Do you believe in second chances? Help me save a life…

Do you believe in second chances? Help me save a life…

Originally posted on July 23, 2014

Manslaughter has to be one of the most gruesome, chilling words in the English language. There’s no questioning its meaning, its unsettling nature, and it’s fierce impact. It takes on a connotation far more profound than even murder, killing, assassination. I mean, who could fathom “slaughtering” another human being? Okay, so maybe it wasn’t purposeful. Somehow, placing “involuntary” in front of it, doesn’t seem to diminish the intensity of the word. So when is justice finally served in an involuntary manslaughter? Unfortunately, in this case, it isn’t. And it’s something I’ve been struggling with, almost hiding behind, for quite some time. I had been afraid to talk about it, to ask for help, and to finally find the answers that I so desperately needed…until now. And I need your help. I’ll try and make this as quick as I can…

In January of 1994, my biological father, Randy Matthews, was leaving a bar in Texas after having more than his share of beer (he later blew a .2x). He decided to head to his brother’s house, just down the road, for a place to crash for the rest of the night. He had just recently made his way back down to Eastern Texas from Massachusetts, and wasn’t entirely familiar with his surroundings. Nevertheless, he started off on his way in a brand new 4 x 4 Ram, lifted, with over-sized tires and a custom exhaust (loud!). With the radio blaring, he paid little attention to his surroundings. He knew he’d find good ol’ Hardy Road one way or another…or so he thought. He never did make it to his brother’s that night. In fact, he never saw his brother (my uncle) again.

After several minutes of cruising along, his heart dropped when he caught a glimpse of one of those bright red “WRONG WAY” street signs. You know, one of the signs that always makes you second guess yourself when driving onto the on-ramp of a new highway for the first time? So it all started with one small mistake. He had made a wrong left-hand turn at the previous intersection and suddenly was forced into a decision. We all know that drunk driving and quick, spur of the moment decisions don’t tend to turn out well. You can see where this is going. So here’s the scenario: He was at the base of a short, somewhat steep hill, travelling approximately 40 MPH. It was just after 2 AM and there was hardly any traffic to speak of. Up ahead, just as the hill began to crest, he noticed a familiar landmark – a rusty, old train station that he associated with Hardy Road, about 30 seconds off. In his mind, he had two choices. He could either a) make himself more vulnerable to potential oncoming traffic by attempting to swing the big diesel truck around, or b) speed up and take a quick left up at the top of the hill. He chose the latter and stepped on it. So now, travelling faster and faster and beginning to lose control, the truck shot up the hill, peaked, and the suspension coils begin to lift, raising the entire front end, and making the truck even more of a monstrosity as it tore up and over the once distant horizon. At this point, it was too late. By the time the truck evened out, it was already powering its way up and over an oncoming car, causing massive destruction. Two of the passengers, a little girl and her father, were pronounced dead on the scene.

My father was given 20 years for involuntary manslaughter. There’s that word again. I was 4 at the time. It took another 14 years for me to find out the truth about that night and my father’s whereabouts. He’d been locked away all that time, missing my entire childhood. For a long time I really wasn’t sure how I felt about it and how to really process it. So, I left it alone. I had (have) two brothers that I’d never even met, a dad in prison, and I was just starting college. It was all so overwhelming, you know? Finally, it was that second Summer home from school that I worked up the courage to write him. That first letter took me hours and hours to compose. It was my first impression, after all, it meant everything to me. I was so terrified that I wouldn’t get a response, that I’d find someone who really didn’t care about me after all, and what I’d become. I would have been devastated.
So let’s fast forward to the start of this year… 19 years from the date of the accident and I’m finally starting to form a relationship with my biological father. By then, he’d written hundreds of times, called weekly, and we met for the first time face-to-face (even though it was behind a glass). As the end of the sentence drew (draws) nearer, things were really looking up. I felt like I had someone to talk to about everything, a pen pal in a way… Until three weeks ago when he stopped writing.

