“The past cannot be undone”. I don’t know how many times I have heard this. I generally dislike it. Of course the past cannot be undone, which is why I’m unsure why I recently used the phrase in a motion to the court asking for compassionate release. I am a non-violent, first time offender serving a life without parole sentence in federal prison.
In 2004, Hurricanes Charlie, Frances and Jean ripped through Florida destroying the east coast. I’m a native Floridian and have been through my share of hurricanes, but that season devastated my mothers, grandmothers, and my home, my boat and the marina where I operated my charter fishing business. My childhood dreams of fishing for a living were on hold. Business until this point was decent. I had a “gift” for fishing (at least that was what I was told). Producing happy fishing memories for my clients came naturally.
After the storms, blue tarps on roofs, clean-up, rebuilding(you never forget a post hurricane, no air conditioning Florida summer) things normalized with one exception. No one was interested in fishing excursions aside from a few out of town insurance adjusters. This was the tipping point. I desperately needed to earn a living and post hurricane business was slow. The bills piled up. I had options and choices but it would mean giving up fishing and finding other work. Instead, I went to the Bahamas where the hurricanes didn’t impact the fishing industry. I could still fish somewhat successfully. It didn’t take long before I was offered the chance for some “easy money.” It was simple. All I had to do was allow these guys to use my boat to transport some drugs while I looked the other way. Unfortunately, it made sense to me at the time. I justified it. I rationalized it. I talked myself into it. I convinced myself I wasn’t doing anything that bad. This is how I got involved in a cocaine conspiracy—a drug I had never even seen before.
Of course we got caught. In July of 2006 my boat was intercepted by the Coast Guard coming from the Bahamas. The two Bahamians on board using the boat were arrested and put in jail. I was terrified. I had never even had a speeding ticket. I got a lawyer and surrendered to the courthouse. In December of that year I exercised my right to trial. The two Bahamians on board testified that I was just letting them use the boat: never handling, selling or seeing the drugs. They were sentenced to 7 years in prison. I was sentenced to life without parole. This functionally means I am sentenced to die in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. They say there is no such thing as a trial penalty (go to trial, get a longer sentence). Ask anyone who went to trial and they would beg to differ.
Not one day goes by that I do not regret my decision to get involved. I live in sorrow for what I have done. Drugs have a major negative impact on society at all levels. Never did I intend to harm a soul by my actions. Being the boat provider and not directly involving myself with any drugs does not minimize the impact those drugs have on our community or the harm they cause to people’s lives. I wish I could redo that fateful day, but “the past cannot be undone.”
I compromised my honesty and integrity and became a criminal. As I recently tried to explain my rehabilitation to the judge who sentenced me, I cannot right my wrongs from back then. I can only become a better man from that day forward. Which is exactly what I have tried my absolute best to do these last 14 years. We always speak of forgiveness. I can easily forgive others. I ask GOD for forgiveness, but I don’t feel I can ever forgive myself for what I have done to my family. There is just too much sorrow and regret in my heart.
I feel GOD answers my pleas for forgiveness through the gracious work of criminal justice advocates. Amy Povah of CAN-DO Clemency has done incredible work highlighting my case, David Gornoski airing my story on the radio, Rufus Rochelle, Malik, Maurice and so many others. I am humbled and extremely thankful for all of the support and hope they bring. I know deep within my heart I am a much better man than I was 14 years ago. I am truly sorry for what I have done. I have asked the court for compassion. I have asked President Trump for his clemency. I agree that I deserved to be punished, but I don’t feel I deserve to be sentence to die in prison. I beg for mercy now, because now I have hope that at least this part of “the past CAN be undone.”
John Bolen is currently serving life sentence without parole for a first time drug offense. Support his appeal for clemency at CAN-DO Clemency.