Free Dusty Turner

Read the story below to understand how Dusty’s life is spent each day

Dusty Today Updates

My life today…

During COVID I have largely been isolated to my living area, here at Greensville Correctional Center, surrounded by the same 85 guys. For myself and fellow incarcerated people, there have been no programs, no educational or vocational classes nor visits with loved ones, until very recently. Outside recreation has been greatly curtailed and we have spent much more time locked in our cells. Day after day nothing seems to change. 

The General Assembly of Virginia passed legislation in 2020 allowing incarcerated people who were convicted of crimes from 1995 to 2000 to become parole eligible. This is because during those five years juries were specifically not allowed to be told that parole had been eliminated in 1995. There are, perhaps, 280 such people who fit this category and I happen to be one of them. In August of 2020, I was reviewed for parole by an examiner and in September some of my advocates had a meeting with one of the Parole Board members. Both seemed to go well enough and in my interview I was open and honest about everything that was asked. By late October, however, I was denied parole. 

Earlier in 2020, my father passed away. I feel fortunate to have had a phone conversation with him a couple weeks before his passing. When I was denied parole, I knew that meant that I would never see my 95 year old grandmother again either. She spent her waning weeks right where she wanted to be: in her own home surrounded by loved ones. I was able to speak with her too before she passed. My stepfather, my father, and my grandmother all passed away without getting to hug me again as a free man. 

I know that times have been tough for many people during the pandemic. Indeed, 2020 will be marked as one of the worst in my life as well. In July of that year, the virus swept through here and I couldn’t escape it. Fortunately, after suffering from the typical symptoms, including spending a week or so without taste or smell, I recovered well enough. A few guys in my living area had a tough time, but all recovered.

It would be so easy to become bitter, folding to depression, hatred, and to wake up angry each morning. Instead, I am grateful. Of all attitudes that I could have, I choose to assume an attitude of gratitude. Yes, everything written above, my deep experiences of pain and injustice are very real, but I refuse to allow that to define who I am, even whilst wrongfully incarcerated. So, I shall also share the things that I am grateful for.

Since my previous update, the piloting of my victim oriented offender rehabilitation program, Mending Fences, went well and much useful information was gleaned. The Director along with another member of the Virginia Center for Restorative Justice attended and participated in the final session. They were incredibly impressed and asked if they could incorporate elements of Mending Fences into their own program. Most of the participants have since returned home and reentered their communities and I am happy to report that all of them are doing well; none have returned to prison. My partner in the creation of Mending Fences was granted clemency in 2020 by Governor Ralph Northam and is also doing well.  

After being invited to partake in the advanced horticulture class here at Greensville, I was offered the position of ‘teacher’s aide.’ I humbly accepted and have been officially in this position for over two years. Unofficially, I have been helping students and the instructor for quite some time. Additionally, during the COVID restrictions, students were not able to attend classes. During this time I worked diligently to help renovate the 20+ year old greenhouse and help make significant landscape improvements to the horticultural area. From installing new climate control and irrigation systems, to designing a rain catchment system, I am given an opportunity to put my energies and work ethic towards improving the horticulture experience for both the incarcerated students as well as the staff. Each day that I go to work, I seek to learn something new.

I continue to read and study every day as well. I am flirting with the idea of writing a book. Tentatively, it would include the ideas of localism, community, restorative justice, ecology, along with weaving-in indigenous cultural elements, all of which are near and dear to my heart and soul. 

Some of the books I’ve read lately include Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture; The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand; Aristotle’s Rhetoric; Six Theories of Justice, by Karen Lebacqz; Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson; Fundamentals of Criminal Behavior and Correctional Systems, by John Cull and Richard Hardy; Remaking Society, by Murray Bookchin; Reimagining God and Religion, by Jerry Wright; and, River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard.

Finally, I have a wonderful new team of intelligent and dedicated advocates (the Free Dusty Network) who volunteer their time and energies towards trying to help right my wrongful conviction.

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