V is for Victory

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.


8 thoughts on “V is for Victory

  1. Just call it V for Vendetta, already :).

    This is a great story. I think about the people in NOLA jails and prisons often since I started reading up on the horrific legal system there post-Katrina. I’m glad things might work out for your friend.

    And why are they still locking people up for drug? why,why,why.

  2. Hi Luisa – you know, it’s not just post-Katrina, and not just N.O. It’s statewide and endemic, since the 19th century when this state was invented!

  3. yea, I know. i guess, we could say it is worldwide as well. I think NOLA just reminded a lot of people how bad things are.

  4. Ai, 30 years!

    My brother did less than five and seemed to age 20 by the time he got out.

    An 18 year old acquaintance of mine just got a 40 year sentence. Nobody died from the crime he admitted committing, but he’s brown, and his victim is white and has a rich father…so…

    well, you know.

  5. Aged 20 years … bad thing … one thing about the protagonist of this post is, he’s in good shape. So there’s that, at least. His daughter, living hard in N.O., looks more like a younger sister.

    40 years, is it paroleable after 1/3? And can he apply at some point, after doing, say, 5 without problems, for a sentence reduction?

    It sounds as though the victim’s father had something to do with the sentence, so the following questions are probably irrelevant, but the questions that come to mind are, was this a plea bargain? If so, did he plead to something less than what he was charged with, or did he just plead in exchange for a 40 year sentence rather than a longer one?

    I worked with one guy who had pleaded to first degree murder in exchange for a life sentence (guaranteed no death sentence), when really the crime was more like accessory to second degree murder. The public defender told him to plead that way because there were no real resources to successfully defend him at trial, and the death penalty was a real risk. It is hard to tell in retrospect whether that advice was good or not.
    It made it hard to get post conviction relief because
    the guilty plea counted as evidence against him. (We did finally succeed; that was the only other case besides this current one that I’ve been directly involved in with any success.)

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