Here is the text of most components of Troy's Application for Commutation of Sentence as of 12/07.
In addition to the text below, there is also a table of contents, a letter from a supporter in Michigan offering practical housing and job assistance to Troy upon his release, examples of Troy's published writings, and last — but not least — your letters of support.
1. About Troy Chapman
Troy Chapman was 20 years old when he committed the crime for which he is incarcerated (second-degree murder), and he is not the same man today that he was then. At that time in his life he was, in his own words, "on an insane roller-coaster of addiction, violence, and despair," that had begun at a very early age. When he was 16,he committed armed robbery, and it was after he walked away from a state “halfway house” near the end of his sentence for this crime that he took Scott Chandler’s life in a bar-room brawl, and was convicted of second-degree murder.
After he killed Mr. Chandler, Troy set out on a mission to understand and change himself. In the more than two decades that have passed since then, he has adopted a "transformative mode of being," which consists of perpetual self-confrontation, daily introspection, and outreach and service to others. He has dealt with the causes of this crime at their root — within his own heart — and the results of this are obvious in his life. His exemplary behavior has had many positive results both within and outside of prison walls.
Troy is an accomplished writer whose works have been published in national magazines, been reprinted internationally, used in classrooms, and published in many smaller newsletters and journals. Starting in 2001, working with editor and friend Maryann Gorman, Troy turned his writing skills into a newsletter, Inspirit, which was published for dozens of subscribers for three years. Today, Troy continues this work by writing essays for his blog, Sacred Matters, which is maintained by Maryann Gorman. Through it, Troy continues to reach out to others with a message of hope and peace. He is determined to show others how to live with love and compassion as greater forces in their lives, and his writings are an expression of this determination.
Troy is a teacher. Having helped other prisoners learn English as a second language as part of a literacy project early in his incarceration, Troy went on to develop a spiritual dynamics class, a writer's workshop, and an ethics class for fellow inmates in the mid- to late-90s under the aegis of the Jaycees. Most recently, Troy has developed the framework for and teaches The Ethics Project at Kinross, a class that helps prisoners understand how to make ethical choices in their daily lives. The Project produced a seminar on practical ethics for other inmates in November 2006 and is ongoing.
Troy is an artist, musician and songwriter. He has written dozens of songs and plays many of them in church services and other ministries in the prison. He is the music leader for the 50- to 75-man church service at Kinross Correctional Facility. (See this package for a list of his many other accomplishments while in prison.)
Troy has changed drastically since his crime. He is one of the true success stories of our criminal justice system and has done everything we could hope someone sent to prison would do. He has taken, and continues to take, responsibility for his crime and has done everything within his power to change. Indeed, his entire reason for existence stems from his recognition that taking a life has required a life of service as a form of atonement. The question we as a society must answer is: Can we ever forgive him and allow him to return to free society? We believe that we should and we know that if we do Troy will be an asset and not a detriment to our world.
—Friends of Troy Chapman
2. APPLICATION FOR PARDON OR COMMUTATION OF SENTENCE
Troy Chapman #169076
Answers to Questions 3-6
3. Briefly describe the circumstances of the crime(s) for which you are requesting a pardon:
In November 1984, I walked away from a corrections center in Grand Rapids, where I was incarcerated for armed robbery. I was in a bar in Lincoln Lake when [PW], a man I had been drinking with, accused me of making a pass at his wife. We fought briefly, though not very effectively as we were both intoxicated. As we wrestled on the floor, Scott Chandler, an unofficial bouncer at the bar and a friend of [PW], and who was also intoxicated, pulled us up and separated us. In doing so, he shoved me backward and I ended up about 10 feet from where he and [P] stood.
I drew a knife and held it up in front of me. Witnesses were unsure as to whether I yelled “Stay back” at this point or later and I don’t recall. Scott Chandler moved across the space between us and when he was standing over me I thrust the knife toward his stomach. He backed up, holding his stomach, and I stood looking down at the knife in my hand. Scott put his hands on the wall then sat down on the floor in front of me. I remembered I’d left the car keys on the bar, so I walked over, retrieved them and ran away.
