Can I Have a Moment of Your Time?

By Mike Powers

          Time. The irreplaceable resource. The way kids spell “love”. The thing that flies when you’re having fun. There seem to be as many clichés about time as there are seconds in the day. And, if I haven’t mentioned it earlier, it is that precious gift that you, reader, share with us every time you read one of our stories. I appreciate it so much, because time is a precious and valuable commodity, isn’t it? 

          Now, if you would, I’d like for you to think back to different times in your life when you have contemplated life-changing decisions. How long did you spend thinking about which college you would attend or what your first career was going to be? How much time did you spend pondering whether to ask that girl to marry you? How long did it take you to decide you wanted to have children or buy that new house? Hopefully, you spent a good deal of time thinking over these major life decisions before deciding on a course of action. You probably did so knowing that the outcome was going to change the course of your life. But, even if you are like the rest of us, and have probably made one or more of these decisions with less thought than you would have liked, you can still recognize that you SHOULD have invested more time thinking about it. 

          That said, what if I were to tell you that I had a life-changing opportunity for you? The outcome of the decision would affect the rest of your life for certain. It would also have significant impacts on the lives of your friends and family. I’m going to give you some time to think about whether or not you will accept the proposed opportunity, but I will need your answer in seven minutes. Yes, you read rightly. The decision will impact the entire course of your life or the lives of those you love, and I need your answer in seven minutes. Go. 

          Naturally, you would want more time to make such a dramatic decision, and I can’t blame you one bit. In fact, I absolutely agree with you. A decision of that magnitude cannot and should not be made in haste. So, why, I ask you, is that the total amount of administrative time given to making the decision of whether or not a person should be paroled once his case file gets in front of the members of the parole board here in Texas? 

          I don’t think anyone, whether their inclination is to be “soft” or “hard” on ex-cons, would feel that seven minutes is enough time to make an informed and well-reasoned decision about whether or not an eligible inmate is ready for reentry into free society.

          That said, can I ask you to put yourself in the shoes of that inmate for a moment? Your entire life hinges on this decision. Whether or not you can get back to your family, your work, your life hangs in the balance. Any chance you might have of earning something to put towards kids’ college expenses, retirement, or even the next meal on the table is in their hands, and they spend a total, whopping amount of seven minutes deciding your fate and the fate of those you love. It’s almost insane.

          If you’re wondering where I’m getting this seven-minute figure from, about ten years ago a lawyer from Ohio named Sirak came down here and put together a lawsuit against Texas trying to promulgate reform in the way parole is handled. Ohio had a similarly draconian and unreasonable system, but the courts were able to see sense there and ordered them to make some changes. But, as much as I appreciate Texas’s conservative court-system in other ways, they seem to me deranged and entrenched against any further progress in the penal system since getting burnt so badly by the Ruiz lawsuit.

          Now, I’d like to make it personal. I am “under review” for the third time since I was incarcerated. That means the parole board is considering my release. While I am profoundly grateful for their consideration, I have already been locked up for 13 years and 10 months on my fifteen-year sentence. I am far from being a trouble maker. In fact, my “Inmate Treatment Plan” has been completed for over six years. Still, I have already served eight months of prison time for every one minute that parole has spent contemplating my release. And if it hadn’t been for the discovery in the Sirak lawsuit, I would never have guessed how much time a board member spends thinking about my case. And this is without you even having the benefit of one of those nice, “Shawshank Redemption”-type parole interviews, you know, where they sit you down in front of the review board and ask you why they ought to let you go, do you think you’ve learned your lesson, etc. 

          Don’t get me wrong. There IS an interview. A “unit parole officer” spends about ten minutes asking you these questions that need to be asked. Then, your answers are reduced to his or her one-line paraphrases. These paraphrases are entered into your “electronic record”. This “electronic record” is put in some kind of e-mail/computer file for the board members to look at, and, I guess, when they get seven minutes to spare, they peruse the paraphrases and make their decision. That’s as much information as I can give you about the parole process, and I’m sad to say it’s a far-sight more than you are liable to get anywhere else - especially the board itself. 

          I went my “interview” 10 weeks ago. It must be my seven minutes haven’t arrived, yet, this time around, because I’m still waiting on the answer. To say this has been a monumental exercise in patience would be an understatement, but at least I have this going for me: With only 15 months left on my entire 15-year sentence, it hardly seems worth it to sweat the answer. What’s 15 months when you’ve already done 15 years?

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez