Friday, November 28, 2014

Sign and Share Please!!

In April of this year, I read an article about a young man who had been tried and convicted in Florida under the Felony Murder Law. This law is something I’m familiar with and have been against for some time now because it doesn’t apply punishment that is proportionate to culpability in a crime, and I have seen plenty of cases where a person who wasn’t even present or couldn’t be proven to be present at the scene of a crime was given a life or even death sentence for whatever small part they may have played. This was something altogether different though. When I read this one, I was pretty enraged. This was the first time I’d ever read a case where the person affected by this heinous law had absolutely no involvement in the crime nor in criminal behavior at all.

The man in this case loaned his car. That’s what he did to get a life sentence without the possibility of parole. He was drunk at home with his roommate and his roommate’s friends. The roommate and friends decided to rob the house of a known drug dealer and asked to use his car. Ryan agreed. The roommate is on record saying that the only part Ryan played that night is giving permission to use the car. He did not help plan a burglary. He did not help plan a murder. He gave permission and fell into a drunken sleep. He was asleep when the crime was committed.

Plenty of people were outraged about this case. The comments section each time it was shared was quickly filled with people who were angry and who demanded justice for the man in question. I took it a step further though. I wrote him. I sat down and wrote a letter the very day I read about him.

That’s how I met Ryan.

Anyone can read the articles that I have or visit his website or even read the petition I created. Those are all important but can be found easily through Google. I’ll also include them here at the end because that petition is of utmost importance right now. But, what I want to really tell you about is Ryan himself because if you know what I know about him, if you can see what I see, you can’t help being angry and wanting to do more to help him.

Since first writing in early April, we’ve gotten up to 2 or 3 letters a week, and I’ve visited him twice. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about him and what he’s like. He wears the label “nerd” proudly and loves to talk about video games and comic books. Luckily, I have a whole lot of nerdery going on when it comes to video games so we both geek out on letters talking about the nostalgia of gaming classics and me writing about newer stuff I’ve played or watched being played. We talk about music. A lot. Music is really his salvation. A letter without mentioning a band or song is an anomaly. He loves comic book movies, Star Wars, and old cartoons.

Ryan grew up with a very strong woman as his mother. She’s his rock even though these last 11 years have impacted her in ways you could not imagine. She’s his champion and is always in his corner pushing for his freedom. In 11 years, she has only gotten more determined instead of jaded which shows just how incredible her strength really is. It’s her influence that has made him one of the most respectful and thoughtful men I have had the pleasure to meet. 11 years of prison hasn’t changed that or diminished it in any way. He would be mortified if anyone ever accused him of disrespecting a woman or anyone for that matter.

No matter how harsh the prison environment can be, he has never lost his humanity, his will to help others, to do good in the world, and to be something more than what he often sees around him. In fact, if his sentence were commuted, he wants to speak out against the felony murder law to work towards getting these laws changed across the country instead of just a few states. He also wants to use his experiences to help at-risk youth learn the perils of the company they keep.

Perhaps the biggest thing that amazes me about my newfound friend is the lack of bitterness he has. For 11 years, he has been behind bars for a crime he had no idea would be committed, that he played no part in, that he was asleep at home in bed during and yet… he has no anger, no bitterness. If anything, he is one of the most positive people I have ever met. Every now and then, he might have a complaint about the food (dry slices of turkey for Thanksgiving…blegh), but that’s it. How many other people can say that? The last time I visited him, there was also an art student visiting who is preparing to make a documentary about his case. When he asked Ryan how he can stay so positive and not be bitter about the circumstances of his life. Ryan answered that he’s still alive, he has family that support him and love him, and he has friends who provide unconditional and unexpected support. Most people I know have all that on top of their freedom and still can’t make it through a single day with even half the positivity. Knowing Ryan has been an inspiration.

A girl lost her life tragically in this case. No one denies that. But, the theft of Ryan’s freedom by the state is criminal itself. The governor of Florida has agreed to hear his plea for clemency before the Offender Review board on December 10. At that time, Ryan’s sentence could be commuted to time served. I beg each of you to sign the petition included below and share it. Every little bit of support we can give him can only help improve his chances of never spending another holiday season behind bars away from the family who loves him so much.



Young Turks video:

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