Scott Patrick: criminal innocence. Backbone of the perfect life: the wish to turn water into wine. Scott Patrick: physical redeeming virtues. Michael Ferraro: gruff. Gunslinger. Scott Patrick: a large heart. He stood up against demons that apparently made his childhood miserable. On the afternoon of 11 October, 1983, following arguments with his sister-in-law over the cost of a television, Scott Patrick forced his way into her apartment in Manor, Texas, and killed her with a hatchet, her husband with a revolver and her 10-year-old daughter with a single shotgun blast. The little girl, Jessica Helm, died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head.
To many of us who lived in our communities that day, the image of the body of murdered little girl along with her father, knife still in hand, is something that haunts us to this day. We all want to know whether the killer got away with it. We all want to know who was responsible and why.
This week, Congressman Lloyd Doggett and the Crime Victims Families United (CVFU) asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch to take steps to get the case reopened and what is further frustrating to us is that Mr Patrick is still alive. Sadly, we are no longer assured that the elusive man whose face appears on every public bulletin board in our community is in jail.
On Wednesday, Congressman Doggett introduced the “Scotty Patrick bill” which would close a loophole that currently permits the state of Texas to make information about people wrongly convicted disappear. At a time when the government is remaking the criminal justice system to fix our broken justice system, it makes little sense to lock people up when they are already serving sentences of three to 40 years and then keep their names from public view. Congressman Doggett wants to address this inequity because it is based on an assumption that people who were convicted in the state of Texas are guilty of a specific crime and deserve their terms of imprisonment. Why do you think a man like Scott Patrick is serving three to 40 years for what no one can verify ever happened?
Daryl Kennard: false imprisonment, misapplied conspiracy charges Photograph: US Attorney
Most people reading this story can’t imagine that prison life is so tough. Nothing is as oppressive as inside. We are constantly being robbed, locked up and under the watchful eye of prison authorities that will often interfere with our ability to get needed medical treatment. We have so little human contact with other people that it is often felt like we are the only people living within the facility. If one sees a former prisoner among the ranks of the incarcerated, it should not be a surprise when they turn out to be the same as the current number of people held. When people are given that many years in a cage they begin to believe that they are supposed to be that lucky.
Even those with good intentions are too often unable to attend even the most basic activities, such as doing basic grooming. This requires constant supervision, and so when staff visits inmates for bi-weekly prisoner assembly sessions, they cannot wander and they cannot roam. All the prisoners are compelled to go, and are expected to go. Many former prisoners express regret that their prison sentences were so short. The only comfort they can get from their years is that if they could just get out, they could have the freedom to do the things that, because of their conditions, they are otherwise restricted from doing: spending time with their families, relaxing, having a good meal and talking.
This past Saturday, a group of former prisoners attended a conference at the Graduate School of Political Management at Brown University to examine the recent controversy regarding the gerrymandering of congressional districts, and the history of districts in America. One speaker said that the modern American crime system represents “the most gutted, modern nation-state ever”. The most essential building block of the American experiment in free and equal civic life has been stolen from us.