41 years

St. Patrick ’s Day is a special day for me and Jodie.

On this day in 1981 she was a television reporter for a CBS affiliate in Baton Rouge. She was assigned to do a series on the death penalty as an impending execution was drawing significant media attention.

I was an award-winning convict journalist—the co-editor of the prison publication, The Angolite—and fresh from capturing the prestigious George Polk Award, the highest journalism award for magazine writing. I was researching and preparing an in-depth death penalty piece for the prison magazine.

I was standing next to the electric chair in the prison’s execution chamber—the same chair, although refurbished, that was suppose to take my life a decade earlier.

Into the chamber walked Jodie and her camera person—our eyes met, locked, and life changed from that moment on for the two of us.  From that moment I was in love, and truly loved, for the first time in my life. We were married the following year by proxy under Texas law—and the marriage was upheld by the Louisiana Attorney General after some state officials tried to block it.

For the next 25 years, and against odds most of you could never possibly imagine, that little lady took on the entire Louisiana political and prison systems—both of which are powerful, daunting, and incurably corrupt. We endured death threats, attempts on my life, and one official retaliation after another as we fought those systems, exposing the largest pardons-selling scheme in Louisiana history, exposing the chief judge of a federal appeals court as a pedophile, exposing the killings and beatings of inmates to the media, sued countless state agencies and prison officials, and assisting in investigations of  innocent people in prison.

There were a million tears in the silence and separation of both our lives, a thousand regrets, hundreds of missteps, but not once giving up hope that we would live, survive, and one day be able to love together as free human beings.

In the 38th year of my incarceration, Jodie finally brought the state’s entire penal system to the peace table. I was released in my 40th year of incarceration, an aged, war-weary soul. At the end of the day, we had built an array of support, mostly through Jodie’s efforts, that included the most powerful anti-corruption and crime fighting organization in the state, two conservative Republican congressmen, a powerful African-American congresswoman, victim rights advocates, the NAACP, a former governor, prominent journalists, popular sports figures, and the incredible Sister Helen Prejean.

Today, 16 years after my release, we own land, home, and vehicles. I’ve never had a single misstep on parole. Our lives have been blessed with a wonderful family and three of the best dogs in Texas.

The look we shared that St. Patrick’s Day 41 years ago still glows in our eyes, the star of which is more bright than it was that day in the death house.

If you want to read the whole story, read Jodie’s 2020 memoir, “Love Behind Bars: The True Story of an American Prisoner’s Wife.”

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