Michigan used to be the kind of place where convicts appearing before the parole board, especially those with records of violence and sexual assault, weren’t going to get the benefit of the doubt, says the Detroit Free Press. Times have changed and some of the close calls are now going in favor of inmates. Some 318 were released on parole in December as part of the Michigan Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative. As of late last week, 287 are succeeding — or at least remaining free — while they work or go to school or both. Twenty-nine December parolees who were back in custody or being sought as fugitives by mid-May. “We think that’s a pretty good record,” Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said.
The Free Press profiles several inmates involved in the program. One of them, Jimmy Erickson, now 46, was unemployed, aimless and stoned when he stabbed two childhood friends, one of them seven times, in 1987. One friend died. Erickson says his transformation began almost immediately after he became a killer. Following years of substance abuse and denial, he acknowledged he was a drunk. Over time, he became a Christian. In 21 years as a prisoner, he received only a single misconduct charge and worked steadily in prison industries, paying off $13,000 in restitution while earning $1.28 an hour. Last December, he was released to live with a sister. In January, he started a job working at Butterball Farms, on a shift that starts before dawn. This time, “I want to show that the changes are real,” he says. “There’s no desire in my life to go back to what I was.”