My Son Has Been In Prison For 30 Years. Parole Reform Could Bring Him Home.

My son Aron Knall has served 30 years of a 40- to 60-year sentence in Michigan. He’s in prison because he committed a dreadful crime when he was 15 years old. He murdered a man.

When I think about what he did and the time he’s spent in prison because of it, it makes me feel like I failed him as a mother. He tells me not to feel that way. He says he committed the crime, and now he’s doing his time. He was 16 when he went to prison. His time behind bars has stretched into decades, and it’s consuming his entire life.

Despite his decades in prison and good behavior, he’s not yet eligible for parole under our current system. And I worry that when he is eligible, they’ll just deny him. Aron’s served so much time and changed so much.

If parole isn’t for him, then parole has to change.

Read the Report on Parole: False Hope

When Aron was growing up, Saturday was little league football day. We were at the games from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and it was always an exciting day. Aron was the quarterback and played his position well. His team made the championship playoffs several times. He says his sister taught him how to throw a football . Looking back over Aron's childhood, he was full of humor, always teasing his siblings. They were close.

Unfortunately, Aron didn’t have that closeness with his father. He deeply wanted to be part of his father's life, but his father was absent. He felt deep rejection when he couldn’t connect with his father.

In his attempts to gain attention afterward, I saw his character change. Aron went from a B-student to one who skipped class entirely. He started hanging with the rough crowd. He would run away from home when he felt like it. I started to ask for help with Aron from the authorities only to be told over and over again, "Nothing can be done unless a crime is committed."

Aron eventually committed that crime, and now something else can’t be done: We can’t bring him home.

Every member of our family has struggled with the pain of his being away. We each dealt with it in our own way. After graduating from college, his sister married and relocated out of state. It took her almost a decade to forgive Aron. His oldest brother also relocated with his family, but due to ill health now cannot visit Aron. His youngest brother was only nine at the time and could not comprehend what was occurring. As he grew older, Aron and he had what you may call a man-to-man talk about why Aron had to go to prison. Since then they’ve reconnected as brothers.

During his three decades behind bars, Aron has done so much to make me proud. We’ve talked about how we all feel his victim’s pain as well as our own. He’s shown so much remorse, so much understanding, and so much maturity. It’s like they say in the Bible, “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”  

Aron decided to take steps to become new, to better himself. He enrolled in GED courses and got his degree. I recall the prison cap and gown ceremony when he walked in, proudly took his seat and waited for his name to be called. My heart jumped for joy.

Since then, Aron has gotten certificates of completion from Wayne County Community College, Grand Valley State University Inside-Out Prison Exchange, National Center for Construction Education, and Plans and Goals for the Future. The most rewarding event for him was being chosen as a youth facilitator for younger prisoners. Aron grew up in prison, and he wanted to help other kids who had to go through the same thing. Kids who had to grow up separated from their families, in a strange and sometimes dangerous place. He wanted to open their minds, and their hearts. 

During the decades my son has been in prison, I’ve learned that even though people say parole is possible, the system is set up so that he can’t even get a fair chance at being released. Parole boards seem to be content to let anyone who’s in prison just stay there. Even the prison officials who do see what he has done and how much he has changed can’t do much to help him when it comes to getting a a chance at release through parole. In our country, the parole process is hidden; it’s unfair; and it needs to change. And not just for my son, but for the thousands of other people living behind bars who have stories like his.

Let’s make second chances real for prisoners who have served lengthy sentences for crimes they committed when they were young. People applying for parole should have their entire history reviewed before parole decisions are made. It doesn’t help anyone to just slam the book on their lives. I don’t want the book slammed on Aron’s life. He’s become a man who deserves to have that book opened.

Each year I think I’m all cried out. But at times when I leave from visiting Aron, I still shed some tears. I cry, but I still have hope. I hope that one day driving to prison to visit my son will not be part of my life. I hope one day I’ll be driving there to finally bring him home. 

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Anonymous

Of course, his victim has no second chance.
Sorry, your son committed murder, he has to pay the price. He can never pay restitution for what he did. His victim will always be dead. He will always be a murder. Nothing can every change that.

Anonymous

The circumstances behind the murder are left unclear, I think it harsh to completely dismiss the message without more knowledge of what happened. I do understand though, he was convicted at a developing age, influenced into something awful, and for a few decades to have to constantly pay for it and not being given another chance at life is rather depressing.

Anonymous

The purpose of incarceration is not restitution. It is rehabilitation and in certain cases to protect the public from dangerous individuals. To compound the tragedy of losing one life by needlessly wasting the life of another makes no sense. It is also not the practice in many western democracies where murder sentences are usually much shorter than in the US.

Anonymous

No your wrong he will not always be a Murderer. That is an ignorant statement. You are not always going to be the worst thing you ever did in your life. Whether your a lier, cheater, drug addict, alcoholic, or Murderer you Can Change and become someone else. Always remember that.

Anonymous

His victim will always be dead. Therefore regardless as to how much 'rehabilitation' he has, he can never make up for what he did. And paying restitution has always been a factor for getting out of prison early. He will always be a murder because his victim will always be dead. Nothing will ever change that. Furthermore, a person can not change his or her basic nature.
Finally, I do not care what goes on in other countries. If they want their murders to go free, that is their business.

Anonymous

Are you brain dead?

Annie

I hope with the ACLU helping you out you will get some relief for Aron. Redemption is possible for anyone and he has worked hard to earn it. The only people who should be locked up forever are those who are unstable, unrepentant and dangerous. He is none of those. I wish you all the best.

Karen

I don't know how you feel but I can certainly understand how painful this must be for you and your family. It is remarkable to hear about the progress your son has made in such dire circumstances. I hope with the help of the ACLU you can one day soon bring your son home. I know they do wonderful work in helping people get a second chance. With kindest of regards, Karen

Anonymous

Yes. He sounds like he is no danger to society and has paid a large price for his crime. It is time to recover his life - we should not compound the tragic loss of one life with another. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Anonymous

Kids should not recieve the same punishment as adults. Our criminal justice system is just about the worst in the world, and yet, we still have some of the highest crime. Can you really believe one thing has nothing to do with the other.

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