Model Citizen Returned to Prison, 2014

THE TIME THE US JUSTICE SYSTEM TRIED TO RE-IMPRISON A MODEL CITIZEN THEY HAD RELEASED 90 YEARS EARLY.

It was just another day for Rene Lima-Marin in his job helping to transform city skylines by installing glass windows into skyscrapers until an unknown caller buzzed his mobile phone. The woman on the line said she was from the Denver Public Defender’s office. As she talked Lima-Marin could feel his breathing turn shallow, his muscles tighten and his mind start to race.

For the slim Latino man, with his hair shaved high on the back and sides and an immaculately groomed goatee, the day had come he feared for years would. Now all those dreams and plans lay shattered like a windowpane that slipped from his grasp.

The story started fourteen years before when 22-year-old Lima-Marin and an accomplice were sentenced for committing robbery, burglary, and kidnapping during a series of video store robberies. These were to be served consecutively so, the US legal system being what it was, effectively locked the two up and threw away the key.

The sentence was a whopping 98 years. It was basically game over for the two young men.

Yet maybe Lima-Marin had an angel guardian looking out for him or something. The court clerk mistakenly wrote ‘concurrently’ not ‘consecutively’ next to his sentence and Lima-Marin discovered he only had a nine-year stint to do (not so his accomplice, however). Realising someone had blundered, he kept shtum and did his time.

2008 came around and Lima-Marin heard the main gate of Colorado’s Crowley County Correctional Facility slam behind him and his life, rebooted, in front of him. Was he going to take his second chance to live a good life as a rehabilitated man or would he slip back into his old ways?

He married his old girlfriend and became a father to her one-year-old son. He found a job, and then a better union job working construction on skyscrapers in the centre of Denver. The family went to church. They took older relatives in at their new, bigger house in a nice area of Aurora. They then had a child together, another boy.

Lima-Marin feared that the justice system would discover its mistake and destroy what he was building. But the years passed by and the fear receded as his life entered the humdrum slipstream of work, church and football training for his sons. After six years, this was surely proof he was rehabilitated.

The phone call from the Public Defender’s Office informed him that the Justice Department had discovered their mistake and, gut-wrenching though it was, he was going to have to go back to serve out the rest of his life long sentence.

How on earth was Lima-Marin going to break the news to his family? How were they all going to bear the heartache?

Lima Marin embraces his son while in prison (denverpost.com)

From there his fortunes fluctuated like a heart monitor does for someone whose life hangs on a knife-edge; he went back to prison but, after a campaign for clemency lasting years, the state governor pardoned him.

Lima-Marin’s wife’s euphoric high upon hearing this seesawed to a scream of frustration when the news was followed up with the fact her husband had to fight his case against illegal immigration in an immigration centre.

The ending however was a happy one for Lima-Marin. He overcame the final hurdle by winning his case and walked away a free man, for good, from Aurora’s detention facility in 2018.

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