Pardon Letter

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Pardon Request Letter Sent To Governor Haley Barbour

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Benjamin Darras is seeking a pardon for the crime of Capital Murder in the state of Mississippi. Below is a copy of the letter he is sending to the governor included in his petition requesting a pardon. Your comments are welcomed.

From left to right: (back row) Commissioner Christopher Epps, First Lady Marsha Barbour (front row) Benjamin Darras and Seminary President Chuck Kelly

The picture is Ben’s graduation from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary-Parchman Extension Center on May 22, 2007. He received and Bachelors Degree in Christian Ministry. In the background from left to right is Commissioner Christopher Epps and First Lady Marsha Barbour. In the Foreground is Benjamin Darras and President of NOBTS Chuck Kelly.

Pardon Request Letter

My name is Benjamin Darras and I am an inmate in the Mississippi State Penitentiary serving a sentence of Life Without Parole for the crime of Capital Murder. I am seeking a governor’s pardon for this crime. Regardless of my conduct in prison, no matter the amount of rewards or certificates I receive, or how many good deeds I perform I cannot make up for the pain I caused to my victim’s family or the community in which they lived. Yet, I ask for a pardon with a desire to pay my debt to society in a real and meaningful way. I ask with a desire to show that a person, especially teens and young adults, can learn from their mistakes-even tragic mistakes-and grow into moral, responsible, and positive contributions to society. I ask for a pardon because I am not the same young boy who committed those crimes sixteen years ago.

On 1995, I was arrested in Muskogee, OK and extradited to Louisiana for the crime of principle to armed robbery along with Sarah Edmondson (eventually an additional crime of attempted murder was added). During the criminal proceedings there, I was indicted for the crime in Mississippi I am currently serving at the Mississippi State Prison. I do take full responsibility and blame only myself for my poor decisions leading to my imprisonment.

An important question to answer is, what has changed in my life since 1995 to the present day that will impact my ability to live a successful life outside of prison? To answer that question, I would like to review my life before prison.

I am the middle child of a family with five children. From the time of my earliest memories, my father was a severe alcoholic who physically abused my mother in front of the children and terrorized all of us with his unpredictable behavior. Other than chaos, he contributed little to the family. No member of my family was left untouched emotionally and psychologically from this toxic environment. My father, Charlie Darras, after my mother left him, continued to lose the battle with alcoholism and eventually gave up. He committed suicide in 1990 traumatizing our family even further and tragically setting an example my oldest brother would follow.

The three older children were all severely effected by this:

My oldest brother, Jeremy Darras, continually ran away from home as a child and eventually permanently moved away at the age of sixteen. He struggled with interpersonal relationships as well as alcohol; and, after repeated suicide attempts, he committed suicide in 1997.

My brother, Malan, drank heavily beginning in his preteens and struggled with his addiction until recently. He struggled in school and dropped out. After multiple arrests for DUI’s in Oklahoma and Texas, he has been able to achieve sobriety and is extremely successful in business and in his personal life.

Beginning with my parents’ divorce, I began a downward slide. At the time, I was in the third grade and began skipping school. I fell behind and it was thought I had a learning disability. Looking back now, I realize I was struggling with my parents’ chaotic relationship and failing. I was just a confused child feeling scared and unsure about events I didn’t understand. By the time I reached middle school, I had given up on life. I never even considered the possibility of graduating, working, or accomplishing anything with my life. My thoughts continually drifted to suicide and hopelessness. With a working mother, no father, and too ashamed to ask for help, I simply floated through my teenage years alone with my inner demons and waiting for my life to come to some horrible end.

At the age of eighteen, I had accomplished exactly nothing. I had not finished school, never had a job, never had a driver’s license, had no close friends, and was slowly beginning to use drugs on a regular basis. I can see now that I was a person with no dreams, no goals, no hope, and thinking that would never change. Eventually, I just gave up on life completely. I cared little for my own life or for anyone around me. This state of mind, I believe, is what enabled me to be able to take the life of another person. My arrest was almost a relief. My life, for the most part, was in the hands of others. I didn’t have to worry about my future, jobs, or relationships any longer. All of that was irrelevant when I was placed in the back of the police car. Still, I felt empty and dead inside. Nothing had changed internally for me by my arrest, but my tragic end I had predicted had finally come. My life was in the hands of the state now. I was still floating through life, carried along by prison routine and the justice system, but now it was okay-it was expected.

After about a year of being in prison, I realized I was still alive and needed to find a way to do something with the pieces that were left of my broken life.

The first and most important change that has taken place in my life is accepting Jesus Christ into my life and becoming a Christian. Since that time, I have slowly overcome the problems that brought me to prison. The weight and shame about my family and the guilt I felt for my crimes was unbearable, but when God forgave me it lifted the load. While I wish I could say the guilt was completely gone, the crimes still bother me today and probably forever. While I trust and believe God has taken away my sins, I still wish it had never happened at all. As a result of this change within, I realized I had to take full responsibility for the things I had done. I plead guilty to all of my charges and agreed to help the prosecution in the criminal proceedings against Sarah Edmondson. I knew I could not erase the damage I had caused to the victim’s families, but I could make the court process as easy as possible. Instead of a drawn out trial, I would just plead guilty and accept whatever punishment I was given.