I didn’t know until after my arrest that Scott Chandler had died. I thought I had stabbed him in the stomach. I learned later that the knife had in fact angled upward and entered his heart and he’d died within minutes. With this said, however, I know that Scott’s death was a direct result of a long pattern of destructive behavior in my life. Although no one was physically harmed in my first crime, I terrorized those victims and scarred them psychologically. I know this is also true of the other victims in this case, including [KG] and others in the bar that night. I didn’t go into the bar with the intention of taking a life but my general disregard for others is what led to this result.
4. Provide a brief statement explaining why are you requesting a pardon or commutation:
It was certainly right that I be sent to prison for a long time. Yet my sentence of 60 to 90 years is effectively a natural life sentence. The purpose of any sentence is punishment, incapacitation, rehabilitation and deterrence. It is up to others to decide how much punishment is appropriate but there is no further need to incapacitate me as someone likely to re-offend. I am rehabilitated and deeply committed to nonviolence and peaceful resolution of problems. As to deterrence, my punishment has helped me develop better self-understanding; the behavior that brought me to prison is no longer a part of me. I am also committed to sharing my life experience with others and teaching the principles of nonviolence to those who may think as I did when I committed this crime. Both the time I’ve served and my testimony about it can serve as a deterrent to anyone who hears it.
5. Provide a brief statement explaining why you should be granted a pardon or commutation:
It has become my life’s work to share my experience with others and help them avoid the mistakes I’ve made. I’ve already had an impact on many lives, as the enclosed letters of support demonstrate, but I can provide this social assistance to a far greater degree on the outside than on the inside. As a prisoner, I am an unnecessary expense for the criminal justice system. I have demonstrated that I am not going to be a repeat offender and that I can live within the law.
This crime changed me. I have spent my time in prison examining and confronting my morality, character and view of the world that led to it. It didn’t happen immediately, as I continued creating problems during my early years in prison, but I’ve changed steadily and my last major misconduct was in 1996.
I’ve taken responsibility for my crime and would like to do so more fully by becoming a contributing member of society and an example to others in word and deed. I know that it was my own character and thinking that led to this crime.
In addition, as you’ll see from my answer to #6 below, I have a plan for what to do with my life and realistic plans for transitioning from here to there with a specific individual identified who will help me find work and a place to live.
I am sorry for the choices I made and the devastating consequences they’ve had on numerous lives. The central anchor in my life today is my commitment to making wiser choices and responding to life in ways that make me more of what I admire and value in others — namely, a decent person who is beneficial to others rather than the curse I was in the past.
6. What are your home and job placement plans in the event you are released?
If released from prison I plan to go to Muskegon, Mich., to connect with Doug Tjapkes, who has offered to assist me in finding a job and a place to live (letter enclosed). I have state certification in custodial maintenance and so will seek employment in the area, but I am open to doing any kind of work initially. I have food service experience, writing/editing experience, I type an average of 45 words per minute, and am also a competent artist and have worked in many different media; work in any of these areas is a possibility. I am also a quick learner and have a good work ethic (as can be seen by my employment records here in prison) and these traits open up other job possibilities.
When I’m established in these basic areas I will begin seeking opportunities to pursue my life’s work in violence prevention and conflict resolution. Many people are working in these and related areas and it is my plan to volunteer my services to established organizations, to tell my story and to help in any other way I can. (Please see the appended description of the Kinross Ethics Project, which I developed in 2006 and which is ongoing, for an idea of the way I teach ethical living.)
It’s my hope to ultimately find employment in this area of social assistance work and I’m confident that if I’m patient and willing to earn the trust of people in this community, that will eventually happen.
I know of a man who works with ex-offenders in California; he advises them to think of themselves as guests in the communities they return to, and to see full membership in a community as something that must be earned. This describes the attitude I have toward society and that I will carry out with me. I think it will help me succeed not only in the area of finding employment but all areas of my life outside.
3. The Kinross Ethics Project
I created the Kinross Ethics Project in 2006 to give prisoners (including myself) a space to explore the ongoing question of how to be better people and live better lives. During weekly meetings I give a presentation on some aspect of ethical living and then we discuss this as a group.
