Thursday, 4 August 2016

Testimonial to John MacKenzie's character

Dear Parole Board Panel,

I am writing to you with whole-hearted support for the parole of John MacKenzie. I am very familiar with the nature of his crime, and of the radically-positive changes he has made of himself during his forty years of incarceration. I must be honest that I am very nervous as I write this letter because never before have I had to write a letter that means so much to a person’s life, and never before have I had to write a letter that has to convey something that I believe so much in. Please bear with me in the length of this letter, as each paragraph should serve to explain the copious reasons why I believe John MacKenzie should be released on parole.

I met John MacKenzie through the Pre-Release Center at Green Haven Correctional Facility. I was a student intern under the auspices of Vassar College from 1997 until my graduation in May of 1999. I chose to participate in this field work experience as an extreme challenge to myself, and I joined the Victims Awareness Program (VAP) which was led by Mr. MacKenzie for the very same reason. My brother David was murdered during the course of a robbery in 1991. I came to Green Haven because of a nagging curiosity to see what “those people” were like, something that had bothered me since my brother’s murderer was sent to prison. This program which John had the unfailing persistence, commitment and passion to conceive of, create and maintain is certainly the most special gift I as a survivor could have been blessed with. It is without a doubt because of John’s honesty, genuine remorse and advocacy on behalf of survivors that I have been able to develop an inner peace about what happened to my family nine years ago.

My most memorable experience with John which I’d like to share, is also one of my first and most intense. This man that you will see before you had not shed a tear in too many years to count, seeing it perhaps as a sign of vulnerability. I saw this man unsuccessfully fight back tears in front of an entire group of inmates, interns and professionals, after listening to my mother (a guest speaker) describe what it was like for her to lose her son to murder. What an experience this was for me, to watch my mother and John have a very similar emotional reaction to her story, passing the box of tissues to each other. A skeptic may scoff at this display of raw emotion from an institutionalized criminal, but I can tell you that those tears, the pain and blurry redness in his eyes, the embarrassed apologies he gave to the other inmates for letting his emotions get the best of him, for letting his vulnerability be exposed, that could only have been a message straight from his heart that John MacKenzie was a changed man from the youngster who had entered the correctional system twenty-three years earlier. It was a profound connection that we made that day, between survivor and perpetrator, sharing the pain of a single crime, and it is one that will always remain with everyone who was in the session that night.

The VAP encountered its share of obstacles as time progressed and never once did John let it flounder. I know that the program was a success and a credit to New York State Corrections because of him. It’s telling that the program has been nonexistent since John was transferred from Green Haven. Don’t you think the community can benefit from a man who works so diligently for the things he believes in?

I am writing to you in support of John from so many different angles. I write to you as a former student who learned global compassion, the ability to rectify wrongs, diligence, hard work and understanding, my most important and valued lessons, from the man you are considering for parole.

I write to you as someone who worked with the Community Justice Center in East Harlem, helping released inmates make a successful transition to the community. It is with that experience that I know without a doubt that John will be a contributive member of our society.

I write to you as someone who is currently employed by law enforcement. I have a very strong respect for justice, and I believe people ought to be punished for their crimes. John has served his time, and he has done so admirably; using that time to improve himself and set an example for other inmates and younger children. John has proved with his many activities during his incarceration to be an outstanding example of how the criminal justice system can work for the best. Now is the time to commend John for his unfaltering positive behavior over all these years. At the very least, rewarding John with parole will be a clear incentive to the other inmates he has served as an example to, that positive change during one’s incarceration will be reflected through positive consideration by the parole board.

Most importantly, I write to you as a survivor of violent crime, who has been deeply affected by the actions, and friendship, of John MacKenzie. He has never once tried to argue that his crime was forgivable. In fact, I believe John will never be able to forgive himself for what he did so many years ago. John has taken full responsibility for the death of Matthew Giglio, and I can swear to you that I have never met anyone with such remorse for their actions. His heart reaches out to the family of Officer Giglio, to his wife, his children — I know of them only because John talks of them, wishing that he could give them back their loved one. He talks of them because he will never forget the pain that he caused them. I believe that he has connected to my mother and I because as survivors of a similar crime, we are the closest he can come to apologizing to the Giglio family, and we serve as constant reminders of that terrible pain that all survivors endure every day. I believe that John, whether incarcerated or not, truly understands, and will always experience, that unrelenting emotional pain.

John MacKenzie will always live with the truth of what he has done in the past. It is what drives him to make amends by advocating for victims’ rights. As a survivor, I extend my most sincere compassion and sympathy to the friends and family of Matthew Giglio. I know that it is in his honor that John, upon release to parole, will become a model member of society.

Respectfully yours,

(Name withheld for privacy)