by Damon Shuja Johnson
Peace be upon you!
I hope this letter reaches you in the very best of health, spirits and prosperity. I am blessed and doing all to stay encouraged in this difficult situation. I am writing this letter to humbly ask if I can call upon you to, once again, send a letter of support on my behalf to the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH). I hope not to inconvenience you with this request, but I need your help! The BPH at times uses such things as outdated information to deny an inmate parole, so we just want all bases covered.
Be sure that in the text of your letter, it mentions you are fully aware of the charges I am in prison for, which are homicide in the first degree and robbery, Penal Code Section 187 and 211. Also that you know I will be under supervision of the Parole Department and anything else you care to say to the BPH. I only ask that you write with a few simple guidelines for an ideal letter, which I will include in this letter.
The love and time put into this letter of support cannot be measured. Perhaps it will be your letter that places me into the favorable light of the parole hearings members. I have continued to have an exemplary prison record, with only minor transgressions, reflective of the community I am housed in for nearly 30 years of incarceration, and I continue to grow spiritually to be a complete man.
I thank you in advance for your time and response. It will be necessary for you to make three copies to be sure your letter gets posted in my central file in time for my hearing. If you are a professional, please use your letterhead stationery. Mailing addresses are listed below.
Roughly six months prior to the parole consideration hearing, the board will send one of their psychologists to interview me, review my central file and write a report that tries to predict my risk of future violence. This report is perhaps the most important document in determining whether or not I will be granted parole.
It is extremely important that prior to the parole hearing, and preferably before the psychological evaluation discussed above, that you write a short letter, approximately one page, to the board that explains your relationship to me, how long you have known me and why you think I should be paroled:
- Your belief that I will be a useful, law abiding citizen in the community.
- Your belief that despite my past mistakes, I am genuinely a good person, and I take full responsibility for my action in this horrific crime and show great shame.
- Describe the noted improvements and changes in my attitude and behavior, as well as any efforts I have made to improve myself, such as education, sponsorship, vocational, therapy, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous etc.
- Describe the type of support you are offering – moral support, education, job, housing, financial support, transportation etc.
Please avoid discussing your opinion on legal statutes or cases and be sure to reference my name and CDC number: Damon Johnson, E-20385, in the heading of any letter you write. Below is key information on some of the best and worst practices when writing your letter. It may seem a bit repetitive but it is only because your letter is so very essential in bringing me home.
General support letters
The best support letter explains your personal knowledge of how I have changed during incarceration and why you believe I can safely be released. You can explain the kind of support you will provide to me, and be as specific as possible.
For example, your letter could identify a car that I can use or an amount of money that could be provided to help me get on my feet. A generic letter that simply says, “We will help him in any way we can,” is not useful because it does not paint a clear enough picture for the board. You must always remember to sign and date your letters.
The worst support letters try to minimize the seriousness of the crime or my role in it. Never refer to the crime as an “accident” or a “mistake.” Also, even though signing a petition may be a good way to show support from a lot of people at once, petitions are of very little value to the board because they suggest that the people signing do not actually know me or my case personally. It is also a bad idea to sign your names to “form” letters that all say the same thing, just with different signatures. It is better for me to have just a few personal, individual letters than dozens of form letters.
When and where to send letters
I must gather support letters now. Since a psychologist will be evaluating me and my parole plans many months before the board actually does, these letters need to be in place even before the psychological evaluation.
The letters should be sent to
- Damon Shuja Johnson, E-20385, FA-5-116, P.O. Box 799001, San Diego, CA 92179
- Classification and Parole Representative, R.J. Donovan, 480 Alta Rd, San Diego, CA 92179
- Board of Parole Hearings, P.O. Box 4036, Sacramento, CA 95814.
If you need help making copies or forwarding your letters, you may send your letter to Shamika W. Johnson, 1100 Broadway #5071, Redwood City, CA 94063, and your information will be sent to the appropriate addresses.
Closing statement to Board of Parole Hearings by Damon Johnson
I have always tried to be truthful with my fellow human beings. I have erred in the past, and I offer my sincere apologies and have promised and made many corrections. No doubt there will be honest differences of opinion in regard to the rightness and wrongness of those decisions and actions that I made in the past during my youth, especially on the night of the committed offense, as well as in prison.
