FEATURE STORIES

Life, Death and the Revolution

by Jeff Hillard
March 2008

 

On a hot Saturday afternoon last June, inside Columbus’ Southfield Missionary Baptist Church, the number of years of served prison time among about 12 to 14 formerly incarcerated individuals in the church may have totaled over 200 years.

Two of their most prominent role models were dead. They died far too young, having re-entered society and metaphorically carved initials like T.R.I.U.M.P.H. and S.T.O.P. T.H.E. V.I.O.L.E.N.C.E. outside those prison walls. Prison was a training ground. Prison was a university. The two deceased friends got their wisdom long before they were released.

These formerly incarcerated friends, lifting the memory and works of their two deceased friends inside Southfield Missionary Baptist this past June, raised the curtain on a new phase of re-entry for inmates, a new phase they believe is quietly sweeping the country – right now.

Call it a new revolution. That’s their term for it.

The visions of Howard and Upchurch have galvanized these formerly incarcerated individuals to empower each other.

Friends, acquaintances, family, and dignitaries joined at Southfield to remember two of the country’s most pro-active leaders in the prison re-entry movement, Timothy Howard and Carl Upchurch. During their incarceration and later their re-entry, Howard and Upchurch committed themselves to improving the lives of others, especially those who were once incarcerated, or those on the verge of landing in prison.

Even in prison, Howard and Upchurch were considered model inmates who used their time to address and satisfy other inmates’ needs and their desires to read, write, or simply become self-sufficient in positive ways.

Most amazing, though, is that Timothy Howard was a wrongfully convicted man. He died suddenly in March, 2006, after being released from prison only three years.

Upchurch died in 2003.

Howard served 26 years in Ohio prisons for a crime he did not commit. On March 15, 2006, a Columbus court declared Howard “actually innocent” of aggravated robbery and murder that he was charged with. His conviction had been overturned in 2003. State law mandated that Howard still had to prove his innocence in order to qualify for a financial settlement from the state for 26 years in prison.

It was reported that Tim Howard’s eventual $2.5 million wrongful-incarceration settlement was, at that time, the largest of its kind in Ohio history.

It’s rare that you will find a church on a Saturday filled mostly with individuals who have done prison time. Yet, a humble unity among those former inmates who knew Howard and Upchurch permeated the church.

Rev. Khalil Osiris, who co-coordinated the memorial service, emphasized this unity at the beginning of the celebration: “It took the recent death of Tim Howard to bring about life. It was clear we were going to have to bring people back together to celebrate a resurrection, the rise of formerly incarcerated individuals who are making a positive difference in this world now.”

“The memory of Tim and Carl and their meaning in our lives are joined with us today to now help turn our community around,” Osiris said.

Denise Howard, Tim’s wife, as well as several members of his family, accepted an engraved plaque commemorating Tim Howard’s contributions to society.

Dr. Terry Collins, Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and a strong advocate of innovative re-entry programs, spoke fondly of the time he met Tim Howard on Death Row at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Chillicothe, Ohio. “It was easy for me to come here to Southfield church today,” he said. “I spoke with Tim just weeks before he died. He never allowed his imprisonment to overcome his life.”

“Dr. Collins did not send a proxy,” Osiris said. “He came. He’s devoted. He understood what Tim Howard and Carl Upchurch were about. He’s a help to facilitate change in the lives of formerly incarcerated individuals.”

“Tim had an inner strength, even though the odds were not in his favor,” Collins said. “He never gave up in prison. He perservered.”

Howard’s friend, Alonzo McCoy, also formerly incarcerated at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, never forgot the raw evidence of Howard’s perseverance, depicting for the audience the late afternoons and evenings in prison when he heard him pecking on his typewriter. “Tim would type those appeal letters, all those letters for assistance,” he said. “He had an old 1920s typewriter, and he was on that typewriter seven days a week.”

Howard, a gifted visual artist, created a drawing that still exists and was gently passed around before the celebration. It was a 1992 drawing on a handkerchief. “I can never forget Tim’s influence,” McCoy said. “We had a struggle and a mandate that the Great Creator sent down for us.”

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Howard and Upchurch Memorial


Howard and Upchurch Memorial Service

 

 

Rev. Khalil Osiris speaks at memorial service

Rev. Khalil Osiris speaks at the memorial service

 

 

Denise Howard, 3rd from right, receives recognition plaque in honor of the life of her late husband, Tim Howard