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Florida Commission of Offender Review: Free My Nonviolent Husband Mark DeFriest after 35.5 Years in Prison

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Honorable Commissioners

With all my heart, I pray that you will see the wisdom in finally granting my nonviolent and aging inmate-husband his freedom by paroling him from the Florida prison system. Thus far, the Parole Commission has repeatedly added additional years to his original parole date - punishing him for non-violent misbehavior such as disobeying orders and possession of contraband. Today his projected parole release date is 2085, at which time he would be 127 years old!  So let’s understand how we got here, why he has misbehaved and work together for a more just outcome.

For over 35.5 years in prison, Mark has suffered inconceivable torment - from frequent beatings and repeated rapes to long-term solitary confinement. Yet, looking back to where it began, it was all preventable. From a very young age, Mark had an incredible mechanical gift, but struggled in relationships with people. He was not a ‘bad' kid; he was just a talented loner. At 19, after his beloved father died, Mark went to prison because of a dispute with his stepmother over tools his father had willed to him. Florida saw it as “Grand Larceny”, but to Mark it was unjust.

He made the mistake of acting on that feeling: Mark escaped seven times from four different institutions in less than two years, earning the name “Houdini” and the hatred of Florida officials. During this time, four out of five psychiatrists ruled Mark was ‘incompetent’ to be sentenced to prison. Something was clearly wrong, but when one psychiatrist said Mark was faking mental illness, a judge then allowed him to plead guilty. Mark has been in prison ever since. Parole eligible, but never paroled because of behavior related to… mental illness.

The once wild and talented kid is now a talented and long suffering man who, endures frequent mental and physical abuse in a system that cannot tolerate a free-spirited, nonconformist man's belief that he does not belong in prison. Mark has never been given a jury trial, and 27 YEARS of his 35.5-year prison time have been spent in Maximum Security ISOLATION. In effect he has been given a LIFE SENTENCE for a youthful, non-violent mistake and misbehavior related to his mental problems. No one should see any justice in this -- only unyielding punishment coming from a system that refuses to acknowledge a different approach.

Mark, who is now 54 years old, finally has hope in a facility that offers some rehab, so he is working hard to turn his own life around, for himself and for me, his wife. He is rebuilding and improving his talents in technical and mechanical pursuits, while still imprisoned. He is doing excellent work in a Computer class, has done equally well as a Porter, and is currently in a high-level Maintenance job. He has resided in a "God Pod," which is an Honor Pod. He previously earned his GED and, upon his release from prison, will update that and enroll in a Community College to earn his AAS degree in Computer Science.

Mark has never been a threat to anyone on the outside. He has Asperger’s Syndrome traits, but is emotional and caring in his own way. He is an intelligent and highly skilled worker capable of making a living on the outside. With help and support from the system and all of us on the outside, he can and will become a productive citizen once again.

Commissioners, please hear our message:  Mark has improved his behavior remarkably over the last 4 years, so please work with us to create a fair and humane pathway to freedom for Mark. There is simply no sensible reason to keep my husband incarcerated any longer.

Many others agree, as confirmed by their signatures on this petition. Therefore, I ask your heartfelt consideration in this matter, and sincerely thank you for your MERCIFUL decision in Mark's and my favor.

 (Mrs.) Bonnie DeFriest


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