BANGOR — Nettie Pond of Levant carried a bouquet of balloons to the Maine Correctional Center Wednesday morning. She had come to the Windham prison with her daughter, Denise, to bring home her son, William Tapley.
“They released them [balloons] to freedom,” Heather Pond, Tapley’s 15-year-old niece said Wednesday night.
Tapley, 32, who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer last June, was released on schedule after completing a two-year sentence for burglary at a state liquor store, despite Pond’s repeated pleas to the Department of Corrections for her son’s early release on compassionate grounds.
Tapley’s doctors had given him less than a 25 percent chance of surviving a year. Pond, who already has buried her mother, her father, a sister and a brother — all of them lost to cancer — was afraid her son would die in prison.
She launched an aggressive campaign to bring him home to die. Every day for nearly six months, she made phone call after phone call to the corrections department and to prison officials.
With the number of AIDS and HIV-infected prisoners rising, and as the general prison population ages, more and more prisoners who are not serving life sentences are nonetheless facing death in prison. Twenty-six states offer some form of compassionate release for terminally ill inmates. In Maine, however, a dying prisoner has virtually one option: a sentence commutation by Gov. Angus King.
But the commutation process is lengthy, and unlikely to be granted. Dennis Bailey, a spokesperson for King, said last fall that the state’s position essentially is this: If you do the crime, you do the time.