Throwing Away the Key
Why Gov. Davis’ just-say-no parole policy is wrong, Exhibit No. 1: Eddy Zheng has earned a college degree in prison, sings in a church choir, works with at-risk youth, has the support of clergymen, college professors, his prison counselor…
by Bernice Yeung, SF Weekly
Zheng has spent more than half his life in prison since the crime. When he first entered the correctional system, he was a gangly teen who looked younger than his age. Now he is trim, tall, and bespectacled; his choppy buzz cut is beginning to gray.
As Zheng sat before the commissioners, he felt confident about his prospects. With every question the panel asked him about the crime, his incarceration, and his parole plans, he tried to show that he was a model inmate who had remade himself in prison. A recent immigrant when he committed the crime, he had since mastered English and earned an associate of arts degree from the San Quentin college program. He took part in several self-help, educational, and religious programs. He had letters of support from dozens of people, from college professors to clergy. He had no major disciplinary infractions, and his prison counselor and psychological reports said he was qualified for release.
After Zheng delivered a closing statement, the commissioners left the room to vote on whether to grant Zheng a release date or not. Thirty minutes later, they filed back into the room, and Zheng was led in to face them. As Zheng readied himself for another denial, a commissioner told him that they had voted unanimously to grant his parole.
Zheng stared at them with stoic disbelief. Only about 1 percent of lifers in recent years have managed to get a release date from a California prison. Zheng had just beaten the odds.
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