With each new group we run through an eight-week syllabus to establish a foundation, then we begin functioning more as a support group/workshop exploring various principles and how to practice them in daily life. As people transfer out or stop coming for various other reasons, I rerun the eight-week syllabus with a new group and restart the cycle.
The group is attended by a volunteer from the local community and is supported by staff here at Kinross such as the chaplain (our supervisor) and the warden.
Following is a syllabus and brief synopsis of the class for your review.
Week One: General Introduction
We introduce ourselves and I talk about the rules for discussion. I stress that we will disagree but need to do so respectfully. I talk about religion and the fact that this is an interfaith group. The rule here is everyone can speak from their own religious beliefs but we don’t speak against anyone else’s.
I then inform the group that we’re not here to study ethics as a philosophical or academic topic but as a practical matter. I give examples of ethical choices we all face countless times each day and how these choices affect the health of our communities and our own personal well-being.
Week Two: An Introduction and Overview of Ethics
This session covers terminology and three different types of ethical systems:
• Reason-based ethics (based on the belief that what’s good and bad can be discovered by reason alone);
• Prescription-based ethics (rules that are prescribed by an authority);
• Relation-based ethics (ethics that arise from and are discovered through relationship).
I talk about these as complementary rather than competitive systems; there is a time for reason, a time for rules, and a time for relation-based ethics.
I then introduce the ethics espoused by the group, a combination of reason-based and relation-based systems. I talk about Joseph Fletcher’s “situation ethics” (calculate the most loving thing to do in any situation and consider it your duty) and Thomas Aquinas’ “natural law ethics” (all things have a role to play in the natural order and if we know what this role is we can determine what is right behavior for that thing). We talk about our role as human beings and I ask them to identify their own purpose and begin thinking about whether their values and actions are serving that purpose or undermining it.
Week Three: Ethical Thinking
This is a discussion about two types of thought that I call structural and informational. Structural thoughts are those that determine how we process information; they are our deepest beliefs about reality and act as a “program” for our thinking. Informational thoughts make up the content of our minds on a daily basis. “I’m a victim” is a structural thought. All the various grievances and evidence of mistreatment gathered up by someone who thinks they are a victim, as well as the flawed reasoning produced by this thought, are informational.
The point is that we often don’t examine our thinking below the informational level and thinking on that level is always self-affirming; it always “makes sense” in light of the structural thought behind it. I encourage the men to go behind the content of their thinking and question the assumptions and beliefs that produce this content.
Week Four: The Ultimate Good
This session is about identifying a standard we can use to determine right and wrong. If we identify the “ultimate good” we know that all other goods are aspects of this. I identify the ultimate good as love/right-relationship and encourage the group to test various behaviors and thoughts against this standard and to define right-relationship. For instance, is it loving to steal from or do violence to people?
I conclude with the idea that the good and the right are the same thing — i.e., doing what’s right morally will ultimately make oneself and the world more healthy. I deal with the wrong idea that we can get ahead by harming others and share my notion that whenever we harm others we violate ourselves. So while it may seem we get ahead in the short run, there’s always a hidden cost in the long run.
Week Five: Three Aspects of Right-Relationship
Here we talk about three aspects of right-relationship:
• Reverence — seeing the potential and value of a person or thing;
• Goodwill — wanting people and things to unfold in accordance with their intended purpose;
• Assistance — taking some action to facilitate this unfolding.
At this point I talk about intrinsic value, which is the value of things with no reference to how they may or may not serve us. I teach that all people have intrinsic value and should therefore be treated with respect whether we think they “deserve” it or not.
Whenever we fail in any one of these aspects of right-relationship, we fall into unethical behaviors or thinking.
Week Six — The Four Basic Relationships
Here we look at the idea that we are always in relationship with everything whether we want to be or not, the idea that life itself is relationship. We talk about interconnection and interdependence and I discuss the four basic relationships of life:
• With God as we understand him;
• With others;
• With ourselves;
• With the physical world and nature.
We talk about what it means to practice reverence, goodwill and assistance in each of these areas.
