By Dale Buchanan
Stepping out of the pews this week is Mary Wall. I am sure that you will recognize Mary who has served as the spokesperson for the Stewardship and Sustainable Growth Committee the last several weeks. Asking for money from the church family is always a delicate proposition and money pleas are not one of my favorite things about church life. The gentle attitude and gracious spirit that Mary used to present the committee’s program disarmed even this old curmudgeon. 😊
From the beginning Mary has been on my list. After observing her work from the lectern these past weeks, I sent Gayle to convince her. And it worked. 😊 Instead interrupting her lunch during fellowship time, Gayle sent an email and a positive response came back almost immediately. Mary and Gayle arranged the time and place and the three of us spent a delightful Saturday morning gathering material for this condensed autobiographical sketch.
“Dale charged me with telling my story along with a threat that he would use what he calls “poetic license” to fill in any blanks I might leave in my narrative. I see Gayle making notes and I feel certain that everything will be on the up and up.
I met Peter in law school. He was a night student and I had day classes. The common denominator the first year was reading each other’s blogs. The second year we shared some of the same classes but had different study partners. Both shy and introverted, the last year of our three-year program found us study partners and best friends. I found him to be hilarious, witty, a fast typist, a fast thinker, and he was our class valedictorian. I liked him! We graduated law school in May of 2008, studied for the bar exam together, and both passed it in November of the same year. We were married in October 2009, and we have just celebrated our 10th anniversary.
My passion is law, and I have served it in one form or another my whole career. From the very beginning I have felt a strong sense of justice. During my law student days, I served in the District Attorney’s office. I began my profession as a deputy prosecutor enthusiastically pursuing the bad guys. I was fixated on delivering justice. Like the person with the proverbial bee in her bonnet, I pursued justice. While my enthusiasm for justice remained, after ten years the office politics and drama were beginning to wear on me. The competition for convictions seemed to outweigh the search for fairness and equality. This sense of discontent led me not away from the law but to a different place to serve my passion for justice.
I serve today as a Parole Board Commissioner appointed by the governor. There are seventeen of us who serve state prisons from one end of the state to the other. Each of us works with a Deputy Commissioner, and we may be called to any prison in the state, although my partner and I are most likely to be found in the Central Valley between Galt and Tehachapi. I love what I do. The best way to explain my affinity is to contrast the prosecutor with the parole commissioner. The prosecutor’s job is to prove guilt and lock you up. My job as a commissioner is to determine a potential parolee’s risk to society and grant or deny parole.
There are several steps required before we grant or deny parole. The first part of the process is the prep work. This includes such mundane tasks as setting up hotel reservations to the complexities of reading the inmates file which could include up to a thousand pages. There is a psychologist report to digest and incarceration histories to consider before the actual hearing.
At the scheduled hour we gather in a conference room. Typically present will be the inmate and his attorney, the prosecuting D.A., the commissioner, the deputy commissioner, and next of kin to the victims. Everyone in the room has an argument to present, a stake in the decision that I will ultimately make. My task is to be a good listener, to carefully discern each speaker’s motives, and to determine if I am hearing the truth. Because, after all is said and done, I am charged with assessing the risk to society if the inmate is released back into the civilian population. The courts have mandated that the prison population be reduced, but this is to be accomplished only by releasing the right people. My job is to protect the public and that feels like justice; and my job is to release the right inmates and that feels like justice.
I guess my story would not be complete without mentioning that Peter and I are infected with the travel bug. I caught it from my love of English history and watching jousting on TV. Peter was interested in seeing a famous cathedral in Barcelona. These two destinations only increased our itch, and a year later found us on another tour visiting castles and Roman ruins. Then on our recent 10th anniversary, we celebrated on the California coast in a cottage just south of Carmel and took in the unparalleled beauty of the Pacific shore. Next year, a guided tour that follows the steps of Paul on his mission around Turkey is on the agenda. Our bucket list also includes Greece, Scotland, and Egypt.
Peter was raised a Mennonite, and I was Roman Catholic. Four years ago, we attended a Christmas concert at Big Red and were so impressed that we decided to attend the Christmas Eve candlelight service. That January found us in regular worship and every Sunday since then.”