Joe’s blog – #93 – I have been granted parole

WOW! By now most all have heard the news: I have been granted parole. My head is still swimming. WOW! It is difficult to express what I am feeling right at this moment. Humbled, anxious, a little intimidated, excited, scared, overwhelmed. Yesterday while writing an email from the kiosk I began tearing up. It is hard to believe. I will be out and with friends before Christmas. WOW!

All of this is very sobering. My journey has been long, its been extremely difficult, it has been deeply rewarding. There are many unsung heroes… but I will not, in the short space of this blog, say much about that. All of that will come and soon. But, first, there is something else I want to address.

This journey began with a terrible tragedy: two people, two precious lives were brutally cut short. Toni and Michelle Kline, like all of us, have their own threads woven into the fabric of life. They have their story and history. That should never be forgotten. In my heart I know that I did not murder Toni and Michelle. The reality is that whoever the actual perpetrator was he has remained out there in the world while I have been within the walls of a prison. That person may be dead or alive. So for me, though I am exceedingly grateful for having been granted parole….the reality is that in my case parole is not justice. Not for me and not for Toni and Michelle. That reality pains me deeply. I have lived with that hard and, terribly sad, fact for many years. My life continues with the painful knowledge of that: the tragedy that two people who, as screwed up as I was then, I knew as friends were brutally murdered. Brutally taken away from their family and their friends. Nothing can ever erase the pain, the anger, and the heartache that they have experienced. It is their story that needs to be remembered and never forgotten.

That said I know the person that I was before I found myself on death row. I was not a good person. I was a seriously messed up and, broken, young man. I was a self destructive drug addict and alcoholic. As one professional noted back then, I was a “walking toxic waste dump.” In reality, for me, as I have said in the past finding myself on death row actually saved my life. As much as the tragedy that gave rise to all of this pains me, I have to recognize all the caring individuals who took an interest in me, and helped to shape me into the man, into the human being, that I have become. That story is yet to be told.

I have never cared much for the word “rehabilitation”. As my former warden and friend, Toni Bair, once noted, you cannot rehabilitate someone who was not “habilitated”. For me this journey has been one of self-reformation. That personal journey and process was nurtured by many different individuals who, but for their compassion, their inspiration, their pushing, their motivation, their example, and their belief in me, I would not be the human being that I am today. That list of caring souls is long. Here I will only name a few of those who helped me, by hook or crook, by gentle wisdom, angry wisdom, become the person that I am today.

As many know, for me, that journey of self-reformation was ignited by Marie Deans. If there was a life changing linchpin or, rather, a catalyst in my life it was Marie Deans. Marie, for me, was a force to be reckoned with: Socrates and Jesus rolled into one. Through Marie came so many others. Lloyd Snook, Richard Bonnie, Joe Ingle, Jack Boger, Mike Farrell, Dick Burr, Jan Elvin-Bronstein, Jerry Zerkin, Steven Rosenfield, just to name a very few. Truly just a few of the human beings who have, in their own unique ways, helped to influence me. I don’t like to begin lists like this because its never complete. I owe much to many. Some well known and others not so well known. I have been truly blessed with many good souls who all, in their own way, had a life altering effect in my life: for a caring priest on death row, Fr. Jim Griffin to Russ Ford who’s heart, soul and friendship to this day cause me to tear up. Doug Wilder who had the courage to do the right thing. Colman McCarthy and the many student he brought into my life and journey through the Center for Teaching Peace and who continue to inspire me to this very day. Frank Coppola who while with me on death row became a hard nosed and, dear, friend and mentor (and whose young son I met in the death row visiting room…now a man who I am proud to call friend). I can go on and on but I will stop here for now, except to mention one other who has my unending love and respect…a friend, Steve Northup who I look forwarded to seeing in the parking lot of this prison a few days from now. He’s the Man.

