A is for army, or arrest. B is for a name gained in Viet Nam, and for Buddhism learned there. C is for childhood. D is for dharma, or daughter. E is for enlist. H is for habit, heroin, and ‘hood. L is for life. S is for sentence, and shooting. T is for thirty years served. V is for victory.
My favorite veteran enlisted in the United States Army, lying about his age, to get out of a terrible neighborhood and a troubled family. The war in Viet Nam was lurching toward its end at that time. My favorite veteran learned about Buddhism there, and shot people and heroin. He came home decorated. The economy had not changed, nor had the neighborhood, and over the next two years he was arrested for small-time possession many times. In those days that was enough to be labeled a habitual offender and pull life without possibility of parole. This sentence was handed down in 1976.
I spoke before the state pardon board this morning, as I have before with respect to this case. I expected to be regarded with suspicion, as has happened on other occasions, but I was treated with respect. Another of my favorite veteran’s friends spoke, and his daughter and granddaughter, who has turned gorgeous and is now taller than I am, were both there.
As always, a representative of the Office of the District Attorney in New Orleans weighed in. Such representatives normally oppose commutation of sentences and early release. They stand by the original charge, prosecution, conviction, and sentence.
This representative said: “As you know, our records have been destroyed. In the absence of records, we in New Orleans have no opinion on these heroin lifers.” Read that again: “We in New Orleans have no opinion on these heroin lifers.”
The unanimous recommendation was to commute the sentence to 50 years, with parole eligibility after serving one third. This means that if the Governess agrees, a parole application can be made any time. Many things can still go wrong, but it appears now that my favorite veteran will be released within his lifetime from the Louisiana State Penitientiary at Angola, where he has been at hard labor these thirty years. That was the present I got for Veteran’s Day.