Parole hearing; not just a rubber stamp…who knew?!?!

First, I have to start off by saying a HUGE thank you to everyone who emailed, posted on Facebook or tweeted me in the last week to say “we are here for you and pulling for your family.” Hubby and I were just blown away by the outpouring of support, thoughtfulness, love, and encouragement we received from our in-person and virtual friends and family. Your notes and prayers were appreciated more than words could ever begin to convey.

YOU. GUYS. ROCK!

Thank you will never quite capture our humbled gratitude….

Ok, so on to the good stuff; the parole hearing that we attended Wednesday. If you are not up to speed on our impaired driving story, check it out here first for all the deets.

Buckle up because I fear this could be a lengthy post. I want y’all to get a real sense for what a Canadian Parole Board hearing looks and feels like.

Westmorland Institution

We arrived at the Westmorland Institute (a minimum security jail) at around 8 am. We met up with hubby’s two aunts and their husbands and hubby’s youngest sister. We were all shocked to see the accommodations for prisoners are rows and rows of townhouses (no fencing or anything).

We later found out that each “townhouse” or “unit” as they are called houses 4 to 5 prisoners. They are two to a room with a shared bathroom, living room (with TV) and kitchen. Each unit is allotted a weekly budget and the 4-5 men have to arrange/negotiate to buy their own groceries (from the Institution’s grocery store), cook and clean for themselves.

If any of us thought that Trent was sitting in a 6X9 cement jail cell like you see on TV, we were sorely mistaken.

But I digress.

We were ushered into the main administration complex. There we gathered in a boardroom with a communications liaison from the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) who walked us through how everything would proceed and answered all of our questions.

We found out that Trent was applying for either of 3 types of parole:

  • Temporary Absence: This is usually the first type of release an offender may be granted. They can be escorted (ETA) or unescorted (UTA). Trent was applying for 3 UTAs each for 72 hours (think a weekend at a halfway house). ETAs and UTAs are granted so offenders may receive medical treatment; contact with their family; undergo personal development and/or counselling; and participate in community service work projects.
  • Day Parole: This is to help prepare an offender for release on full parole or statutory release by allowing the offender to participate in community-based activities. Offenders on day parole must return nightly to an institution or a halfway house unless otherwise authorized.
  • Full parole: This is when an offender serves the remainder of the sentence under supervision in the community (in his own apartment etc). There are usually conditions associated with this type of release (curfew, alcohol/drugs abstinence etc). An offender must report to a parole supervisor on a regular basis.

While on any kind of these parole programs, if an offender commits a crime or doesn’t meet any of the conditions set, they can be remanded back to the Institution to complete the remainder of their sentence.

Enough with the boring tech stuff, right?

Ok, so we find out that Trent is applying for either of the 3 but we also find out that his parole officer who supported his pending application for parole back in December 2011 has since withdrawn that support. Likely due to the fact that Trent’s psych evaluation came back in February 2012 showing him at a high to medium risk to re-offend. Neither the psychologist nor his parole officer were supporting his application for parole.

This peaked our interest. Why would he go forward with the application? Cynically, I think most of us assumed it was because the process was rubber stamp approval.

Little did we know.

The Hearing

At 9 am, we were escorted into the parole hearing room. At the front of the room, sitting facing the observers (the Kennie family, a couple of students and a few cops) were 2 parole board hearing officers; one a retired warden of 30 years and the other a long-time police office/parole officer. Trent, the offender, was sitting facing the parole board accompanied by his assistant (this is someone who sits beside the offender and is granted the opportunity to make a statement on the offender’s behalf – Trent had his mother as his assistant).

Another thing we didn’t know is that at the parole board looks at the offender as whole. That means they don’t take into account only the offense that landed the person in jail, they look at the entire criminal history (if there is one) along with all circumstances. They parole board can ask the person next to anything; childhood, any and all criminal activities, recovery etc. The board is there to assess whether the offender presents a risk to re-offend.

We knew Trent had something of a sketchy past with a couple of assault charges and failure to comply with some probation orders but that was the extent of our knowledge. To our surprise, the assault charges became the crux of the discussion between Trent and the parole board.

Assault Charges

For over an hour, they grilled him about the incidents (both involving women); why did his life take a turn to violence in his 30s, why women, how has he changed, what happened, did he drink, did he abuse drugs, what contributed to his destructive lifestyle choices? They didn’t stop or let up. Question after question.

