Hard Time: Reflections on Visiting Federal Inmates

By Bennett, Mark W. | Judicature, May/June 2011 | Go to article overview

Hard Time: Reflections on Visiting Federal Inmates


Bennett, Mark W., Judicature


A federal judge meets with those he sentenced.

I was standing two feet away looking the killer straight into his eyes. I last saw htm 10 years ago. Then, his 19-year-old eyes were steely, his gaze piercing, emotionless. Was he really involved in the brutal gang execution of a 15-year-old boy kidnapped from a small Iowa town and shot in the head while ori his knees pleading for his life in the dark basement of an abandoned Southern Minnesota farmhouse? After a three-week trial, a federal jury said yes. He was given a mandatory life sentence. In federal court that means you almost certainly die in one of 115 federal prisons run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) . I know this- I was the judge.

His eyes were much softer now and he smiled at me with surprising warmth - like greeting an old friend. He was shy and unassuming and more slight of build than I had recalled. He still looked like a teenager- - I thought, does he even shave yet? Why was I here at a federal prison in the middle of the woods of Wisconsin seated next to him having this one-on-one conversation?

I had sentenced nearly 2000 folks to federal prison in the intervening decade-virtually all the names and faces have faded from memory. Many are coming back to me now as I criss-cross the nation visiting inmates I have sentenced. We had a very personal conversation about his life in prison. As I was getting up to leave his eyes welled with tears. He asked in a whisper, "Will I ever be able to go home?" I tensed up knowing the answer. "No," I said. "Your only possibility is a Presidential pardon and on the facts of your case I do not believe that would ever happen."

As the words were floating from my mouth it seemed like time had slowed and this was happening in slow motion. I realized how harsh this must seem to him. Was I too brutally honest? I did not want to create any false hope - but removing all hope - how wise is this? He was so young. His actions more than a decade ago were drug crazed and fueled by his meth addiction - but a Presidential pardon? I asked if he had learned about the procedure for a pardon and if he had anyone who could help him. He said no. I had long ago finished my involvement with his case so I volunteered to find a law school legal clinic or pro bono lawyer to help him. It was an extreme long shot but it was also a matter of hope.

For a lawyer, being appointed a United States district court judge is considered by many as the best legal job in America, As one of 678 in the United States, I conduct civil and criminal jury trials in federal courts. If you like courtroom action and the unfolding of human drama that is often stranger than fiction, this position is terrific.

I have always had a hard time with sentencings. It is an awesome responsibility to take one's liberty away. Even though I have sent more than 2500 people to federal prison, it is no easy task for me. Early in my judicial career, a much more experienced federal judge mentor told me about the emotional drain of sentencing: "Don't worry, Mark, it will soon get much easier" he advised. Out of respect for my mentor, I remained silent but my self-talk said to me: "If this ever is easy either shoot nie or 1 should resign immediately." Neither has happened.

Visiting inmates

In 2009, I visited 10 BOP facilities to meet with more than 200 inmates I had personally sentenced. I am in my 17th year as a United States district court judge in the Northern District of Iowa - a district that, surprisingly, had the 5th heaviest criminal caseload per judge among the nation's 94 distinct courts last year.

At each prison visit I am privileged to meet with the warden. I always ask, among my many questions, if they have ever had a federal judge come to meet with inmates they have sentenced. The answer is always the same - no. One of the major reasons for writing this article is to encourage other judges to try this.

I have been visiting inmates I have sentenced for over seven years. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Hard Time: Reflections on Visiting Federal Inmates
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.