Week Seven — The Circle of Moral Inclusion
The circle of moral inclusion is about who we include or exclude from our moral concern and calculations. The idea is that the fewer people we consider to be morally relevant, the less mature we are. We begin as infants with no one in our circle but ourselves. Then, as we grow out of this self-centeredness, we include our family, our gang, our neighborhood, race and so on.
My teaching is that to exclude anyone from our moral concern, to consider any aspect of life unimportant, is unethical. We talk again about interconnection and I challenge the men to reject the idea that only those who are like us or agree with us are “our people.”
Week Eight — Where Do We Go from Here?
During this closing session we briefly review the course and talk about how we will continue to practice these things in our lives. We discuss self-confrontation, stopping ourselves in the moment of doing or thinking something harmful or, conversely, holding ourselves accountable to do things we know we should do but may not want to.
The concept of self-governance is a big part of the class throughout and at this point we talk about how not effectively governing ourselves from within has led — rightly — to losing our freedom. I talk about it as a breach of contract in that the continuous cost of freedom is the responsibility to govern oneself. When we fail to do this we effectively give up the right to freedom.
We also talk about living an engaged life where we continue to seek truth and live it. Finally, we talk about the three commitments and three renouncements that are suggested but not mandatory. Each person may make them or not in their own lives. They’re a starting point to commitment in other areas. A copy of them is included in the enclosed flyer.
4. Troy's Accomplishments
When Troy first went to prison in 1985, he immediately enrolled in community college courses offered at the Michigan Reformatory. He studied art, learned to draw and paint, received 30 credits toward an associates degree, and served as college librarian.
Troy was transferred to the Michigan Training Unit in 1986 and, though the state discontinued its college program, Troy continued to study on his own. During this time, he was also asked by staff to recharter the Jaycees chapter at that prison. This entailed re-writing the by-laws and constitution of the chapter, reorganizing its internal structure, overseeing various chapter projects — self-improvement classes and community improvement projects — and general management.
When he transferred to the Dunes Correctional facility, Troy continued to paint, donating and selling his work, and also became involved in a literacy project with volunteers from Michigan Literacy. This included appearing in a training video and tutoring other prisoners in reading and language skills. Because Troy was interested in Spanish, he worked with those who were learning English as a second language. Troy also taught himself to play guitar and to read and write music; he has composed dozens of songs and performs them at prison concerts.
When he was transferred again to Carson City, then to Kincheloe Temporary Facility in the Upper Peninsula, Troy continued to paint but focused more on writing. He explored novel writing, producing two full-length drafts, and wrote an autobiography using the creative nonfiction format (unpublished) during this time.
Transferred again to Kinross Correctional Facility, where he is currently incarcerated, Troy's first published article appeared in Prison Life. In 1999, he published another article in a national ecumenical Christian magazine, The Other Side ("Why I Love My Jailers"). He enrolled in and completed a course in writing through Writer's Digest School and won second place in a state art show in Paris, Michigan, for a watercolor ("The General Store"). In his early years at Kinross, Troy ran an ongoing Spiritual Dynamics class, a Writer's Workshop, and an Ethics Class, all as Jaycees programs. Troy received his custodial maintenance certification at Kinross, a state certification that he can use "on the outside" as a profession.
In 2000, Troy met editor and writer Maryann Gorman; in 2001 they created The Lifeful Way. This was an organization devoted to spiritual awakening, consisting of a Web Site and hard copy newsletter (the newsletter is since discontinued). Troy created the philosophical basis for the Lifeful Way, helped organized the Web site, wrote a study guide, wrote for the bimonthly newsletter, and continues to author the Lifeful Way's offshoot, the Sacred Matters blog. In 2001, Troy published the article "Through My Enemy's Eyes" in YES! magazine, which has been used in college and high school classrooms and has been reprinted nationally and internationally, in publications such as The Christian Sentinel, the Irish Journal of the Anthroposophical Society, and Ode (the Netherlands).
