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Post Magazine: A Father's Conviction

Post Magazine Cover Story

Tyler Currie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 3, 2005; 1:00 PM

Stuart Anderson has managed to stay connected to his adolescent daughters through 13 years in prison. But how much longer can he, and they, hold out?

Tyler Currie wrote the article Hard Time (Post, Jan. 2) about Anderson's attempt to be a good dad, despite being locked up more than 200 miles from home, which appeared in yesterday's Washington Post Magazine. He was online Monday, Jan. 3, at 1 p.m. ET to field questions and comments about the article.

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Currie is a Magazine contributing writer.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Tyler Currie: Greetings everyone. There are already some questions in the queue so let's get started.

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Washington, D.C.: Good Morning Tyler, my son's name is Tyler also. In reference to the article you wrote in the Washington Post magazine. I read that entire article last night. With the many things that Mr. Anderson has done and accomplished while he was incarcerated. I was shocked when I got to the end of the story. To learn that Stuart had went up for parole and was denied. Me and my husband sat up all night discussing this we were really in aw that he was not granted parole. It was an attempted murder as we read the article. So he didn't actually murder the person. Not that we condone the attempt but after all he has done in prison and still making an effort to keep in constant contact with his daughters. We thought that was a good thing so that his kids will know who he is and what efforts he made to make sure they didn't lose contact. His next parole hearing is scheduled for September 2007. I hope that parole is granted for him as the old saying goes the system has failed another black man with potential to better himself. Good luck to Mr. Anderson with the next parole hearing. All he can do is pray that it will be granted and he can come out and make a better life for hisself.

Thanks Wendy and Mark

Tyler Currie: During Mr. Anderson's parole hearing, there seemed to be little doubt on the part of the U.S. Parole Commission that Anderson has rehabilitated himself. The hearing examiner, Paul Howard, at one point referred to Anderson as a "model citizen." Both staff members of the prison who were present at the hearing spoke of him with rosy language; one of them actually urged his release. So in the end, the decision to deny parole was not based on the need to reform Mr. Anderson so much as on the need to further punish him for what was, no doubt, a grave offence—the attempted murder of a police officer. It seems to me that the policy of placing weight on punishment over reform—which is hardly unique to Mr. Anderson's case—has hidden consequences. To understand these consequences, you only have to meet Mr. Anderson's daughters and wife.

So here's the question we are left: When do the costs of incarceration begin to outweigh its benefits? Do we as a community place more value on punishing Mr. Anderson or rehabilitating him and having with his family. The U.S. Parole Commission has spoken clearly on this matter. I'm not convinced, though, that it was the correct decision.

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Lusby, Md.: Since Mr. Anderson maintains his innocence has he ever appealed his conviction?

Tyler Currie: Yes, he himself applied for several appeals in the early 90s, acting as his own counsel. I believe they were all denied.

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Fairfax, Va.: I was touched by this article. I don't understand what constitutes reform to a prison board and I find this to be an example of one being denied their freedom after going through lengths to straighten their act. If the parole board is still doubtful that he has reformed, another 3 years is not going to provide any more evidence that the past 13 years has not.

I have serious doubts that in his mid-40s with two daughers, Stuart is going to be running the streets selling drugs and threatening the police.

What can one do as a supportive citizen to lobby for Stuart's release under controlled conditions?

Tyler Currie: This is not the first violent offence that Mr. Anderson has been convicted of. So the Parole Commission's belief that he continues to pose a threat to public safety is not baseless. However, his record of conduct over the past 14 years suggests that he's not, as you say, "going to be running the streets."

If you want to email me I'd be happy to give you Mr. Anderson's address. tcurrie@verizon.net

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Washington, D.C.: First let me start off by saying that was one of the best articles that has been places in that magazine since it have been in existence.

I would like for you to clarify a couple of things: 1. when you reported that Anderson went up for parole and it mentioned something about off-set by 36 months;are you saying that he was granted parole but it will not go into affect for another 36 months?

2.At the very end of the article you it was clear that Anderson was going to live with his oldest daughter Tyrina, why was nothing mentioned about her until the end of the article? How does she feel about her Step-mother and two sisters?

3. I was also unclear as to whether Mrs. Anderson was going to go forth with the divorce. I understand that he has been locked all of this time, I just think it will be sad if she waits to now too leave him.

