Thursday, 4 August 2016

Further testimonials to John's character

A selection from many other testimonials to John MacKenzie's character, offered by professional people who have worked with him and known him during his years in prison:

*** "I want to focus on Mr. MacKenzie's development of a very unique program called Victims Awareness. He was instrumental in providing the leadership of this program which brought together both the victims of crime and victimizers. The idea and development of the program was his alone. He was able to bring together an important mix of people, outside professionals with counseling skills, prison inmates, and victims of crime... I was very impressed by the deep and powerful discussions that were held. Although it was highly emotional at times, all the participants gained a lot from the discussions. It was an experience of transformative education where the deep insights had the power to change people's lives and behavior. Through all of it, Mr. MacKenzie provided the leadership that held everything together. In fact, the program was viewed as a model for other Victims Awareness programs by New York State legislators and NYS DOCCS staff members in their visit to the program. I give my highest commendation to the work that Mr. John MacKenzie has done both in the areas of Victims Awareness and the Pre-Release Center. He should be seriously considered for parole when he is eligible. He has reformed and rehabilitated himself and poses no threat to the outside community. In fact, his leadership skills and his development of the Victims Awareness program make him an asset to all communities."

*** "I came to know Mr. MacKenzie due to his involvement in the Victims Awareness Program at Green Haven. I had been impressed by the skill and dedication of the staff who led this program. Indeed, I now find myself trying to find words to say, "much more than impressed". Mr. MacKenzie led the inmates with courage, honesty, and great expertise. I have seen Mr. MacKenzie help the inmates deal with the pain and suffering that their crimes have caused. Of all the groups that I have visited in Green Haven, this group, under Mr. MacKenzie's guidance, focused the most on the individual's personal responsibility. Owning up to one's crime, recognizing the pain the crime inflicted – and continues to inflict – and then reforming oneself during one's time of incarceration: these were central themes that Mr. MacKenzie emphasized.

Mr. MacKenzie led a remarkable program. Imagine: a group of inmates at a maximum security prison, who are honestly trying to come to terms with the suffering their crimes have caused. Often, inmates describe themselves as the victims, and spend much time in prison trying to find a legal loophole that will enable them to get out. In the Victims Awareness Program, the goal is that the men own up to their crimes, take responsibility, and try to find ways to express their remorse. They received no "credit", no diploma for the program. There was no record kept of their involvement. They were there because they realized the importance of this first step for their personal and moral development. And Mr. MacKenzie, I have said, expertly guided them in this complex and difficult process.

With much moral authority and compassion, Mr. MacKenzie helped the men in the group to understand that we all have choices; that crime is not inevitable; and that there are concrete steps that one can take in order to depart – permanently – from the life of crime."

*** "As a Vassar College student intern at Green Haven, I had the opportunity to participate in the first VAP group. I was extremely impressed by John's sincerity, dedication, leadership, and sensitivity to victims' issues. John was able to recognize his accountability and to hold others accountable; he often did so by acknowledging the lives that had been lost and the real people he and his fellow inmates had harmed. I remember how touched one guest was, the mother of a young man who was murdered, how respected and heard she felt after attending a VAP meeting.

John has made significant changes in his life since his incarceration. He has acted as a mentor to other inmates and has taught himself and others about victims' rights. He has also engaged in a sincere religious practice as a Zen Buddhist, and has been involved in positive ways with the Zen Mountain Monastery's monthly Buddhist Services Program for many years.

Given the opportunity, I know that John would make positive contributions to society and be a productive and upstanding citizen. I believe this because I am aware of John's efforts over the years. As a social worker at a crime victims' assistance program, I am intimately aware of the impact of crimes on the lives of real people. I believe John would continue to be a wonderful advocate for the rights of victims, and an effective one, if he were returned to society. I wholeheartedly support John MacKenzie's request to be released from prison. It is my sincere hope that the Division of Parole will give his parole release every consideration."

*** "Mr. MacKenzie is now seventy years old and is incontrovertibly not the same man he was when he entered prison in 1976. He has worked arduously to become a responsible educated and accomplished individual within the confines of the correctional system. His achievements are impressive, particularly in the area of his unflagging determination to establish a victims awareness program. This one undertaking alone demonstrates his acceptance of his culpability in the action that sent him to prison, his remorse and his desire to make amends in the only way he knows how.

Despite spending the last forty years in prison, Mr. MacKenzie has amassed an assortment of degrees, certificates and recommendations that would be notable in someone who had spent that same amount of time in free society. It is time to give him the opportunity to show that he can be a good and responsible citizen in society, as he has proven himself to be in confinement."

*** "I first met John MacKenzie four years ago during one of the visits organized by the [Zen Mountain] Monastery in the effort to connect our community with the inmates practicing Buddhism as part of our affiliate group at Green Haven Correctional Facility... It was hard for me to imagine that this gentle man could have committed a crime serious enough to cause him to be incarcerated in a maximum security prison. Not only did I not feel uncomfortable around John, I actually felt that this was a man that I could trust, and that feeling was not diminished with subsequent visits to Green Haven. Over the years I have only heard good things about John spoken by long-time members of the Monastery who have had the privilege to know him and experience first-hand how hard he has worked to turn his life around... I believe the proof he has given of his incredible courage and determination in the face of adversity would be an invaluable example for all of us striving to live a life honestly, openly, and in a way that nourishes not only ourselves, but others as well."

