For victims, a prison of the heart

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By Hannah Hayes

Victims have a champion in Evergreen resident Ann Jaramillo. Inspired by personal tragedy in 1989, Ann has helped pave the way to victim rights for the five out of six people predicted to be involved in a violent crime.

Ann’s chilling experience 20 years ago is never far from her mind and is even more in the fore as her daughter Valerie’s savage murderer makes his was through our troubled prison system. The threat of a halfway-house application being approved (he can submit five in a six-month period) or his first parole hearing this March present even more personal challenges. This is a pivotal time in the case, one that it seems can never be truly “settled.” Clearly, Ann wants the perpetrator to serve his full 48-year sentence while the overloaded system pushes this inmate out of jail.

Ann is not a person given to melancholy or inaction. She has implemented legislation here in Colorado and influenced 12 other states to pass rights for victims. Her extensive interviews with close to 200 who have experienced crime firsthand have been distributed nationally to law enforcement and district attorneys. She would like to see what has become the norm for victims in 40 states expanded to cover the country.

Through grants, boards and volunteer work, Jaramillo helped create a useful handbook for victims, so she knows what to expect at the parole hearing. To face Valerie’s murderer again will take courage.

“You don’t carry a baby for nine months, live with her for 29 years, and then ‘get over it’ when she’s gone,” she said.

Jaramillo’s conversations with Valerie have been reduced to standing over a gravesite, and what can a mother say to the daughter she loves when faced with a stone cemetery marker?

The effects of crime on victims and their families led Ann to spend five years speaking to inmates. Rights of victims and witnesses are guaranteed under the state of Colorado’s Victim Rights Act. Still, Valerie’s family has been haunted by the circumstances of her death, and the agony of the plea bargain they had to make during the trial continues to cause resentments.

The unrepentant, career criminal has served almost half of his sentence but has never shown remorse. What is the public to think of a system that might let him go free while his victims cannot shed the walls of their imprisonment? The human spirit may be granted freedom when justice has been served. Parole from the prison of the heart then might come somewhat more easily.

Hannah B. Hayes is a former Both Sides Now debate columnist, small-business owner and peace activist. She has been a part of the Evergreen community for more than 35 years.