Again, this was a very powerful message. I think Mr. Anderson has done more for his kids than most fathers who are actually out in society. Congrats to you and Mr. Anderson I wish you both peace, love and prosperity.

KRS

Tyler Currie: Wow, that's pretty high praise. You should call my editor and tell him to give me a big fat raise! HA!

To answer your questions:

1. A 36 month set off means that 36 months from September 2004 Mr. Anderson will go before the Parole Commission for a re-hearing. His case will be evaluated just as it was recently. U.S. Parole Commission decisions are final, I believe, and not subject to appeal.

2. In fact, Tyrina was mentioned twice in the story. So "meeting" her at the end isn't a surprise. From what I know, Tyrina and her half-sisters enjoy a good relationship.

3. Right now, from what I hear, the Anderson's aren't talking about divorce. But as you can imagine, 14 years of incarceration has put enormous strains on the relationship.

And peace to you too.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Interesting article. I felt bad that he was denied parole, although I can see that the crime, against a police officer, might be one where an inmate would end up serving more time.

Is there any evidence that the fathers' group has helped other families? What happens when a Dad gets out and goes home? I know from my own experience as the stay at home parent that the family dynamic changes when a traveling or absent part re-appears. Have other Dads' made a successul transition?

Tyler Currie: A very serious crime indeed.

Regarding the success of Concerned Fathers, the group that Stuart helped start at RCI, the prison in Winton, North Carolina. Stuart claims that no father who has participated in this program and subsequently been released has returned to prison. I have no way of knowing if that's true or significant, but there you have it.

Returning to one's community and family after a long period of incarceration can be a rough , peril fraught transition. During my reporting, I had the chance to meet a number of families who were going through this post-incarceration phase. I would often hear about the gulf separating expectation and reality. You expect it to be great and happy once dad or mom gets home? In reality re-entry can get pretty rocky, I hear. Check out "Life on the Outside," by Jennifer Gonnerman. It's the story of a woman retuning home to her family after many years in prison.

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Skowhegan, Maine: Thought-provoking article, Tyler.

How did you settle on Stuart and his family as the subject? Did you approach them or did they approach you? Were there other families you considered writing about, or broadening the scope to include?

Tyler Currie: There are a couple of questions similar to this one. So I'll handle them all in one shot.

I began this story more than a year ago. It started as a short piece for a weekly feature that the Post Magazine runs called First Person Singular. I'd been living in the District of Columbia for a number of years, including the period of time when Lorton was shutting down and the inmates there were being transferred to the federal prison system, some of them to facilities quite distant from home. So this piece began as a supposition: ‘I bet someone out there who was affected by the Lorton closing has an interesting story to tell.' (Magazine writing, in the end, is all about story telling and finding uncommon voices.) I called different people around town, asking who knew D.C. prisoners and their families. I eventually ended up on the phone with Carol Fennelly, the founder of Hope House. I told her I was looking for a D.C. prisoner who could talk about his/her family. She immediately suggested I speak with Mr. Anderson. She called him the ultimate family man, or something like that. I went down to North Carolina a few weeks later. The story grew from there.

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Washington, D.C.: You stated that Anderson says he is innocent of trying to kill the policeman. What excuse did he offer for having a loaded gun on him where it is illegal in D.C. to own or carry a pistol? Law abiding citizens do not do this. Criminals do!

Tyler Currie: You're right. Having a gun in this town is a major no-no. And to our shame, many reckless people violate that law, including--once upon a time--Stuart Anderson. He was a tough guy. He liked to gamble in the street. He admits that he ran his mouth a lot. As a teenager he himself had been shot. He was wrapped up in a lifestyle that often leads to prison or the grave. What's the excuse for this, you ask. There is none. But there are reasons why people who grow up poor and attend failed schools seem more likely to trap themselves in destructive behaviors.

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Alexandria, Va.: I have to agree with the previous poster that this article was, indeed, one of the Magazine's best yet. Excellent work.

Frankly I admire Stuart's motivation and determination to play a close and integral part to his family, and I'm so glad to see that this family is not experiencing the "absent father" syndrome that so many families do experience these days. That said, a grave crime was committed with the attempted murder of a police officer. People need to remember that police officers -- as underpaid and overworked as they are -- are out there to protect us from people like Stuart. I'm glad fate intervened and that the officer's life was spared.

