GIVING A LIFE BACK
I began writing after I retired from Corrections. It opened up a rewarding world but not a money-making venture. I write because I hope what I say will make the reader laugh or cry, touch their soul in a way they never thought possible, and maybe even change their lives.
Letters I receive from readers affirm the reason I write. One came from a former female gang member. Someone gave her my first memoir, The Warden Wore Pink. After reading it she decided to go to college. Now she works with troubled youth and attributes her life-change to reading the memoir. Another letter came from a teenager who was on house arrest when she heard me talk to the Street Law class at our local high school. Afterwards she read both my memoirs. She is now studying criminal justice.
Yet nothing prepared me for the call I received from Jeff Deskovic. His story brought me to my knees. At the age of seventeen, Jeff was found guilty and sentenced to prison for fifteen years to life based on a coerced confession of the rape and murder of a schoolmate. After sixteen years in prison Jeff had exhausted all his appeals and was denied parole. He faced the bleak reality that he would never be exonerated and perhaps never be released from prison.
I believe that providence plays a major role in our lives. It did in Jeff’s. He borrowed Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul from the prison library and read an essay I had written. Jeff checked my credentials at the back of the book and discovered my memoir. He contacted the publisher and my friend, Julie Zimmerman and told her his story. She contacted our mutual friend, Claudia Whitman, an advocate for the wrongly accused. Claudia took up Jeff’s cause and convinced the Innocence Project to handle his case although they had previously turned down Jeff’s request to work on his behalf. The Innocence Project then persuaded the District Attorney to run the existing DNA evidence from the original crime scene which did not match Jeff’s through the database. The result proved Jeff’s innocence and that the actual guilty man was a prisoner serving life on another murder. Jeff, now 33, was released from prison on September 20, 2006.
I get goose bumps every time I think about Jeff Deskovic and how my writing played a role in setting him free. I want the rest of his life to be so special he will forget the desolation of those sixteen years in prison. I believe that because of Jeff’s own persistence he will have a successful future. But I also want his story to motivate others to realize that horrible mistakes can be made by even well meaning people.
I may never win the Pulitzer or be on anyone’s bestseller list. But how many of those authors can say that something they wrote played a part in giving back a man’s life to him?
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