Lived Through This

I Helped Free a Man From Life Without Parole. Then He Turned on Me.

I believed I was helping an honorable, decent man — until he was released from prison

Susan Lawrence, M.D., Esq.
Human Parts
Published in
7 min readMar 13, 2020

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A photo of wooden pews in a courthouse.
Photo: evdokiageorgieva/Getty Images

II played a vital role in helping a man, once sentenced to life without parole (LWOP), in getting a commutation from the governor and then released. It is safe to say that without my tireless efforts and tremendous support, he would still be in prison today.

I knew him for nearly 15 years while he was in prison and believed he had become a good, decent, and honorable man, one who was redeemed and rehabilitated. We worked side by side on important prison reform/LWOP abolition projects, he from within his cell and me in the free world, carrying out work that was simply impossible given the confines of prison. I helped him financially, paid for lawyers, ensured he received life-saving medical care when he was seriously ill, and treated him in all respects like a beloved brother. (I have no other family, so his role as my brother was huge in my life.) We spoke on the phone daily, ending each call with “Love you, bro” and “Love you, sis.” I was greatly anticipating continuing our work together after his release, being introduced as his sister, and acknowledged for my contributions to our cause, which were kept hidden during the time he was incarcerated for fear of shutdown by unsympathetic prison administrators.

Sadly, that was not to be.

After he was found suitable for parole, his attitude toward me changed. He became distant and aloof but begged me for “patience” because he was overwhelmed about rejoining the free world after so many years of imprisonment. I believed this and remained supportive, despite enduring increasingly insensitive and sometimes downright hateful treatment, greatly out of character for the person I had known for so long. Interspersed with this, though, were just enough moments of kindness and connection, which prevented me from seriously considering ending our relationship and with it, my assistance.

For he still needed things from me once he was out: a loan for a laptop and driving lessons to enable him to get his license. He also needed time to permanently disentangle the myriad ways our lives…

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Susan Lawrence, M.D., Esq.
Human Parts

Susan Lawrence, M.D., Esq. is a physician, lawyer, innovator, and nonconformist policy advocate promoting balanced approaches to sentencing and parole reform.