Just because Stuart is a role model for being a father figure doesn't forgive him for his past criminal behavior (including and beyond the attempted murder conviction.) The price must be paid for his behavior and I'm glad that our criminal justice system did not fail our society by releasing this man before his due time.

Tyler Currie: Dear Alexandria Virginia,

Your check is in the mail. Thanks.

Seriously though, your points are well stated and appreciated.

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Washington, D.C.: I guess I get to be the grinch.

While reading the article, I found it hard to feel overwhelmed with warm fuzzies for this man. I did, however, feel for for his wife, who was left alone and pregnant to care for their children and has to make it on her own with them in the best way she can. While it is nice that he continues to be a part of the children's lives, who is there when the kids gets sick, need a doctor, have a bad day, get into trouble, need food, etc. etc. etc.

I commend Stuart for doing what he has done to remain a part of the picture, but all to often, it is the single mothers who do the work and get none of the praise.

Lets hear it for the parents who are REALLY there for their kids.

Tyler Currie: No need to call yourself a Grinch. That's the hard-knock truth of the matter: Stuart isn't around for his daughters.

Melody has indeed done some heavy lifting. Cheers to mothers.

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Alexandria, Va.: I was very engrossed in the article and had mixed reactions. One thing that stood out was that Mr. Anderson did not take responsibility for the action that sent him to prison (possibly because he did not do it, or felt he did not--not the same thing). I wonder, if he had taken some responsibility, if his parole hearing could have gone differently.

Tyler Currie: For what it's worth, Stuart has only damaged his case for parole by maintaining his innocence. Not taking respobsibility is cited in some of the Parole Commission documents as a negative factor in the decision.

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Accokeek, Md.: My name is Michelle Brown, and I'm the aunt of Ernest Bruno, the inmate you refer to several times in your article about Stuart Anderson. I'm writing to give a praise report: Although Ernest's Sept. hearing was postponed, he was heard in Nov., and he'll be coming home Jan. 25!;!; I'm going down to Rivers personally, and I'm taking his kids with me to bring him home. I felt SO bad for Mr. Anderson's outcome, and I pray that he doesn't lose heart. Hope House, Carole Fennelly and Ms. Rachel are FABULOUS for what they do for the guys and their families. I took Ernest's kids to the Hope House Christmas party last month, and they had a trash bag of toys and gifts for each child. There must have been 60 children there!;!; Thank you for your article, and for letting people know that these men may have made mistakes but many of them are good, decent human beings who are trying to do the right thing under adverse conditions. Thanks again!;

Tyler Currie: Thank you for writing, Ms. Brown.

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Washington, D.C.: In light of Mr. Anderson's parole denial and the close relationship that he has with his daughters, how are they handling the decision?

Also, I can imagine that his spirits have been somewhat broken by the decision. Is he still trying to remain positive?

Tyler Currie: Mr. Anderson's letters to me following the Parole decision were, as you'd expect, somewhat despondent. I have not spoken with his daughters and wife about the decision.

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Monterey, Calif.: What would you most want us to know about men in prison?

Tyler Currie: Many prisoners are there because they should be, but no conviction or crime dilutes, diminishes, or nullifies a person's humanity. A writer more perceptive than I recently wrote, "…prisoners are one of the most despised classes of people in the United States, perhaps second only to terrorists." I would wish that this statement could no longer be made with any merit.

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Purcellville, Va.: So which story do you think is right, his or the police?

Tyler Currie: I wasn't there. I don't know. The question of guilt and innocence was not in play for this story.

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Fairfax, Va.: Just a comment...
I read this story with interest. As the sister of a police officer, agree wholeheartedly with the parole board's decision to deny parole. To his credit, I have to say that Mr. Anderson's decision to maintain a relationship with his daughters is commendable.

Tyler Currie: Thanks for sharing...

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Tyler Currie: Okay everyone, I got an apple pie in the oven. Gotta run before it catches fire. Thank you all for writing and asking such intelligent, provocative questions. I'm sorry I couldn't get to them all. I think we can all agree, though, that this is an issue which doesn't allow simple solutions. Again, I'm happy to answer more questions by email. My address should be up there somewhere.

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