Brian’s father Joe points out, “There have been two tragedies – Christopher’s death, and my son being sent to prison for a crime he did not commit.”
Brian has been in prison since his arrest in 1996. He has never used a smartphone, sent an email or used the internet.
When Brian was locked away, Amber was four years old. “How do you explain to a 4 year old that she suddenly can’t see her father,” asks Joe. For the first two years of his imprisonment Brian was in facilities that did not allow contact visits with loved ones. He could not hug his daughter for two years. Visits were through a glass partition. Brian’s mother, Joyce, brought Amber to visit him every weekend. She remembers how, while holding the phone to talk to each other, they played games like naming animals that start with each letter of the alphabet and 20-questions. They made the most of their time together, knowing that the alternative was for them not to see each other at all. Everyone was grateful to be able to see Brian. Joyce explained, “Everyone still had high hopes that this was just a mistake and that Brian would come home to us.” Brian’s mother recalls how Amber would often cry when the prison guards would yell that it was time to go. “She would put her little hand up to his through the pane of bullet proof glass separating them. They would both tug at their ear lobes. This was their secret sign to say, ‘I love you.’”
Eventually, Brian was transferred to a prison where there were contact visits. Joyce remembers their first contact visit. “Brian recoiled when I reached out my arms to hug him. He was obviously uncomfortable. I began to cry when I realized that this was the first family contact that he had in over two years.” Family and friends would visit Brian often, and weekly visits with Amber continued. She was now six years old. She had just started the first grade. Brian and his daughter could now color together in the visiting room and she could sit in his lap while he read children’s books to her. Still, when it was time to say goodbye Amber would cry as she tugged her little ear lobe.
Brian recalls that every December Amber would ask him if he would be home this year for Christmas. Brian would explain to her, “Everyone is trying really hard to bring daddy home.” Christmas would come and go. Then in June, Amber would ask him if he would be home this year for her birthday. Again, Brian would say, “We don’t know, but we hope so.” Years passed this way. Amber grew. Brian’s appeals were lost and hope began to fade. Brian’s sister, Brenda explained, “Nobody really remembers exactly when Amber stopped asking when her daddy was coming home.” Amber is now 22 years old, the same age Brian was when she was born.
Throughout his 18 years in prison Brian has suffered terrible family losses. A few months after he was arrested, Brian’s childhood friend, Will, died in a car accident. Weeks later Brian’s only sibling, Brenda, got married. Amber was the flower girl and it was a huge family celebration. In 2000, his cousin John passed away unexpectedly from a massive heart attack at the age of 35. Brian and John grew up together more like brothers than cousins. Six years later to the day his paternal grandparents died. His grandfather, AVÓ (pronounced vu-vu) died earlier in the day. Married 67 years, his grandmother, AVÔ (pronounced vo-vo) died hours later of a broken heart. Brian’s maternal grandfather passed away on Amber’s 16th birthday in 2007 and his maternal grandmother passed away six months later.
Brian still receives regular visits from his family, friends and loved ones. He has a wonderful support system. He has a girlfriend who has always had faith in Brian’s innocence. She strongly believes that with faith, hope and love, the truth will finally be heard and this terrible and tragic wrong will finally be corrected. Together with Brian’s family they are all working hard to bring him home.
Brian tries to stay positive and productive. In addition to working on his legal work he enjoys reading and playing the guitar for the prison’s church choir. Of course, his work with the NEADS program is most fulfilling.
Many times Brian has expressed tremendous regret for some of the decisions he made 18 years ago. He explains, “It was my bad decisions that put me in the situation that this could have happened.” He feels tremendous responsibility for not being more attentive to what was going on in his house. He feels that if he had been more aware, perhaps he could have prevented Christopher’s death. “Instead of being worried that she may lose her children, I should have been more concerned for their safety.”
He also carries incredible guilt at how his bad life decisions caused his daughter to grow up without a father and to live with the stigma of having a father convicted of a horrific crime. “Amber has had a very tough life because of me,” Brian admits. He is very aware of the pain and suffering his family endured, simply because they love him. Brian knows that there have been several victims of this tragedy and that everyone involved is still carrying deep wounds. “This has been a nightmare for many people. Many have suffered, and continue to suffer. Every day I have been in prison has been a struggle. I struggle between the side of me that is so very thankful for all that I have, and the side of me that mourns all that has been lost. It all depends on who wins that day.”