Former Episcopal bishop Heather Cook’s criminal case file indicates she has been active in prison programs while serving a nearly three years of her original seven-year sentence for fatally striking bicyclist Tom Palermo with her car while drunk.
Her participation has earned her enough credits that her sentence has been shortened by more than three years; she is scheduled to be released Aug. 6 of next year and could be freed next month if her most recent request to the court is approved.
Alisa Rock, a sister of Palermo’s wife, Rachel, said in an email to The Baltimore Sun that she “vehemently” opposes Cook’s application.
“Each of Cook’s attempts to reduce her sentence traumatizes my sister and her family anew,” she said.
Some of Cook’s activities at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup, according to the case file:
» Cook has attended weekly prison-wide Alcoholics Anonymous meetings throughout her incarceration and now leads those meetings; she also collaborated with others, and now leads, a second weekly meeting that convenes in her building.
» She’s involved in extensive one-on-one counseling with Dr. Daniel Marshall, director of treatment programs for the Jessup prisons. According to her motion to Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy Doory, she “has learned to open up even more about her heartfelt remorse and regret.”
» Cook was asked by the prison warden to organize a special AA event and came up with “Sober October: Choose Life,” a one-day symposium that featured outside speakers on recovery.
» Cook is a columnist for the newsletter and regularly writes about addiction recovery. One piece focused on “the intersection of shame and addiction;” in another, Cook wrote that substance abusers must learn that “addiction … isn’t just a challenge to be surmounted by iron will-power or trying harder; it’s a disease, and “surrendering to the reality that we have a disease is the first step.”
» In another column, Cook wrote: “One of the most important things I have learned during my time [in prison] is that the only thing I can control is how I respond to what life throws at me.”
» She took two courses centering on the impact of crime on its victims. One required Cook to write a letter to Rachel Palermo, wife of Tom Palermo, the man she killed in the drunk-driving accident.
» In a letter recommending sentence modification, inmate Anne Kirsch said she has “seen Heather’s anguish about what happened, her commitment to her recovery and her desire to give back by helping others recover.” Kirsch is serving a 30-year sentence for manslaughter in the death of her infant son and has acknowledged she was addicted to heroin when she was pregnant with the boy.
» Cook has taken courses on the Bible and on transitioning successfully back into society.