tapped the microphone and called the meeting to order and explained the reason they were there.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” his voice boomed so loudly that the sound squealed the air. “We have gathered here to determine whether or not James Edward Carl has been rehabilitated so deeply and so profoundly that, if released into the world, he would no longer pose a threat to himself, or to anyone else.” The judge advocate never raised his eyes from the paper to look at Jimmy.
Feeling shallow and sad inside, Jimmy turned around to look at his mother, who sat up straight in her chair and smiled timidly, giving all the strength she could gather to act as if things were going to be all right. Jimmy smiled weakly and nodded, trying to convey to her that whatever the decision, he was ready to comply. He had learned through the years that the best thing was to comply and be content. Of course, the medication he had been taking not only made him drool, but also took away any emotions whatsoever.
“Mr. Carl,” the voice boomed in his ear and he turned back to the panel. “We will go through all the testing and information given from this panel as well as the recommendations. We will then take a twenty minute break and then reconvene so that your representatives can present their case and evidence. Afterwards, we will ask you a few questions and you will read the statement you made to us all. Do you understand all of this?”
“Yes, sir.” Jimmy leaned into the small microphone and spoke quietly into the speaker. He didn’t want his voice to shriek through the room, making skins crawl.
So the panel began to review the incident back in 1990, the stalking characteristics that led up to the incident itself, and his behavior during and immediately afterwards. He had been caught within 24 hours in the parking lot of a rest area just south of Fredericksburg, on Interstate 95. When arrested, he came quietly and seemed stunned, not aware of his surroundings, quite confused but quite passive.
One by one, each expert took turns explaining the treatments he had been receiving over the past few years while incarcerated in Central State Hospital for the criminally insane in Petersburg, Virginia, just south of Richmond. There was one part where Jimmy felt a slight smile but didn’t show it. It was when the addiction specialist was describing how his mood swings and aggressive behavior had been influenced by his drinking and marijuana use. For such a young, developing mind, those were mind altering drugs. The smile itched at his lips when Jimmy realized that not only were the doctors right, but it seemed a bit hypocritical that he was now on mood altering drugs. Most of the time he could feel absolutely nothing at all.
Then came the saddest part, and somewhere deep inside him, Jimmy felt the timid flutter or regret. The injuries to Katie Crawford from his anger from the week before, and her breaking away from his grasp, to the night when he went to her house, wanting to ask for forgiveness, but becoming the stalker that he was and insisting that she was going to come with him, that she was his, no matter what.
A tear trickled down his cheek as he remembered seeing her reflection, and hearing about how she didn’t wake up for days. When she did, and she looked at herself in a mirror, touched the stitching down the right side of her face, saw the abrasions and the bruises and the cap that covered the spot where her hair had been, he was surprised at her reaction. Instead of crying hard about her misshapen face, they said she tamped down the anger, and had turned to the doctors and said, “I had a dream that Jimmy’s dad died and that he and his mom were happy again.” That stunned his emotions, and the tear trickled down his cheek.
One of the doctors on his side, his psychiatrist and therapist, leaned towards him and asked him if he was all right. Jimmy nodded, and sighed, and felt forgiven as the doctor put his arm around his shoulders and whispered everything was going to be all right.
After all the reports were read, they took the twenty minute break. Jimmy was allowed to stand and stretch and they relocated his handcuffs to behind his back. He felt his mother behind him, felt her hands on his shoulders, felt her head as she laid it gently on his back. For an instant, another tear was about to form. He blinked several times, not realizing that these emotions were real, and natural. He hadn’t had these feelings for a very long time. For the first time since this all began, he actually felt that maybe he was going to be all right.