The second change I realized I needed to make was correcting another of my great mistakes in life-dropping out of school. Prison had given me, if nothing else, plenty of time to review my life. When I dropped out of my junior year of high school my life began to spin even faster out of control. Also, while I was committing my crimes, my friends were finishing their last semester of school. Had I stayed in school, I would have been in class instead of holding a gun. After much searching, my family was able to locate and enroll me in a program that would allow me to finish high school through a correspondence course. I cannot express the feeling when I completed the courses and received my diploma. It was one of the first things I had ever completed and something I never thought I could do. I had always seen myself as lacking academically, but I now realize I could excel when I put all my efforts into it.

A third change that has greatly impacted my life was joining Kairos. Kairos is a fellowship group inside the prison. It focuses on the reality of God’s love and forgiveness. Kairos has given me an outlet to share my feelings, triumphs and struggles as well as listen to and encourage the other Kairos members. Presently, I am the Unit 30 Kairos Resident Rector. The Rector leads the weekly Wednesday “Prayer and Share” meetings as well as the monthly Kairos reunions held on the second Saturday of each month. Kairos is my spiritual and emotional support system inside the prison, and I have benefited from it greatly.

Ben receives his Bachelor's Degree from seminary president Chuck Kelly in 2009.

The most recent life-changing event in my life was my graduation from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary-Parchman Extension Center with a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Ministry. I was a member of the first class of students when the extension center was introduced into the prison in 2004. It is a fully accredited four-year college program. Information about the program is included with this packet. In 2006, I received my Associate’s Degree in Christian Ministry. Mrs. Marsha Barbour was the commencement speaker, which was a surprise and great honor to us all. Receiving my degree was one of the first times my mother-who was in attendance-was proud of my actions. Two years later, in 2008, I received my Bachelor’s Degree. I graduated at the top of my class and was asked to stay at the school to work as a tutor/grader. In addition, I am assigned to the Chaplain’s Department as an Inmate Religious Assistant (IRA). As a tutor, I assist the students currently enrolled in the seminary with their class assignments. Also, I grade the objective tests for the professors and maintain the grade books. As an IRA, I assist the chaplain with the religious services at MSP-Unit 30, distribute religious literature to the inmates population and, most importantly, in my living area I hold a daily prayer service, weekly Bible studies and a Sunday morning service.

NOBTS class of 2009. Ben is seated front row, fourth from right.

Ben with his friend Michelle and mother Debra.

Kairos and the seminary have enabled me to do something positive with my life-something with genuine purpose and meaning. Despite my past mistakes, I am able to help people struggling through life, helping them to find forgiveness and hope in a loving God. This is what I do now and would continue to do if ever released from prison. I am fully confident I could live a productive life outside of prison and contribute to society in a meaningful way. I want to truly pay my debt to society in a way that makes a difference. It seems every time the news comes on, there is a child with a gun at their school; and I feel horrible. “If I could have only talked to them,” I say to myself.

I have lived my entire adult life in prison. I was still a teenager struggling with life when I committed my crimes who had dropped out of school and never held a job. Now I am 34 years-old, and have spent my years in prison trying to make the most of every opportunity given to me. I have dealt with my internal problems, found a spiritual bedrock in Jesus Christ, gained a college education, excel at my current job, and my family situation has improved.

My mother is in the process of purchasing her first home.

My sister, Rachel, is married and currently working towards her degree.

My older brother, Malan, owns a successful advertising company and has guaranteed me a job if I should be released.

Unfortunately, my younger brother, Zachary, died just two days after writing his letter of recommendation for me while serving as a Staff Sargent in the United States Army.

If I was released today, I would be going back to a far different living situation than what I left, and be a far different person. I am not asking you to be easy on crime; I am asking you to give me an opportunity to show people everywhere that prison can be a place of redemption and rehabilitation instead of just punishment. I am asking you to help me help so many others who find themselves struggling through life like I was at 18, so they will realize there is help for them and there is tragic consequences for not getting the help they desperately need. I was a child who made horrible choices; but now I am a man who has made the best of my situation, taken every opportunity available, and can successfully return to society. I have a contribution to make-to pay my debt to society in a real way. I am asking you, Governor Barbour, to give me a second chance.

I would also like to mention, when collecting letters of recommendation there was some uncertainty if Kairos volunteers could write on my behalf since they are volunteers at Parchman. I believe it is important to listen to their opinions about me, since they are the people that would know me best. I see them once a week on Wednesday nights and once on the second Saturday of each month. For nearly 8 years they have been able to observe me and know who I really am. Please contact the Kairos organization in Mississippi while conducting your investigation. I also encourage to contact the officer in Units 30, 29, and 28 who observe me on a daily basis as well as the former director of the extension center, Dr. Johnny Bley and the current director, Mr. Bruce Silk.

Sincerely,

Benjamin Darras #R7164

Unit 28, C-Zone, Bed 110

Parchman, MS 38738

Below is a video that was shown at the 2008 Mississippi Baptist Convention. Benjamin was one of only three inmates to be interviewed for this program.

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Written by pardonletter

June 7, 2011 at 2:40 pm