Trent’s responses were mostly that he had been out of control, financially strained, unhappy, had unreasonable expectations, and that the abuse only happened towards the end of the relationships (even though the parole board had testimony from both women that it had been ongoing and lengthy). He was evasive when it came to admitting to specific details of the assaults and dismissive about the level of violence he demonstrated. When pushed by the parole board with conflicted reports from the women, he would answer with “well…her recollection is likely better than mine…” but would still admit or own to nothing.

Psych Evaluation

Then the board turned its attention to the psych evaluation and how the psychologist deemed Trent to be egocentric with anti-social tendencies, that he was evasive, dismissive, and minimized his offences while blaming and justifying his choices and actions.

Trent said he didn’t agree and couldn’t understand where the psychologist was coming from. Again the parole board pushed him. If he disagreed with the evaluation, why did he sign off on it, why didn’t he appeal it, why didn’t he ask for changes to the wording? In signing it, he essentially “okayed” the report but now claimed to disagree with it. And exactly what points did he disagree with? They grilled him.

Trent’s Overall Defence

Trent talked about how through his one-on-one counselling and doing the programs at the jail, he had learned better coping mechanism, to not let things build up but to address issues as they arose, to manage his expectations, to negotiate, to express himself and his feelings while listening to and taking into considerations how other people think and feel.

He said he felt his career in construction also led him to the lifestyle choices because the people he worked with drank and did drugs and upon his release, he wanted to go back to school to become an electrician and to be a better father to his daughter. He talked at length about how the Trent that walked into jail and the Trent today were two very different people.

Impaired Driving Causing Death

When they asked him about the impaired driving cause death, he admitted that he had drank 4 to 5 beer and shared a joint with 2 people and just “wasn’t thinking” when he got behind the wheel of the truck. He wanted to go so he left. He said he didn’t consider the safety of others on the road or even if he was ok to drive. He said any negative consequence never occurred to him at all.

He said he was sorry. He didn’t intend to hurt or kill anyone that day. He did set out with that in mind. It just happened.

Our Thoughts

It was tough. It was very emotional. We felt very much on pins and needles. We’ve never felt like Trent fully accepted responsibility for his choices that day. Or that he truly understands the depth of our loss, the nature and ripple effect of his choice; the impact.

We were hopeful at the parole hearing we’d see remorse and devastation and deep sorrow for what he’d done. But we were left high and dry once again. His words fell flat and seemed devoid of emotion and sincerity. It felt like because he believes he didn’t “intend” to kill someone, that it was an accident truly out of his control that he’s sorry for.

It’s pretty clear that he hasn’t accepted that it was his choice to drive impaired that killed a woman. What his intent was or wasn’t is a moot point, the fact of that matter is he murdered a woman. And THAT realization has obviously not happened yet.

Victim Impact Statements

After an hour and a half of questioning, it was time for the victims to have a say. Hubby’s sister got up and addressed the board with her heart wrenching victim impact statement. She talked about how haunted she is and how tortured her family is. How she fears for Trent’s possible retaliation upon his release. How she fears for the likelihood that he will drive impaired and kill someone again. How her children miss and mourn their nanny and how her youngest daughter will only ever know her nanny from a photograph.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Well, except for Trent and his mother who seemed to sit like stone.

Then hubby got up and read his statement. He did so well. He read from his heart, his words and voice filled with emotion. Tears running down his face, he laid his soul out raw for the parole board to see.

Assistant’s Statement

Then it was Trent’s mother’s opportunity to speak.

Sitting in a pink blazer wearing pink, lace Madonna gloves, she talked about how sorry she was for the Kennie family but how we “need to understand that they aren’t the only victims here” (I believe at this point my jaw dropped).

That her family has suffered greatly as well. That they are victims too. That since Trent has been in jail, her husband has suffered heart problems from the stress of it and that they “have no one to help with yard work” (NO JOKE – her words!).

She talked about how they are a Christian family and that she has never seen a beer in Trent’s hand, let alone him do drugs.

WAIT….it gets better!

And in regards to the assaults and violence against women…”well…you know how girls are today?!?!…..after break-ups, they will lie to get revenge.

WHAT THE F*CK?!?!?!

I near fell off my chair.

I wanted to leap over every chair and every person and bitch slap this woman upside the head.

I really did. It took every ounce of self-control not to.

