The Reformation of Jamie Meade

Praying he won’t die behind bars, Jamie Meade is making the case for his release from the Michigan prison system.

In that effort, he has the unwavering support of family and friends.  Also advocating on his behalf are a pastor who leads the church he belongs to, and a university professor who watched him get a bachelor’s degree while serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Even the judge who handed down that sentence says Mr. Meade should be set free.

In a 2020 letter to the Michigan Parole Board, the judge, now retired, wrote that mandatory sentencing laws compelled her to send Mr. Meade behind bars for life even though he was just 19 when participating in a robbery that ended in murder. As Mr. Meade endures his 28th year of incarceration, the person who actually fired the fatal shots has been out of prison for more than 12 years.

“If I were sentencing today, had discretion, and was not bound by the mandatory sentence, I probably would have sentenced him to no more than his co-defendant… and Mr. Meade would have walked out of prison 15 years ago,” wrote the judge, who added that she’d never before written the Parole Board to advocate for an inmate’s release.

That was before the Coronavirus began sweeping through Michigan’s prisons. As of mid-June, 239 inmates at the state’s Macomb Correctional Facility, where Mr. Meade is housed, have contracted COVID-19. He is one of them.

Five have died.

Mr. Meade has, so far, survived. But, like everyone else, he is unsure what might happen if he becomes re-exposed to COVID-19.

“This is a novel issue, a novel virus,” he says. “So, they are not sure about a lot of this stuff.”

He is correct.

As NPR recently reported: “Most people infected with the novel Coronavirus develop antibodies in response. But scientists don't know whether people who have been exposed to the Coronavirus will be immune for life, as is usually the case for the measles, or if the disease will return again and again, like the common cold.”

That uncertainty adds urgency to what was already an intense effort on the part of many people to help Mr. Meade gain his freedom. His support, in part, stems from all he has accomplished while imprisoned.

Now 47, he has earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in interdisciplinary studies from Adams State University. He is currently pursuing an MBA from Adams and a Master of Divinity from the Chicago Theological Seminary. His hope is to become an ordained minister.

Trying to help him reach that goal as a free man is Deborah Conrad, pastor of the Flint church Mr. Meade joined last year.

“I have never heard Jamie place blame beyond himself for his incarceration, never known him not to take full responsibility,” Ms. Conrad wrote to the Parole Board. “I am inspired myself by Jamie’s energy and personal investment in a better future, and hope this Board can see its way to commute his sentence and let him live into the future he has been building.

“As often as prison fails, Jamie is perhaps the model of what we hope it can accomplish; he has grown into a man I would be pleased to have as a neighbor and colleague. I thank you for your consideration, as I, with Jamie and others, await word of your grace and mercy."