Troy then went on to publish My Neighborhood (The Other Side magazine), The Broken Promise of War (The Other Side), Why I Go to Church (U Can Change the World (India)), and a column for Progressive Health newspaper. He organized and wrote an e-mail workshop for The Lifeful Way, "Ten Steps to Increase Your Peace," in which 24 people participated. An allegory Troy wrote appeared (credited) in a book published in 2003 by internationally recognized Zen teacher Cheri Huber, "When You're Falling, Dive." Until the cancellation of the prison newspaper KCF Link by the Michigan Department of Corrections, Troy also was employed as a writer for several months with this award-winning prison newspaper; prior to his employment with the paper, he had written many articles for it on a volunteer basis.
In 2006, Troy created an ethics class for fellow inmates that he still leads, and which produced a well-attended seminar on practical ethics for other inmates in November 2006. He recently started a writing class for inmates, which he co-leads with another prisoner. With the help of his friend Maryann Gorman, he maintains a blog, Sacred Matters. Troy's story of his discovery of "the third side," from YES! magazine, is retold in the new book "The Power of a Positive No" (2007) by William Ury, an internationally renowned mediator who is co-founder of Harvard University's Program on Negotiation.
Troy served on the board for Keryx, a volunteer Christian ministry, for several years; he is the music minister for the 50- to 75-member Protestant service at the prison, and he initiated a project called Kid's Christmas, which donates crafts made by prisoners to be sold for money to buy Christmas presents for underprivileged children. He worked for a time in Kinross's organic garden, which donates produce to the local population, until scheduling conflicts with other activities prevented this.
—Friends of Troy Chapman
5. Use of Troy’s Writings
Troy’s writing — inspiring, original and practical — has been reprinted or used internationally by editors, authors, and leaders of religious organizations as touchstones within articles, magazines, books and sermons.
Published shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, Troy’s article “Through My Enemy’s Eyes,” in the Nov/Dec 2001 issue of YES! magazine, was especially well-received. Obviously meeting a need in a wounded world for an inspiring and practical example of how to move beyond left-right, good-bad dichotomies, this article garnered an amazing response. Troy received positive correspondence about the piece from over 100 readers of the magazine, and got word from two educators that they were using the article in philosophy and religion class syllabi. “Through My Enemy’s Eyes” has been reprinted internationally, in the Journal of the Anthroposophical Society in Ireland, Ode (the Netherlands), the El Dorado Sun, the Christian Science Sentinel, and Quaker publications such as Transforming Power: Alternatives to Violence.
The article inspired one educator and writer from Bangalore, India, Dr. Neeraja Raghavan, to correspond with Troy and write an article about his life example in the Indian publication U Can Change the World. Most recently, Troy’s story of how he found the “third side” in conflict, as he related it in the YES! article, was retold in the new book The Power of a Positive No (2007, Bantam Books) by William Ury, who is co-founder of Harvard University's Program on Negotiation, an internationally renowned mediator and the author of the popular negotiation book, Getting to Yes.
Troy covered a similar subject in his first published article, “Why I Love My Jailers” (The Other Side magazine, Nov/Dec 1999). This piece — about love as the great liberator and his only personal power behind bars — was reprinted in Roy Masters’ New Insights newsletter; Troy received supportive and grateful letters from several readers who went on to become longtime supporters and friends from the publication of this article.
The themes of practicing love and waging peace wind through Troy’s work and have been used in the sermons or writings of ministers and laypeople who have read his work in magazines or online. Troy’s words have been quoted in the sermons and newsletters of religious establishments in Philadelphia, Pa. (Ethical Humanist Society); Roswell, Ga. (Unitarian Universalist); Allenton, Wis. (Roman Catholic); Baltimore, Md. (the Jonah House); and Rochester, N.Y. (United Methodist) — to name only those known to Troy’s supporters. Outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition, Zen Buddhist monk and teacher Cheri Huber used an allegory written by Troy about the “true self” in her 2003 book When You’re Falling, Dive.
In addition to their use in publications, Troy’s writings and his personal example have also been used in jails in Maine for mentoring and creative writing classes (see the letters section of this package).
There is a hunger among good, peace-seeking people for the wisdom Troy shares in his writing — wisdom garnered over long years of study, introspection, and relating with compassion to his fellow inmates, the guards and others at his prison, as well as friends and family in the world. Troy’s influence could be multiplied many times were he permitted to carry on his ministry of atonement and compassion outside of prison walls.
—Friends of Troy Chapman