I should not have been surprised to hear from Carrington Ash that his brother, Calvin, is still in prison. Unless I've missed something, not much has changed in the five years since I first met with the brothers at Calvin's longtime residence, the Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover, on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
At that time, Calvin Ash had been in prison for nearly 40 years for a murder he committed when he was 21. A Baltimore judge sentenced him to life in prison for fatally shooting the boyfriend of his estranged wife.
In 2004, some 32 years into his sentence, the Maryland Parole Commission approved Calvin Ash for release. But he went nowhere.
That's because his case did not get to the governor's desk until after Martin "No Parole" O'Malley took office in 2007. O'Malley opposed parole for all lifers and, after letting Calvin Ash's recommendation languish for some years, finally rejected it.
In Maryland, the governor has the power to do that.
We have parole commissioners who are paid to evaluate inmates. They measure their remorse for their crimes, review their psychological assessments, consider their age, their health, their behavior in prison and their plans for re-entry into society. The commission can approve an eligible inmate for release.
But the governor gets the final say.
O'Malley went five years before using his executive power to commute the sentence of a lifer. When he did, in 2012, he approved two inmates for release, but rejected 57 others. And he acted at that time only because the General Assembly forced his hand; it set a six-month deadline for the governor to reject or approve a parole recommendation. (If the governor does not act, the inmate is freed automatically.)
Last time I checked, Maryland was one of only three states that give their governor any say on parole.
Keeping politicians out of that process is wise. What's the point of having parole or a parole commission if a particular governor — say, one who aspires to higher office — can issue blanket rejections? And, for any state that offers parole, it's unethical to hold out the prospect of it, even for lifers, but close the door years later because of one man's political considerations.
Parris Glendening, who served two terms as Maryland governor from 1995 to 2003, declared "life means life" and established the hard line on parole that O'Malley continued.
But eight years after leaving office, Glendening rejected that approach, admitting that his position had more to do with politics than public safety.
In between those two Democrats was a Republican governor, Robert Ehrlich, who took a more open-minded approach and considered parole recommendations for lifers on a case-by-case basis. He released six life-term inmates during his four-year tenure.
Current Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, suggested during his campaign in 2014 that he would return to the Ehrlich approach on parole for lifers.
"We'd like to go back to the way it was done in the Ehrlich administration," Hogan told the Associated Press.
And that's why Carrington Ash contacted me about his brother.
"I remember hearing [Hogan] say during his election campaign that he was going to return to the parole procedures that used to be in effect before [Glendening] ended parole for lifers," he wrote in an email. "So I've been writing the governor about my brother's situation, being in for the past 44 years, and the previous governor denying parole for him without even reviewing or considering his recommendation, living up to Parris Glendening's 'life means life' slogan."
As Carrington Ash sees it, since his brother was approved for parole several years ago, but rejected by O'Malley, his case should be among the first reviewed by O'Malley's successor, Hogan.
"I've been hoping that my brother wasn't thrown to the end of the eligibility list because of Martin O'Malley," Carrington Ash wrote.
But that's apparently how the system works.
In a letter to Carrington Ash, Parole Commission Chairman David Blumberg wrote that Calvin Ash came up for parole again on May 1, 2015. The 65-year-old inmate awaits a final risk assessment.
"At the current time," Blumberg wrote, "there are still a number of inmates on the list ahead of Calvin and it would not be fair to the other inmates to expedite his case."
Hogan spokesman Matthew Clark said the governor's office is reviewing 16 parole or commutation requests and about 200 pardons. The governor will review each case, Clark said.
I hope the governor goes a step further and orders a review of cases rejected during previous administrations, specifically older inmates, such as Calvin Ash, who have already been approved for release but were denied freedom by the "life means life" governors. It would seem fair, after all this time, to give them some consideration.