Over the last 43 years, I have written thousands of columns and stories for The Baltimore Sun. Hard as it is to remember the subjects of all those pieces — and exactly when I wrote them — I like to think I have a pretty good memory.
But, when I looked it up the other day, the date of my first column on Calvin Ash took me by surprise. I thought it was four or five years ago. It was closer to eight.
It was in November 2011 when I met Ash in the visitor’s room of a Maryland prison. At the time, he was 61 years old and serving a life sentence for a crime of passion — he had shot and killed his estranged wife’s boyfriend. Ash was 21 years old at the time.
Now, more than seven years after I first reported on his situation, Ash is still incarcerated for that crime. At 68, he’s one of Maryland’s longest-serving inmates. He has been in prison for 47 years.
What’s more, he was approved for parole 15 years ago, yet he’s still waiting for a Maryland governor to commute his sentence so that he can be released.
Let me recap what happened, quoting from my 2011 column:
“In 2004, the Maryland Parole Commission considered and approved Mr. Ash for release. But, in Maryland, the governor can reject the commission's recommendations and, unfortunately for Mr. Ash, his case did not reach the governor's desk until after Martin O'Malley had been elected, in 2006. Mr. O'Malley opposes all parole for lifers. He took another five years to act on Mr. Ash's case. When he did, he rejected it.”
So, I considered Ash a political prisoner — not in the conventional sense of that term, but in this one: His incarceration continued because of O’Malley’s opposition to parole and because of his political aspirations. O’Malley was in his second term in Annapolis and eventually ran for president in 2016. He was a tough-on-crime Democrat who had no interest in signing off on the release of convicted murderers and rapists, no matter how old they were or how long they had served. O’Malley’s rejection of Calvin Ash’s release meant the parole commission could not consider Ash’s case again until at least 2014.
I found all this stunning and believed then, as I do now, that the Maryland governor has too much power over parole.
Around the time I visited Calvin Ash, the General Assembly changed state law to keep a governor from sitting on parole recommendations indefinitely. A governor must now reject them within 180 days or parole takes effect automatically. Maryland is one of the few states in the country that allows politicians to get their fingers on this process.
It was Carrington Ash, Calvin’s brother, who alerted me to the matter in 2011. We drove together to the Eastern Correctional Institution, near Salisbury, to visit Calvin. Carrington Ash was a retired postal carrier, gifted Gospel composer-singer and pastor of a small Baptist congregation. He worried about his brother, believed he had been sufficiently punished for his crime, and hoped that O’Malley’s successor, Larry Hogan, would commute his brother’s sentence. But he never got to see Calvin come home. Carrington Ash died in October 2017.
The youngest Ash brother, Julian, reported that news, then asked if I had heard anything more about Calvin’s case. Of course, I had not. Even when they parole inmates, governors do not make splashy announcements. Nor does the parole commission when it sends a recommendation to Annapolis. You have to inquire about a case, and I had not done so in a while.
Last week, Julian Ash, who resides in Oklahoma, drove to the prison in Hagerstown to visit his brother.
“He’s holding up,” Julian said afterward. “He told me he went before the parole board in 2015, so we’re confused why he hasn’t been released.”
Julian Ash says a state official contacted him last summer to ask about his brother’s re-entry. Did he have a place to stay when he gets out? “Yes, he does — my mother’s house in Baltimore,” Julian said. “Carrington was living there. It was left to me, and now it’s empty.”
The house, in Wilson Park, is where Calvin Ash would live — if he ever gets out of prison.
Apparently, Hogan has Calvin Ash under consideration for a commutation, something that needs to take place before he can be released. “This matter is currently under review,” Amelia Chasse, a Hogan spokeswoman, said in an email earlier this month. “The governor expects to make a determination in the near future.”
Hogan, in office four-plus years now, has commuted the sentences of at least four lifers already. It’s hard to understand why a 68-year-old inmate, approved for parole some 15 years ago, is still waiting in line — especially when it’s clear why an earlier governor kept him locked up. The state should release Calvin Ash as soon as possible.