I was stunned. The show of total and blatant disregard for our family’s suffering at the hands of her son, the total and complete egotism and self-centeredness, coupled with the derogatory comment about “girls today….”?! It was nearly too much to handle…

Are you for real lady?!?!?!

It became crystal clear in a matter of seconds. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Her complete and utter lack of empathy and sensitivity not to mention the will for her son to take responsibility and accountability for his choices and decisions made it clear where Trent learned his lessons.

How sad is that?

Hubby felt like if anything, Trent’s mother put the nail in his parole possibility coffin. Who would release him to that?!??!

Trent’s Final Words

So after that lovely display of ineptitude, Trent got to have the last word. He talked about how he felt he had changed, that he would not re-offend, he had “earned” his parole, and that he was sorry hitting and killing Donna.

I never set out with the intention to hurt anyone…

Ahhh yes Trent. We know you didn’t mean to kill her. We know you didn’t intend to kill her. But ya did buddy….ya did!

Adjournment and Decision

We adjourned for about 10 minutes.

When we came back, one board member addressed Trent and said that they felt like he hadn’t accepted responsibility for his actions, that he was still very much centred and focused on himself. I am paraphrasing here but it went something like:

You never once talked about your victims. The women you assaulted or the family sitting here today and how your choices and decisions have affected and hurt them, you never mentioned them or talked about an understanding of what you’ve put them through. You are still focused only on you, you, you.

They told him they felt he had a high chance of re-offending and that he had a lot more work to do before he was ready for society!

The parole board came back with a big red DENIED stamp; for all 3 types of parole.

Uncle John started to clap. Hubby and I were fist pumping. We got hushed pretty heavily. Perhaps a bit insensitive but after that Shit Show, we couldn’t help it.

What Happens Now

So what happens to Trent now? Does he serve the remainder of his 3-year sentence? NO!

NO!??! No!

The parole board representative told us that he “could” reapply for parole but it’s unlikely. She said that there’d essentially have to be a second coming of Christ for him to get approval. Once denied, they usually don’t re-apply. Also, by the time he’d complete a few more programs and be ready to apply, he’d likely be close to his statutory release date.

STATUTORY RELEASE?!?!?!

Yes, you read that right.

In Canada, by law, most federal inmates are automatically released after serving 2/3rds of their sentence if they have not already been released on parole. This is called statutory release. It’s not the same as parole because the decision for release is not made by the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) however the PBC can impose conditions and restrictions to the release (curfew, halfway house etc). Although offenders serving life or indeterminate sentences are not eligible for statutory release.

Nice, eh?!

Now you’ll know in Canada when you hear someone sentenced to anything that is 2 years plus a day (meaning a federal jail sentence) the likelihood is they will never actually serve the full sentence in jail since they can apply for parole after serving 1/3rd and if not granted, are released after serving 2/3rds.

Trent’s Statutory Release date is April 14, 2013.

Which will be mine and hubby’s 3-year wedding anniversary. How quaint. Luckily, we will be in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic to celebrate and won’t let Trent ruin our day.

What Are We Left With?

Quite frankly, impaired driving causing death sentencing in Canada is inadequate to begin with. A sentence of 3 years for driving drunk and killing Mamma K and injuring the Dude will never be “enough” in our hearts. He should be serving a life sentence. Period.

That being said, it is what it is right now. And our family rests a little easier knowing that the man who killed Mamma K will at least serve the maximum amount of time that he could have.

We can live with that.

Going forward….we continue to mourn, heal and honor Mamma K. We keep fighting the good fight for stiffer penalties and more awareness and prevention. Ultimately, our dream is that someday we won’t need any of it because impaired driving will be eradicated entirely. It’s good to have a dream!

If you are still reading (God love ya….) thank you – for your support and your encouragement.

What do you think about offenders’ ability to apply for parole after only service 1/3rd of their sentence? What do you think about statutory release after serving only 2/3rd? Do you think our laws/policies should take into greater account the victims of crimes or sway more towards rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

On August 1, 2009, my beautiful mother-in-law’s life was cut tragically short by an impaired driver and my stepson’s life changed forever. In honor of Donna and Jordan Kennie, please don’t drink and drive. Impaired driving is 100% preventable. Think about it.

Support MADD Canada and follow them on Facebook, Twitter (@maddcanada), YouTube, and on the Web.

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