*** "I know the program instituted by John Daido Loori and his colleagues at several correctional institutions in north-eastern states. It is comprehensive and has changed many lives. It serves as an important role model for other religious organizations to follow. John MacKenzie is an active leader in that program at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility. He has taken vows of repentance for past crimes and determination to serve others. It is clear to me that Mr. MacKenzie has, with his own effort and with the support of his Buddhist friends and colleagues, undergone the change requisite for his release on parole. My long career of Buddhist teaching has been grounded on the faith that people change. Indeed, our society is grounded on change in people. Educators, ministers and all people involved in social welfare know that people change. The very use of the term "corrections" in our facilities shows this fact. In his more than forty years of penitentiary repentance, John MacKenzie has changed very much for the better. He is your success story. I urge you to give Mr. MacKenzie a chance to prove himself in the broader community, and give him the parole he has earned."

*** "I am writing on behalf of John MacKenzie, currently incarcerated at Woodbourne Correctional Facility, and petitioning for parole once again this year. I met John after writing an article about the death and funeral of his mother at Zen Mountain Monastery, and we have been corresponding back and forth for some years now.

I'm sure his crime and subsequent rehabilitation are well-documented in other letters to the parole board this year, and in years past. So I will simply say that I know John to be a loyal, nurturing, and compassionate friend, an ardent and eloquent advocate for victims in all walks of life. He has used his time in prison wisely, reflecting deeply on his past and discovering ways to transform himself and fellow prisoners who are in pain and who have hurt others in turn.

I urge you to grant John MacKenzie his parole at long last, with the heartfelt conviction that he can be of more benefit on the outside now, and that his presence among us will be a constant and strong reminder that prison, coupled with the right resources and opportunities, can provide chances that can change the lives of our citizens. I believe that once free, John MacKenzie will use the rest of his life to heal us, and thereby honor the memory of the man he has slain."

*** "I myself have been deeply moved by Mr. MacKenzie's journey from offender to defender of victims' rights and feelings. His taking responsibility for his violent past has led to the creation of compassionate prison programs like the Greenhaven Correctional Facility Victims Awareness Program and the Facility's "Storybook Project" for the kids and families of incarcerated fathers. In healing himself, he has worked tirelessly to heal others. At a time when there is so much hopelessness about violent crime in our culture, I feel that it's crucial to provide reminders of the human hungering after goodness, of our apparently indestructible capacity to transform poison into medicine. And it seems to me that John MacKenzie's life is a shimmering example of that. Please do not deny him the opportunity to give his experience, insight and energy to the world at large. And please, do not deny the world the opportunity to receive him."

*** "I am the mother of murder victims - a son and daughter-in-law killed by an 18-year old in Montana. I do not come to conclusions about prisoner release without deep and serious consideration, based on solid evidence of a reformed and trustworthy character. I tell you this so you know my support of Mr. MacKenzie is solidly based on what I have seen of his efforts to become a truly good person, and on how well I see that he has succeeded. I met Mr. MacKenzie at the Greenhaven Correctional Center several years ago when I gave a talk on Forgiveness at the conclusion of a REC (Residents Encounter Christ) retreat. He told me of his work to bring victims and perpetrators of crime together, and his reasons for doing this over a long period of time. I had felt at that time that this was a program all the prisons should support, and was extremely happy to learn that a prisoner had worked to get such a program underway and thriving. In the years since, I became more impressed with Mr. MacKenzie's efforts to become a good and productive citizen, even though behind bars. I became convinced that he is truly a rehabilitated person, and that now, after having served 40 years, he should be given parole so that he can continue doing good work in the world."

*** "After 40 years of incarceration, ten parole board hearings, and at age 70, I strongly believe that it is time to grant John MacKenzie parole. He has taken every program that the corrections system has to offer. His college education, experience as a counselor, and technical skills with computers will make it easier for him to find employment on the outside. He cannot change the nature of his crime but he has changed who he is. He has made positive changes to his life and he will not be a threat to the outside community. I give my highest recommendation to Mr. John MacKenzie's application for release on parole."

*** "In every respect John was by far the most articulate and honest of the members of the panel. Unlike some of the inmates he did not spend his time arguing his innocence, bemoaning his fate, or claiming he was the victim of an evil system. Rather he concentrated on what it was like to be in Attica and his preparation for the future - the day he is finally released - and what he intends to do at that point. This was not surprising as it was the impression I received from him in conversations. I am impressed by this posture, for I suspect it is one good indicator that John is not likely to end up back in prison... John is not just articulate, he is intelligent and I am confident that what he has learned in the college program and in his facing the kinds of questions college and high school students have regularly asked him (some were quite clearly uncomfortable for him and the other inmates) have given John a perspective on himself and society that he did not have when he entered prison."

*** "John MacKenzie is an impressive individual. He is articulate and outgoing and seems to exhibit a genuine and sincere concern for the youth coming to the ALFA Program. Through the years that I've come to know him, he has demonstrated a style of leadership and cooperation which is exemplary. He willingly offers ideas and suggestions, is quick to analyze and assess what is going on inside of the youth and seems to have a unique sense of his own self-worth and uses it well to get the youth to look at their own selves. I know his input in the various groups I've been a part of have caused me to be more aware of my own experiences and my own self. John looks to me, to be on a fairly straight path toward rehabilitation. He doesn't exhibit nor speak of any anxiety about the authorities or against society for putting him behind bars. He acknowledges the reason he is in prison, and openly shares his personal history with the youth. John MacKenzie is one of the rare breed of prison inmate. He, and others of the ALFA Program need to be recognized as being different in a very special way. He and the others of the ALFA Program deserve to receive every consideration and opportunity for future growth and personal stability."