I took this photograph of Calvin Ash (on the right) and his new friend Kurt Wenzing a little more than a year ago. It’s one of my favorite photographs. The two men were seated on the front porch of Calvin’s late mother’s home in Wilson Park, and Kurt had been helping Calvin fix the place up, out of the goodness of his heart. Kurt had been moved by Calvin’s story, as I had, and wanted to help him get settled in his new/old life in Baltimore.
Calvin was 21 when he killed his estranged wife’s boyfriend in 1972. He went to prison for his crime — and spent 47 years behind the walls. That was 15 years longer than the Maryland Parole Commission said he should have been there. He was a model prisoner, remorseful and no longer a threat to anyone, the commision said in recommending Calvin for parole in 2004.
But Calvin did not get out until 2019. That’s because the Maryland governor could reject or ignore a parole recommendation for anyone serving a life sentence. There were only three states that allowed an elected official — a governor, a politician — to overrule the commissioners who evaluate inmates and conduct parole hearings.
I’ve been to six of these hearings over the years. I have heard inmates try to make their case and I have heard the kin of victims argue against their release. The commission is a deliberative body; its members are appointed by governors to six-year terms. The chairman is the long-serving David Blumberg, a Baltimore Republican of solid integrity. For years, governors have rejected the parole commission’s recommendations, the results being similar to the Calvin Ash case — older inmates serving for many years past the time the commission said they were ready for release.
That is going to change now. You can read about it in my latest column on the subject: Despite the present governor’s expected veto, future Maryland governors will no longer be part of the parole process.
The legislation that made this happen came from Democrats: Sen. Delores Kelley, Sen. Jill Carter, Sen. William Smith, Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher.
The change in the law comes too late for Calvin Ash, of course. When I asked him about it yesterday, he was pleased to hear the news and expected, as I do, that the legislators will override Governor Hogan’s anticipated veto. “Better than never,” Calvin said. In these tragic cases, political considerations will no longer keep offenders who have paid their dues behind bars longer than the law requires and longer than the parole commission determines necessary and fair.