Donna’s Story: For Better or for Worse — Getting Through the “Worse” | FAMM

Donna’s Story: For Better or for Worse — Getting Through the “Worse”

One day in May 2010, I received a phone call from my best friend, who asked me if it was ok to give my email address to a man in prison (her former brother-in-law) who I dated in my early 20s. Without hesitation, I said yes. Since that day my life has never been the same. Harold and I began corresponding through email and phone calls, and although I knew that I loved him when we were younger, I realized very quickly that I still loved him. I visited him regularly, and in 2011 we were married in a prison visiting room. Needless to say, this was the beginning of a very long journey that has brought me to tears on many occasions as I have been faced with the most difficult challenge of my life—“the Judicial System.”

 

Harold is serving a 30-year sentence, and his release date is 2024.

This is a story about a man who is loved by his family who desperately want him home. He has two young adult children, a grandson, two granddaughters, and a loving wife who are anxiously awaiting his homecoming. He has three brothers, one sister, and an aunt who is praying that he comes home before God calls upon her to come home. Since his 1999 conviction, and mostly through photos, letters and intermittent visits he has watched for 20 years as they each developed into beautiful and loving adults and families.

Through the years I have seen the impact that Harold’s incarceration has had on his family and this is why I have chosen to be an advocate. Harold was arrested in 1998, and his son was 5 years old at the time of his arrest. I remember reading the court transcripts and where it stated that Little Harold should receive counseling. This weighed heavy on my heart because although counseling can help with managing the grief and loss of a loved one, it cannot replace the unimaginable void both son and father would feel throughout their lives.

As I mentioned earlier, I made the decision to marry Harold in 2011 despite knowing that he faced many more years of incarceration. This was the easy part; the hardest part was when I had to explain to family and friends why I chose to marry him. The answer was of course, “Because I love him.” And I do, I love Harold with all of my heart. I made a lifelong commitment to him for better or worse and unfortunately for us, we have to get through the “worse” before it gets better.

From the very beginning, I was welcomed by his  warm and loving family. I met his son, Little Harold, who was 16 at the time. I remember taking him to visit his dad and how happy they were to see each other; I also remember the tears streaming down Little Harold’s face as we walked away from the prison and to the car. The ride home was quiet, and it was if we were grieving all over again.

Harold has applied for clemency. President Obama denied his petition in 2016, while granting his brother, Dewayne Damper, freedom under the administration’s Clemency Project 2014. Dewayne was also convicted in this case and received the same sentence as Harold. And while our family is immensely grateful for Dewayne’s release, we cannot understand why Harold was left behind and not given the same opportunity. Once again, we grieve.

Although I am able to live my life in a semblance of normalcy, it is difficult at times to maintain a social life. I tend to decline invitations to family parties and to hang out with friends just to avoid the question I am continually asked: When is Harold coming home? In the meantime, I include Harold in every decision I make and involve him in every aspect of my life to ensure he has a sense of belonging in the outside world.

The reason I am telling Harold’s story is not just for him, but for the many other men and women who have been affected by the wrongdoings of the judicial system. His story is a reality for so many. Everyday, we pray that something is going to change, for us and everyone else facing these same circumstances. Our priority is to bring Harold home and allow him to enjoy the remainder of his life surrounded by love and the support of family.

UPDATE: Harold was released from prison in May of 2020. 

FAMM is pushing to get the federal clemency process improved. If you are moved by Donna and Harold’s story, or you have a loved one inside you’d like to see get a fair shake, please help us. Become an advocate – we can do this together!

From left to right: Donna, Harold, and Harold’s aunt, Ruth.

State:
Issue: Sentencing