Life without parole sentences are referred to as “a living death” in an ACLU report concerning that unique form of torture. It’s worth reading.
The torture might arguably be justifiable when the crime is taking another human life (I don’t think so but I can see how someone might), but for anything less it certainly is not. It is particularly excruciating when you’re in prison forever for something you didn’t do. I wrote a story for Chicago Magazine in 1990 about four men who were doing mandatory life for a crime they didn’t commit, and they told me what it was like slogging through one day after another with the knowledge that death was the only way out.
My story prompted the Governor of Illinois to pardon those four men, and shortly after he did I got a call from an inmate at the MCC, the holding facility in Chicago where prisoners who have cases before the federal court are held. The caller’s name was Rudy Martinez, and he wondered if I could help him. He was a first offender awaiting assignment to a federal prison to begin serving a mandatory life sentence for a non-violent crime which he did commit, but there was a pretty compelling case for reducing his sentence.
That call came in 1991, and Martinez is still in prison. I’ve tried to help him over the years. Now his petition for clemency is before a special Justice Department task force called Clemency Project 2014. You can read about Martinez in an anthology of true crime stories I’ve written – The Family That Couldn’t Sleep at Night, published by Calumet Editions. The story in which Martinez appears is “Welcome to Pine County”. If you believe, as I do, that twenty-four years is enough and it’s time for him to be released, write a letter to President Obama.
The story that prompted Governor Thompson to pardon los cuatro inocentes, titled “The Milwaukee Avenue Massacre”, is in there too.