Tag Archives: restorative justice

A death in prison

Marion Berry 4-29-14
Marion Berry in a 2014 prison photo

I got word this week that Marion “Marvin” Berry has died in prison at age 44. Berry was incarcerated for 29 years and five months, since the age of 15, when he and another 15-year-old, Gary Brown, were arrested on charges of kidnapping, raping, and killing 26-year-old Cathy O’Daniel.

I wrote about the case in the first installment of my series for Slate on crime victims. In that story, I focused on O’Daniel’s mother Linda White and her brand of radical forgiveness, which she has shown toward Berry’s co-defendant, Gary Brown.

Berry never experienced the kind of turnaround and redemption that Brown earned for himself. Instead, his years in Texas prisons were marked by trouble. Just five years into his 55-year sentence, he got another 12 1/2 years tacked on for possession of a homemade knife. After more fights with other prisoners and guards, and incidents of self-mutilation, Berry’s minimum sentence stood at 64 years. If all went well — and, with Berry, it never did — he was due to be released in 2051.

A Texas prison spokesman, Jason Clark, confirmed to me in an email today that Berry died at the Bill Clements Unit in Amarillo, a prison that houses prisoners in solitary confinement or requiring mental health care. Clark wrote:

On March 27, 2016, Berry was found unresponsive in his cell. Staff began life saving measures as he was taken to unit medical. EMS arrived on scene and unit medical briefed them on the situation. A physician later arrived and pronounced the offender deceased at 8:37 pm. The preliminary cause of death was natural causes.

White was the first to let me know of Berry’s death, when I coincidentally reached out to say hi and to ask if she’s heard lately from Brown. Texas’ victim-notification policies had served their purpose, and she received a letter promptly giving her the news. Speaking of Berry, White wrote in an email, “His was a very sad life, to say the least.”

As for Brown, he has remained out of touch with White, which was how I ended the story when it was published last June. When I arranged a meeting between White and Brown, and for months afterward, Brown was doing all he could to fulfill his promise to White to live a law-abiding, productive life after his release from prison. I expect and hope that is still the case. No matter what, he’s done far more than his partner in crime to turn bad into good and to show that some lives can be redeemed.

For the rest of my series, go here.

Crime victims series recap: what besides retribution?

Whenever people confront a complex social problem, gut reactions might feel good and right, but they rarely provide true or long-lasting solutions. Few problems are as complex as crime. And so, when we think about crime victims, especially about victims of violence, our first reactions get it wrong so consistently that it’s remarkable we ever get anything about it right.

In the stories that I’ve told at Slate after a year’s work under a Soros Justice Media Fellowhip, I have tried to show that victims are not simply defined by their wound, nor can that wound be healed by lashing out blindly at those who harmed them — or encouraging them to find their only solace in such anger and simple retribution. These are natural emotions. Most of us have them, and no one should ever judge victims for grasping at punishment of their offender as their medicine. But we owe it to victims to understand them and their experience much more deeply than we do when we shed a tear, rage at the “senseless” crime that befell them, and then move on, secure in the belief that punishment is the primary response needed. And we must offer victims more options than just indulging their first reactions.

Though I have admitted doubts that my stories might change hearts and minds about the range of victims’ true experiences, I hope they did.  I plan to continue reporting on these topics. Please keep watching this blog and my social media feeds for updates on my work. Thanks for reading. And thanks to the hundreds of victims and experts whose time and writings informed my work; to Slate and my talented editor John Swansburg for helping me sharpen the telling of these stories and for giving them great exposure; and to my friends, colleagues, and benefactors at the Open Society Foundations for supporting criminal-justice journalism through the Soros Justice Fellowships.

Here are the highlights:

Archive of blog posts on the series in progress, outtakes from the stories, and summaries of the stories as they appeared.

The stories:

Part One: Linda White’s example of extreme forgiveness as the antidote to victim anger

Part Two: Bridges to Life and the victims who enter the belly of the beast to counsel prisoners

Part Three: Bill Otis, tough-on-crime’s last man standing, and the arguments that motivate federal criminal justice policy

Part Four: Susan Herman’s mission to change NYPD culture and serve victims from One Police Plaza

Part Five: Los Angeles’ dedicated cadre of victims who respond to crime by seeking to save others from it

Part Six: The promise and peril of restorative justice as an alternative to America’s punitive system

Introducing my Slate series

The series I have been blogging about here since starting work on it last year has finally begun to run at Slate today. Here is the series-starter. There’s no set schedule for when the remaining five stories in the series will appear, but Slate editors and I hope to get the remaining installments published in fairly short order. I’ll post on this blog when each story gets published. I’ll also post links on this page to each of the stories as they are published.

You can follow new posts on this blog by email or by following me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google Plus. See the links on the left of this page to sign up for any of those.

Slate also has done something new with my series: an email alert from Slate itself as the series progresses. Go the end of the story to sign up.

During the year in which my Soros Justice Media Fellowship funded my reporting on the series, I blogged here about the works in progress as well as the themes I was exploring in my reporting. If you’re new to this blog and curious about the series (and have ample time to kill), please dip into those posts for more background on where my work has taken me.

I hope the series prompts discussion. Slate‘s comments board and my Facebook page seem the easiest places for that to occur, but you can also post comments on this blog or on any of the other social media sites.

In another post, I tell some of the broader themes I’ll explore in the series.