When the group came together, it was to listen to his side of the table. His psychiatrist, his AA sponsor, his group counselor and his lawyers all presented positive behaviors that they had observed over the past several years. It had taken a while, but they all believed that he had changed. He had acknowledged his actions, taken responsibility for them, and had been making restitution through the small income he earned by working in the Laundromat. He had also helped establish a working library and had helped several other capable inmates complete their studies for graduation or their GEDs. For the past 5 years he had been an exemplary patient, willing to help out and being completely honest, yet also being loyal to the friends he had made while there.
His lawyers had presented several letters written by various visitors he had over the years, commenting as well on how much his behavior seemed to change into a more positive personality. His mother’s letter touched him the most and he realized that for the third time that day, he was actually feeling sadness and regret for the pain he had caused her, and everyone else. It had taken the first five years to stop feeling sorry for himself. This had been the breakthrough that everyone had been hoping would happen.
Then it was time for him to read his letter that would convince the panel that he truly had changed and was no longer a threat to himself, or society.
Unfolding the paper, he sat up straight, looked at each person on the panel for a few seconds at a time, cleared his throat and began to read.
To the members of this board and to all the professionals who have come here today to help determine my future, I want to thank you for the time and effort you put into the reports you have presented. I want to thank the members sitting here with me as well,” he paused as he glanced to each side, nodding his acknowledgment to each of his team. “ I want to thank my mother for always believing in me, and for helping me to not use my father as an excuse for my behavior. She has been behind me every step of the way.” He turned to look at her, and his voice softened as he saw the smile and tears swell, and she patted her heart with her hand. “I love you.”
Then he folded the paper, having memorized his words and again addressed the panel before him.
“I have learned through these years that what I had done, the behavior I showed, my insistence to control Katie Crawford was wrong. It was never my intention to hurt her. I thought I was in love with her and if she did not love me back that it was only because she didn’t know me, she didn’t understand me. I was angry because I WANTED her to love me. I WANTED her to get to know me. I now realize that by trying to force her to feel something she could not was wrong. I have to earn the trust and friendship of everyone I care for by my actions. “ He took a long breath and sighed deeply. He scratched at his eyes, because they were beginning to itch.”
“ I know I have changed because I feel it, even with the meds I’m on, I can feel some good feelings coming through. My doctors have helped me understand these feelings, and to sort them out. I deeply regret hurting Katie Crawford and I really feel sad. I am sorry for myself, but only because I put myself in this position long ago. I am more sorry for the pain I have caused others, especially Katie, her family and friends, and my mother.” No mention of his friends here because he really didn’t have any, then or now.
“ I hope that you will find that I am ready and capable to be a part of society again. I want that very much and I realize that I will have to continue with my recovery by doing the things needed. I want to be a better person and show the world the good I can do. I can be happy just with what I have. I feel I have worked hard to earn my freedom. But whatever you decide, I am ready to accept the results. If I remain here, I will continue to help others and work on just getting better. “ He lowered his head, and with his hands folded, he said a quiet prayer. When he looked up again, he seemed a contented man. “But I hope that you will see that I am a better person and that I will continue to be a better person for the rest of my life.”
It took only 30 minutes for the verdict to be decided. For the first time in ten years, he held his mother in a tight hug, and as she held him back, the tears flowed freely down his cheeks. He turned as one of his lawyers took his arm to shake his hand. The panel had been dismissed, and his team were packing up and congratulating each other and himself.
His psychiatrist, Dr. Redmond, leaned into him and shaking his hand, he said, “Good luck, Jimmy. It won’t be easy, but I believe you can do it. “He was looking at him squarely without blinking. “Your first appointment with me is this Monday, at 10am. I’ll see you there. “
Dr. Redmond turned to Mrs. Carl and shook her hand. “You have been through a lot. I hope you find happy.”
As the lawyers finalized the papers and escorted him through the doors to get his things and have him sign the legal documents needed for his release, he thought of the last words the judge advocate said as he read the decision.
“Mr. Carl, I hope you appreciate this second chance.” He looked over his reading glasses and leveled his gaze seriously on Jimmy. “Don’t screw it up.”