Pearls in Prison

My sisters, Sheridan, Michele and Kristin, have passed on my mother’s pearls to me.  I wear them when I feel I need extra love and energy. I wore them to the parole hearing on July 26, 2012.

The parole hearing brought up a lot of feelings, thoughts and memories we have not touched for some time.  I realized with help from my dear friend Jaimee Karroll, that when Christopher was murdered I was in shock, traumatized and numb.  Sixteen years later I am not numb and it has been very hard.  The consequences of Mark James Taylor murdering Christopher will continue.  There will be another parole hearing.  There will be another after that.

I had trouble sleeping for the first time in my life the week before the hearing.  I wanted this hearing to be over!  I wanted my life back without this parole hearing looming.  It was a close as I have ever been to dull and lethargic.

My daughter and my dear friend Lori Rice drove the long drive down the day before.  It is a four-hour drive and we needed to be at Avenal State Prison at 8:00 AM for the hearing the next morning.

The Deputy District Attorney had dinner with us the night before, to go over the structure of the hearing and to answer any questions we had.  I am sure this made us all sleep better.  We felt we were in very capable hands and she had the experience we didn’t.

We were escorted into Avenal State Prison.  There is a small waiting room with chairs where we waited and then we were called into the hearing room by a correctional officer.

The hearing room consists of four large banquet tables put together to form a square.  The commissioners sat on one long side, away from the entrance door; my district attorney and I sat on the far end, with Christina and Lorie behind us; and on the other long side, sat Mark James Taylor and his attorney.  Two correctional officers sat on each end of Mark James Taylor’s side.  One officer sat by Mark and one officer by his attorney.  Near the commissioners was a large recording device.  Everything said during a parole hearing is recorded for the record.

The commissioners opened the hearing by saying why we were there – parole hearing, who was in the room, date and time (July 26, 2012).  Then they proceeded to go through the charges against Mark James Taylor (second degree murder with a gun enhancement), how long he has been in prison (15 years) and details of the crime:  Mark James Taylor shot Christopher Robin Hotchkiss, in the apartment they shared at school, four times at a close range after an argument about dishes in the proper cabinet.

When Mark was asked specific questions about why he shot Christopher instead of calling 911 or locking his bedroom door if he was frightened by Christopher’s challenge, he did not have a response.  Mark James Taylor is 6’2 and 260 pounds; Christopher was 5’4 and 135 pounds – anyone can do the math.

After this, we took a 20 minute break. This was early in the hearing and we were anxious to reconvene and continue.  I wanted this to be over.

Then the commissioners went over what Mark James Taylor has been doing in prison.  What jobs he has had.  What kind of vocational training he has done.  The self-help classes (prison lingo – programming), of which he has had none; positive write ups (yes) and bad write ups he has gathered (yes – two violent and two non-violent).

Next, the commissioners discussed his parole plans.  He stated that he planned to live with his mother and sister and go back to landscaping for work. After listening to his plans, the commissioners questioned Mark James Taylor about the suitability of returning to live with his mother, who had written a letter stating the she felt her son had been wrongly convicted and she had no faith in the system.

Mark James Taylor’s attorney then spoke and stated that he felt Mark is suitable for parole because he had not been in trouble with the law before – not even a driving violation.

My district attorney did an amazing job of going through all the reasons Mark is not suitable. Violence while incarcerated, lack of remorse, his statement that he felt “he had the right” to defend himself in his own home and lack of any self-help programs, even when it had been recommended in 2004.  Mark also stated that “I am the same person now as when he arrived in prison.”

After the district attorney spoke, I gave my statement and showed pictures of Christopher growing up—mainly his school pictures through the years, and the photo of him proudly holding a large fish he hadn’t actually caught.  Then, Christina and I switched seats and she gave her statement.  To read:

Once Christina had finished, we took a break in the hearing so the commissioners could come to a conclusion.  During this time, Christina, Lori and I waited in the ante-room discussing the proceedings so far.  We all agreed that things didn’t look too good for Mark James Taylor and that he’d probably receive a five-year parole denial.

When we reconvened, the head commissioner announced: “We have reviewed all the testimony presented today and materials provided, and have come to the conclusion that you will have a seven-year parole denial.”

Mark James Taylor didn’t blink.  Then they recommended that he stay out of trouble and enroll in self-help classes.

We felt relieved at the outcome, but no one was happy.

Once the hearing concluded, Christina, Lorie and I were escorted out of the prison.  Our district attorney had another case so she stayed.

The first thing I did was get my cellphone and call Gary, who was on the tarmac at SFO Airport waiting to go to London for the Olympics.  His plane was just about to take off and I REALLY needed him to know what happened and to also hear his voice. “We got seven years, even more than we thought” I announced.

After Gary and I spoke, we went out for lunch, all feeling emotionally drained and sad that the person who killed my son was in the place he should be for the rest of his life because he will not look in a mirror and take responsibility.


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7 Responses to Pearls in Prison

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