I am no hardened criminal and there’s no reason to throw away the key. I respect the right of others to differ and I hope those who dispute my judgment will please have some understanding of my viewpoint in the context of the time in which my decisions were made. And appreciate my openness and honesty and development here today.
It took me a very long time to realize and understand and to fully admit to myself, let alone my family and friends, what a terrible and horrible thing I had done. Even though I did not pull the trigger, I was in the eyes of the law found guilty and convicted. I am forever labeled a murderer and I am so ashamed and so, so sorry for what I have done and what happen to the victim’s family as well as my own.
I use to sometimes pray I could die! But then I realized that praying to die was the prayer of a coward. Being a coward is what led me to prison in the first place! But I am here to tell you that because I didn’t want to be called or thought of as “chicken,” “a coward,” “not a real man,” “a punk,” I passively went along with what was going on and, in doing so, I turned out to prove to be one of the biggest cowards and fools in the world.
I was totally gutless and mindless and I see this now and I have seen it for years. Had I been a man of real courage, I could have stopped what was about to happen. And I now live with the terrible guilt and shame that comes from not acting as a true man should have acted. Yes, guilt and shame will last me the rest of my life. It eats at me every day – not just the guilt and shame, but the grief and remorse, so heavy that sometimes it seems unbearable.
Remorse and sorrow not only for Ms. Canty, her family, Olivia Lee and Dean Legget and their families and others in the cafe that evening and especially my family, my mother, my grandmother, my daughter and other close friends and family. My family has to bear this burden and have paid a price for my cowardice. Not only am I sorry for all those mentioned but the generations to come who will suffer this loss of their loved one, Ms. Canty. I am sorry, so, so, sorry.
Over the years I have experienced and learned about courage and love for life, some lessons coming from dying men right here in prison in hospice care where I worked for many years. Yes, lessons in courage, good character and love I could have learned nowhere else.
I have held the hands of dying men and had them say to me, “Be strong, have courage, love your life, love all life, always do the right thing,” and that I was a good man and brother. And they thank me for being there with them and tell me, “I love you.” A few have told me, “You are like my own son.” Many times I cried at my helplessness. I have come to love life, all life and to realize what a priceless gift life is.
I have come to accept my own terrible physical diseases and most of all I have learned I can make some positive differences in this world while working in the hospice, PCS, with my art and in prison. I have learned that courage, love, compassion, understanding, caring, patience are not weaknesses, but gifts, marvelous gifts, blessings from the “Holy Creator.”
I have learned these lessons and skills and received these gifts right here in prison. Things I would never have found had I not come to prison. I’ve been blessed with this knowledge and understanding. I am 100 percent determined to demonstrate to the world the depth and sincerity of who I am. Who I am today has nothing to do with who I was at the time of the murder of Ms. Canty. That selfish, uncaring, reckless, vulnerable, peer pressured, irresponsible coward is forever nonexistent.
Today I am a man of conscience, a man of spirit and compassion, a man of courage. I now possess good judgment, temperament and independence of thought and consideration of the consequences of my actions. I am a man full of gratitude and appreciation for life, especially my own.
We can’t change the past. How I wish I could and had the benefit of hindsight then. All I can do is live my life in such a manner that my actions tell you and my fellow humans that I am now the man I say I am. I have shown this in prison and I can show it in society. I will never retreat to my former youthful reckless ways.
I will continue to be a man of principle and dignity. I am absolutely dedicated to making life better for every human being I come in contact with, if no more than saying, “Have a good day,” or simply smiling.
I believe this will prove to the victim’s family and my family and friends that I am qualified and worthy of being found suitable for parole and can live in the world among the free and good people of the world. My personal mantra is, “I will never again not do the right thing at the right time.” There’s no more I could have done or should have done in my life.
I am here to tell you that my personal journey has led me to be a moral and just person. This is my promise to all to live right no matter the circumstance or situation. This is the bottom line.
Damon Shuja Johnson