A Tale of 2 friends: one lives free, the other is serving 30 years

Part 2 of 2 Volunteering with Amicus

Jerome Nunn

Post by Maureen Fischer,  MaureenInk Communications,  Twitter: @ MaureenFischer,  www.MaureenInk.com

Note:  Social Media Consultant Maureen Fischer contributed hundreds of hours of her time to Amicus in launching this blog and integrating it with our other social media.  Thanks Maureen! You’ve made “Inside Change” something we can all be proud of. You’re always an Amicus in our eyes!

Once a month on a Saturday morning, Tim Hereid heads to the state prison in Stillwater to visit Jerome Nunn.  Over the past year, the two have become good friends. The following interview describes Tim’s experiences as a One to One volunteer visiting Jerome, Jerome’s 30-year sentence and his leadership role within Stillwater.

Tim, 32, works as a tutor, handyman and grad student in education currently writing his thesis. Jerome, 34, organizes Stillwater’s athletic teams, teaches a class and is earning a BA in religious studies  while serving a 30-year sentence.

Why is Jerome in prison?

He’s in for murder. He’s just 34, and he’s been in prison since he was nineteen. He’s considered the possibility he may never get out. But it’s strange—he really has a spark of life in his eyes I don’t see in most people. He’s not happy to be in prison, of course. There’s a lot of  shit you deal with in prison, but he seems to be comfortable in his skin, his place in the world.

A mandatory minimum of 30 years—how does he deal with that?

I pretty much avoid conversations about work and a career once he’s out. We don’t know if “out” is even a possibility.  He has at least 15 more years to serve his sentence; that’s the mandatory minimum. Then the parole board says when you can be let out into society. So realistically, he’s looking at 20-25 more years.

Laws were passed in the mid 90s. During the Clinton era they were increasing sentences. I remember the 90s as tough on crime. Even in high school, I thought mandatory minimums were a little outrageous. There are still a lot of men and women serving these sentences. Murder’s not good, but in my in-expert opinion I think the guy’s fine to be out. It’s been fifteen years.

How does he pay for his university courses?

It’s usually pretty affordable—a couple hundred bucks. Though for somebody earning 25 cents an hour, it’s tough. Still, there’s not that much to spend money on in prison. And he can get some scholarships; different colleges have programs he can access. The hard thing is, the University is dropping its correspondence courses (inmates can not go online and use the Internet, so correspondence is the only option). A policy change needs to occur.

What have you learned about prison?

I feel there is racial tension between Native Americans, African Americans, whites and others. And there’s a group of people that are always the targets—sexual predators. Jerome abhors that bullying behavior. He doesn’t think it’s okay to harass somebody.  According to him, he’s been able to keep people from bullying some of these guys.

How do other prisoners treat him?

He’s quite well respected. He’s been there fifteen years, longer than most of the others. He’s not a huge guy, not physically imposing. His respect stems from his general attitude. He also organizes all the sporting events, the basketball, so it helps to be on his good side. He has some influence.

Is it noisy and difficult to talk, or is the visiting room pleasant?

It’s not noisy. It’s full of people talking, but the visiting room is one of the nicest areas in the prison. There’s carpet and wallpaper.  The only thing is the chairs are locked in position; you sit farther away from people than normal.  Jerome and I are sitting six feet apart, which is odd.  The most bizarre thing is you see people doing the video, the closed-caption visit—they’re in lockdown somewhere else in the facility and can’t visit anyone physically. It’s hard.

The possibility exists that Jerome may finally gain his freedom in 15 years at age 49. But only if the parole board judges him ready to re-enter society. Meanwhile, Tim continues his visits with an inmate and friend he finds as ambitious, intelligent and upstanding as anyone in the outside world.

Watch for a future post on Jerome’s restorative justice work at Stillwater.

Amicus needs volunteers.  Call 612-348-8570 or go to our website at www.amicususa.org.  If you volunteer now, please post a comment.