WINCHESTER — When he was released after 22 years of incarceration for a 1994 robbery and murder, Jeffrey Franklin Washington had spent more of his life in prison than outside of it.
But the first thing the now 46-year-old Washington wanted to do when he got out was to go back. His goal wasn’t to get in more trouble, but to keep others out of it.
“I want to go and talk to these men and women who are being released,” Washington recalled telling his parole officer in Winchester on the day of his release. “It’s what inspired me in the re-entry. To see somebody who I can consider a peer who says that they are living their dreams. To go back to inspire others.”
Washington spoke with The Winchester Star earlier this month about his time in prison and how the Virginia Department of Correction’s Office of Probation & Parole helped him transition back into society. Washington was convicted of killing Carlos D. Marshall in a drug-related robbery in Marshall’s apartment in Winchester on Aug. 17, 1994.
Washington, who is seeking a pardon, was one of the five men charged in the killing, He said he was in the apartment, but denies shooting the 22-year-old Marshall. Facing the death penalty if convicted, Franklin entered an Alford plea in which a defendant doesn’t admit guilt but concedes the prosecution has enough evidence for a conviction.
While incarcerated, Washington was rotated between several prisons and said addiction, assaults, rapes and stabbings involving fellow inmates were routine. He credits believing God was with him, strong family ties, plus regular exercise and reading for helping him not succumb to despair.
“Prison is a very dark place and they treat you like you’re never going to return to society again,” he said. “A lot of men take up that mindset and they live their lives like that, but 80% of the people in prison are coming out. Sooner or later, they’re returning to society.”
In the six months before his release, Washington participated in a re-entry program that included anger management, cognitive thinking, conflict resolution and developing employment skills. It also included having former prisoners return to give motivational speeches, which inspired Washington to do the same.
“It is a scary feeling to be in a place for so long and not feel equipped to come back into society and make a living and be productive and be successful,” he said “To hear their stories, not only did it prepare me, but it also inspired me to do what I do.”
Washington was rejected for parole 10 times before it was granted on his 11th application. His father, Franklin Washington, fought for 20 years to free him. The elder Washington filed court challenges and often protested outside the Winchester Police Department.
He didn’t live to see his son freed. Washington, 70, died of prostate cancer in 2014. Jeffrey Washington said his father regularly visited him until his body began breaking down. Washington made a deathbed call to him from prison expressing his appreciation and love.
Washington said he’d seen prisoners lose hope and come undone when a supportive loved one died. But he said he used it as inspiration so that his father’s sacrifices wouldn’t be in vain.
“Jesus says in the Bible that the greatest thing a man can do is lay down his life for his brother,” Washington said. “That’s what my father did for me. He laid his life down to make sure I obtained my freedom and that’s another thing that fueled me to get out and speak and tell my story.”
Washington said former Police Chief Gary W. Reynolds, who served as chief from 1997-2004, told him that Franklin Washington’s advocacy led Reynolds to twice testify before the state Parole Board on behalf of the younger Washington. Washington said a parole board member told him it was the first time a Virginia police chief had ever testified before the board on behalf of a prisoner.
Reynolds’ second appearance on Washington’s 11th try was successful. When released, Washington was returned to Winchester in shackles to meet with parole officer Brandon Daisy, who is now a deputy chief with the District 11 Office of Probation & Parole. Daisy immediately had Washington unshackled and served as Washington’s parole officer through the end of December.
Daisy, a probation and parole officer since 2003, said the transition from prison for long-time inmates like Washington includes culture shock. Many are unfamiliar with things most people take for granted like ATM and debit cards, cell phones and the internet. However, Daisy said Franklin adjusted well.
Daisy also said he was familiar with some of the individuals and religious groups Franklin interacted with in prison and supported his goal of giving inspirational speeches.
“Just listening to him speak, I felt he was genuine,” Daisy said. “And I felt he would be a good, positive influence on others that are in his same situation.”
While in prison, Washington said inmates advised him that trucking was a good job for felons who often can’t get hired because of their criminal background. He obtained his Commercial Driver’s License at Lord Fairfax Community College and a fellow church member who owned his own trucking company hired him to deliver to Family Dollar stores on the East Coast.
In July of last year, Washington bought a 26-foot box truck and he and his girlfriend started New Life Delights, an interstate trucking company. He primarily hauls medical equipment and supplies up and down the East Coast.
When not driving, he makes speaking appearances including a scheduled one at the annual Addicted to Hope Rally at Handley High School on Sept. 14. Washington began attending Grace Downtown of Winchester about 18 months ago and he and church pastor the Rev. Brad Hill, a recovering addict and alcoholic, have made about 10 to 15 speeches together.
“God showed up for him and he was released and ever since then he’s hit the ground running,” Hill said. “His story is so relatable to people who have been thrown into an incredibly negative situation.”
Washington said when he entered prison he was merely existing rather than really living. He left with a sense of purpose: to be an example that rehabilitation is not just a word and that ex-convicts can survive and thrive on the outside.
“I truly believe all human beings have a purpose that God has placed in them. Sometimes it takes a hardship for you to recognize what that purpose is,” Washington said. “That’s what it took for me.”