Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Personification of Resilience

After a long night of drinking and partying, the wee hours of March 10, 2003 were like any other really for people who’d had too much to drink.

Everyone was talking shit.

That’s exactly what happened to then 20 year old Ryan Holle.

Earlier in the evening, an 18 year old girl had attended and after a bit to drink, her loose lips began to tell everyone in attendance about her parents’ weed stash in a safe at their home bragging that her mom was a drug dealer and likely making sure everyone knew that she could pinch from the stash at any time. I remember those days myself. I lived with my dad from ages 13-15 and I stupidly didn’t mind sharing whatever I’d managed to take from him and telling people exactly who my source was. Looking back, it was incredibly stupid. I could have easily told this to the wrong crowd. Unfortunately for this girl, that’s exactly what she did.

After her departure, Ryan’s roommate and a couple of the people in attendance started talking about stealing the drugs to make a quick profit. The family lived close by and it would be easier enough to break in. The only hitch in their plan was that this girl had seen their faces and knew who they were. They figured it would be necessary to knock her out if she woke up during the robbery just to keep her from being able to identify any of them. It didn’t come across as serious planning to Ryan nor was Ryan part of the planning. I’ve been at those parties too even as an adult—even in my own house—where people have too much drink or whatever else and end up talking about committing a crime of some sort. We’re not exactly well off, my friends and I. The topic of robbing a bank for quick cash has been on the table, but it’s always that half-joking, never-really-serious conversation of people who have had their inhibitions toned down.

The topic of food had also been discussed. Drunk people like to eat.

So, when Ryan’s roommate asked to borrow his car like he had done countless times before, Ryan assumed that’s what it was for—food. He couldn’t have been more wrong, however. Maybe his own inebriation reduced his ability to judge what was truly going on. Maybe he was 20 and young and didn’t think his roommate capable of committing the crime. Either way, the car was then used to take all 4 men—the roommate driving and 3 others—to the girl’s residence. She was hit in the head with a shotgun found on scene and died from her injuries. No one was shot. No one took a weapon with them.

It is tragic that the girl died in such a violent way ripped from this Earth before her time, but it’s equally tragic to me that Ryan Holle was sentence to life in prison under the felony murder laws in Florida where this took place. His crime was loaning his car to his roommate like he had so many other times. The prosecutors said that without the car, there was no way the crime could have been committed (forget about the fact that without the mother of that girl having marijuana in her house there never would have been a crime to commit). Ryan admitted that he had overhead the group talking about the burglary that evening to police but insisted that he hadn’t taken it seriously. It was known that the group had discussed having to knock the girl out and despite this not really being intent to murder, the prosecution stated it was enough for a first degree murder charge.

Ryan was asleep in his bed over a mile away when the events of that tragic evening took place, but in the eyes of the law, he is just as culpable as the man who hit the girl in the head and was sentenced as such. At this time, he has served 10 years of his sentence. He grew into adulthood in prison with people that HAD murdered, raped, sodomized, assaulted, and molested. All his dreams were drowned in a sea of naivety and bad decisions.

The prosecutors decided that group of 4 men had to pay for the innocent life that one of them tragically took, but the state also took an innocent life of their own when he was sentenced to life in prison.

Ryan has not let it wear him down, however. After reading about his case a couple of months ago, I sent him
a letter telling him I thought the charges and sentence were utter bullshit. I talked briefly about how flawed our system is and rambled a bit, honestly, about how we desperately need reforms. The felony murder law dates back to English common law, but it has been barred by Parliament there since 1957. Canada did so in 1990. Other countries in Europe never had such a law. The belief in these places and even in a few of the states here is that each person involved in a crime should serve a punishment fitting of his actions and representative of his culpability and not be held responsible for the decisions of the others.

If I robbed a bank and asked my friend to drive me, why should my friend be responsible for the decision I make to kill someone inside? He shouldn’t, is my point. I have my own free will and have the ability to choose to go to prison rather than take a life. If I choose the latter, the person outside waiting to drive me away has no influence on my decision at that time. He isn’t there pushing me to pull the trigger. And, as such, he should serve his time as part of the robbery not for the murder.

That’s what Ryan and I talked about in the first couple of letters. We’ve since moved on to a wide variety of topics in those letters, but the justice system is always something we both touch on especially while he is working hard with his family to get his sentence commuted—meaning he will get time served and go home on a lengthy probation/parole which could send him right back to prison for life if violated in any way. In a recent conversation, I asked him if he were able to go home, would he walk away and shut the door on this chapter of his life and choose to never look back or would he want to help others in his position and try to push for changes to these very outdated laws.

He chose the latter (of course) and had already been planning to do so. It would be a lot easier to completely shut the door on this chapter of his life if he gets his sentence commuted. He could walk away and forget about it all and move on with his life. No one would fault him for that. But he won’t. He’ll use his experiences to make change instead so no one else has to face what he has. When it comes down to it, that’s quite inspirational in a world where most people don’t give a shit about anything that doesn’t affect them directly. No one else’s life spent behind bars for something he or she didn’t do would matter to the average person who is free. In fact, it happens regularly, and no one seems to care. In that vein, Ryan could make the choice to pretend as most people do that it doesn’t really matter. Instead, he’s going to keep fighting which ultimately keeps the experiences he has had a bit fresh and a bit raw. It takes incredible strength to make that choice…to rise above what happened to him and use it to make a difference in the world.

Ryan has to potentially face a lifetime behind bars yet he is a positive force, always laughing and making jokes in his letters. He is not angry though he could easily be given the circumstances. He has used this ultimately shitty experience to become stronger and has never lost sight of who he is, and no matter what happens he will continue to rise above it all. To me, that is the true definition of resilience, and I am lucky to be able to call him a friend.

This has been part of Sunday Confessions with More than Cheese and Beer. If you don't know her by now, you should...she's the greatest and I'm lucky to call her a friend as well. Check her page out and follow her on Facebook!

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