Last Thursday, I received a phone call from a prison hospital in Galveston that my dad had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. They couldn’t give me any more details.He had apparently gone in for a routine check-up on some chest tightness. Just like that – a death sentence. I flew out later that evening, a mess, wondering if I’d even get the chance to say goodbye. Upon landing, I confirmed his location and drove 5 hours south from Dallas, down to the hospital to find that he had been transferred 5 hours back north. As it turns out, after they had just finished several highly invasive procedures just several hours before, they decided that someone else needed his bed more than him. So, they shipped him out at midnight, in the back of a transfer van, chained hands and feet to the floor, forced to sit on a metal bench. With all of the transfers and stops along the way, his trip ended up being 10 hours long, no bathroom breaks; The same trip, mind you, that he’s going to have to make to and from the hospital for chemotherapy every single week… fighting for his life in the back of a van.

Dozens of phone calls later, my visit was finally approved. He wasn’t well enough to make the visitation room, so they had to clear the unit of all other inmates, and walk me straight through the prison and into the “infirmary”. I wasn’t allowed into his room per prison policy. I was told I’d be allowed to speak with him through a small opening in the door. At this point, he still didn’t know I was coming and he, himself had just arrived. As I approached the cell, the nurse greeted me and asked me about my Master’s Degree. He had already told her all about me :/ I completely broke down and couldn’t get any words out. It all hit me like a ton of bricks, right then and there. He’d been there an hour and had already started talking about how proud he was. The accompanying officer didn’t hesitate, unlocked the door, and told me to go and give him a hug. It was the first time I’d ever hugged him.
On his discharge papers, his condition was listed as “fair”. “Oh gee, thanks” he said with a chuckle. The cancer has spread from his liver into his lungs, and into most of his other organs. He remains strong physically, aside from the occasional bouts of nausea and shortness of breath. Mentally, he’s depleted. Four days elapsed before someone decided to give him a tooth brush. No paste, so he’s forced to use soap to wash the taste of vomit out of his mouth on a daily basis. Off to the left of the room is a stack of several brown paper bags, each with a half-eaten peanut butter sandwich. The menu doesn’t change much in there. No books, no TV, no friends or family left to visit him. It’s just me and his oxygen tank. He calls it his “little buddy”. We’re about all that’s keeping him alive right now. I’ve decided that I can’t do it alone. I’m not going to get the help of the prison staff and I desperately need your help! Please help me keep my father alive. He was just brought back into my life and I know it has for a reason. I’m just not ready to let him go. I know that together, in prayer, with powerful thoughts and well-wishes, we can give him a glimmer of hope. There’s not much left in that dark, lonely cell.

The prison has stripped away every ounce of dignity and virtually eliminated any preservation of self-worth . He truly had nothing to live for until two years ago. Now, he’s on the fight of his life. And, he’s doing it for me…to show me that he can be an incredible person.So please, regardless of whether or not you believe in second chances, I just want to be able to help my dad to feel loved, like he matters, just one more time. If I have to lose him, I want him to be able to go out on top, like he wasn’t a waste, and he didn’t let me down. Here’s how you can help…

1) Please pray for him. He needs all the help he can get. All he has is God right now.

2) I’ve set up an account to electronically send messages (at no cost), directly to him. Here’s how to access it.

Go to JPay.com
The login name is LettersForRandy@Gmail.com
The password is keephopealive
Next to email, click compose. Feel free to write messages, send articles, success stories, songs, pictures, etc. You can keep them anonymous if you’d like.
Click send and he’ll receive the message within 24-48 hours.

3) Alternatively, you can email any notes to me directly at LettersForRandy@Gmail.com. I’ll be sure to forward them anonymously.

4) You can mail him letters directly using the following address…

Randy Matthews #719515
Estelle Unit
264 FM 3478, Huntsville, TX 77320-3320
*Please note that he can’t receive any packages… just letters and some pictures. All letters are pre-screened, so nothing derogatory towards the prison please. It’s not necessarily the people that are at fault, but the system.

Thank you so much for your support, this has been a very difficult time for me.

~Justin

UPDATE: Randy passed away on 10/27 at 11:58AM. Thanks again everyone for your support..

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