Associate Director Elizabeth Simpson represented Emancipate NC client Sandy Dowell Marriner in her bid to marry her long-term partner, Amanda Marriner, in 2019, and in her attempts to secure release from a life sentence during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-2021. She was released on parole in March 2021.

The photo depicts Elizabeth and Sandy on the front porch of the house she now lives in in Durham, North Carolina. This is a letter from Sandy to the North Carolina Post-Release and Parole Commission. 

Dear NC Post Release and Parole Commissioners,

Hello! I hope this letter reaches you and finds you doing well. I am sure you do not get many letters from ex-offenders thanking you for taking a leap of faith and giving them a second chance but I’d like you all to know you made the right decision in granting me parole. I was released on March 8, 2021 and I started a temporary job on March 15th with Measurement Incorporated (MI), here in Durham, NC. I stayed with that job until it ran out, it was temporary. I started another job with The Reserves Network (TRN) driving a stand up reach forklift for the Food Lion Distribution Center in Butner, NC. My MI job ended on a Thursday and I started TRN the very next day on Friday.

I have gone to the beach twice with my family, something I never thought I’d be able to ever do again. I go to church and see my church family and friends at Durham Church whenever I am not at work on Sundays.

I don’t drink or do drugs and to be honest, I’m not even tempted. I spent so much time in prison and so many people lost so much because of my alcohol and drug consumption that I don’t feel like that’s an area I’ll ever revisit. It was too costly. I have 21 years of sobriety that I’m very proud of and I have been to restaurants where people are drinking and I’m not tempted. To each their own, it’s just not for me at all. I’m grateful to God for the changes He has made in me.

I have a whole neighborhood and church full of support. I live here in Durham. My housemates trust me with their lives and those of their 3 children, that is the best feeling to know that people trust you and believe in you.  

I still begin and end my day with prayer. I feel so blessed to be living the life I am living. I tell everyone that I am a walking miracle.

I hope you see how much of a difference your decision has made in my life. Before you decided to grant me parole, I was sitting inside prison waiting to die. Even hoping for it at times. Then you took a chance and paroled me and a whole great big world opened up with tons of new people, new experiences, new technology (cell phones, laptops, streaming) for me to discover. Everything has changed so much. It is great and exciting! So much to discover. I feel like a kid again.

Prison was good for me for the first 20 or so years. It helped me to become a better person, made me wise beyond my years and educated me to the world and the diversity there is. After so long with a life sentence, as the laws change it stops being good for you. It begins to bitter that part of you that yearns to be better. It deadens the part of you that realizes I need to change this or I don’t want to become like that. We become damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Drugs are a very common thing in prisons as I’m sure you know. 

 Y’all gave me a glimmer of hope. You allowed me to have a second chance. Not like 4, 5, or 6 but just 1 chance. A second chance to live life, to be productive, and make a difference if only to just one person. I’m making a difference. I thank you and hope you’ll consider more old law and new law lifers.