Trial & Error Newsletter – Feb. 2014
On the character of Dennis Dechaine…
As the holidays approached, Dennis was thrilled to hear from Aaron Kinzel, a former inmate at Maine State Prison who has undergone a remarkable transformation. In the following letter to Trial & Error, Aaron tells how Dennis influenced his development, and he offers a special insight into who Dennis Dechaine is.
I am an instructor at Western Michigan University and teach several courses in the academic areas of criminal justice and public policy. I am also pursuing a doctorate of education degree from the University of Michigan, which focuses upon correctional education. My journey upon this successful path of educational and professional development began in a most unlikely place: behind the walls of Maine State Prison. I was incarcerated at the age of only eighteen for a very serious confrontation with law enforcement, which earned me a 10-year prison sentence. Growing up as a young teenager in prison was a rather difficult journey, but it gave me the foundation of my current successful endeavors. I was an aggressive, violent and uneducated youth who was very pissed off at the world around me.
My journey inside the prison system allowed me to overcome these shortcomings, and it began with several older veteran prisoners who taught me the realm of prison politics and the importance of education. One of these prisoners who mentored me and instilled the importance of personal improvement upon me was Dennis Dechaine. I met Dennis several years after my initial incarceration and quickly began to appreciate his intelligence, determination and sense of humor. In my opinion, Dennis has the heart and soul of a true educator who spent a great deal of his time assisting others in educating themselves while they were incarcerated. Dennis discussed complex legal and public policy concepts with me and showed me ways to analyze and synthesize these into written format. We often discussed ways to contribute to judicial and public policy topics that affected us and our fellow prisoners. Dennis also developed a comprehensive college-level French foreign language course and taught me and several other students on a regular basis. He often discussed the importance of a college education as a catalyst for personal and community transformation. I often enjoyed his interesting and humorous stories of his travels as a college student and never really thought I would follow in those footsteps. His support and mentoring over the years helped me to build a solid educational foundation in the realms of global diversity, criminal justice and public policy for my current career as a college professor.
Another very intriguing aspect of Dennis was his altruistic spirit, sense of humor and his genuine concern for his fellow prisoners. Many times I observed him helping others as well and encouraging them and making the most out of their daily activities in a rather unforgiving and depressing atmosphere. Over the years, I never observed any aggressive or violent tendencies in Dennis and would actually say quite the opposite, that he is much more attuned to a pacifist temperament. This always shocked me, given the violent nature of the prison environment and his very serious criminal conviction. I suppose that it only reinforces my belief that Dennis is an innocent man who was convicted under some rather unusual and seemingly unjust judicial processes. In fact, I would not have developed such a respect for him or interacted with him during our incarceration together had I ever thought he was guilty of the crime for which he was convicted. The joke in prison is that everybody is innocent and has received the short end of the stick. Unfortunately for Dennis, he just may be the only man held in Maine State Prison who is truly innocent and received an unjust punishment.
It is my sincere hope that Dennis will be given a new and fair trial that will look at all aspects of his case, in particular the DNA evidence, which strongly supports his assertion of innocence. I want to reemphasize my gratitude and respect for Dennis and how the man I met in prison has the character of someone who only wishes to contribute to society and not to take away from it. In my opinion, the criminal conviction of Dennis Dechaine does not match his character in any way and, in fact, is quite the contrary to his humble and pacifistic nature.
Aaron Thomas Kinzel, MPA
Instructor of Criminal Justice
Western Michigan University