PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – Fresh out of high school in 1987, Suffolk resident Samuel Harris enlisted in the United States Army, but his dream of serving his country ended following a training exercise accident. His sister, Pamela Copeland, recalled what happened to the young man who brought joy to his family.
“He had a near-drowning experience when he was stationed in Alaska in the Army and after that and everything, I can see – we can see – a change in him mentally and emotionally,” Copeland said. “He was not the same.”
Copeland said post-traumatic stress disorder landed him in the VA hospital, and over the years, substance abuse and crime landed him in prison. Twenty-two years later, this changed man’s case is before the Virginia Parole Board.
“Last year, he created a recovery group to help other inmates deal with anger management, their addictions and trying to help them get back on track,” Copeland said in a Zoom interview.
The new law signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin last week calls for transparency, even public meetings, for a board that has ostensibly operated in secrecy.
The Harris family gives the new law a conditional endorsement.
“There are so many pros and cons I see with it,” Copeland said. “For the most part, I think, it’s a good idea.”
The new law follows partisan rancor over how the Parole Board operated under the Northam administration. Attorney General Jason Miyares even launched an investigation while accusing the previous board of leading a parole frenzy in 2020.
According to the Virginia Mercury, the new law takes effect in July 2024. Harris’s Loved ones continue to pray for clemency.
“I know he will come out a better citizen, willing to do whatever needs to be done to make himself a better citizen and the community, as well, a better place,” Copeland said.
The new law also removes the Parole Board’s Freedom of Information Act exemption. This means news organizations and the public can access additional board records.