I labor under no illusions. Though I am excited about this next leg of my journey, that excitement is mixed with a heavy dose of trepidation. I am going to be faced with real challenges when I step beyond the prison gates. Life for me is not going to be easy. I am, essentially, beginning from scratch and, in many ways, from behind the Eight Ball, so to speak. I can meet the difficulties and obstacles that come my way.

Our system, for all its flaws, is still a good one in theory. There is much room for very needed improvement. When it comes to our prison system we have to recognize the inhumanity and dehumanizing effect that touches us all in ways that we do not often recognize. Its a reality that we cannot ignore. We are, rightfully, putting dysfunctional and, more often than not, dangerous people into our prisons. Very few of those dysfunctional human beings remain there and leave there more dysfunctional and dehumanized. Often they reoffend creating more victims. We can change that trend and trajectory. It is my hope to be a positive force and, voice, in that process.
Thank you all. More soon. Peace, Joe G.

This is the posts comments

  1. Beth Wellington December 19, 2017 at 22:02 #

    Joe, I’m so happy. I just heard the news after I did a search on your name after I received a review copy of Todd Peppers’ book on Marie Deans. I love your introduction. I visited with you back when you were in Augusta when you were teaching the peace studies class, probably with Ruth Steinberger in 1992 or so.

  2. Barbara Jean McAtlin December 12, 2017 at 14:37 #

    Wow. I had missed this news and was surprised by the reply Joe sent to my Christmas card this year. I’m SO very happy about his being paroled. Being found wrongfully convicted would have been even better but paroled is good, too. Looking forward to the future for him. Very, very happy.

  3. Dee Thorpe December 10, 2017 at 20:20 #


    What great news to hear! My name is Denise Thorpe and I am the steward of “Virginia Prisons Accountability Committee” [vapac]. We have been following your long journey to freedom, Unfortunately, we are just finding your blog I say unfortunately because I would have liked to have found it sooner rather than just recently so I could share your posts with our followers and members at vapac. I found the link to your blog via the Virginia RTD news article on your soon to be released, however, your release is of course all over the internet.

    My Husband who is William Thorpe is imprisoned in long-term Solitary Confinement since 1996 and confined at Virginia’s Notorious Red Onion State Prison since its opening in 1998. We, Sporty B. and I wrote you about a year back give or take, however, we never received a response assuming our correspondence never made it to you for whatever reason. Maybe the DOC never delivered it and this is with some understanding.

    As we were just planning to write you again when we heard the fantastic news of your release. I have found out just today that you will be released on Dec 20.2017, this will give me time to drop you another note in the mail.

    My husband in his recent correspondence with you was asking about your health and well being, about us, as well as we wanted to share with you our vapac platforms. I have shared with him the great news of your release in our most recent letters. He has asked me to share with you our Virginia Prisons Accountability Committee platforms such as our blog which is We would love to hear from you especially my Husband! He has asked me to tell you to “yell at us”! Our mailing address is:
    Virginia Prisons Accountability Committee” [vapac]
    P.O. Box 213,
    Virginia. 24228.

    And of course, you know Williams secondary address. He also told me to tell you: ” Wow! What a Christmas Gift! He knows (and I paraphrase) back in the day, on a particular night, you probably never would have foreseen walking out….as you soon will be.

    Well, Joe, I feel like I know you as my husband has shared some of your experiences with me and I have also done some research over the years about your experiences and I trust you will continue this blog! Now that I have found it? I can begin sharing its content with our members and followers.

    We are also on twitter:

    we have been following you on twitter as well for a while now. Joe, once you are situated we would love to form an alliance with you if you so choose to continue to speak out on the broader topic of prison issues, this is an option you might want to consider of course I am sure that is the last thing on your mind as we speak? But once you are settled you have an open invitation to share on our platforms. If you so choose to lay low? My Husband will still want to hear from you ASAP. If you need anything? Drop us a line at our email address:
    and/or drop us a note. We will do all we can to help you on this “next leg of your journey” Again we want to express our congrats on your release and we look forward to hearing from you.
    In Strength,
    Dee T.

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