When Marc Trice went to prison, Beanie Babies were hip, Whitney Houston sang “I Will Always Love You” and “internet” was not a household word. He was 15 years old and had never held a job. When Trice was released 21 years later, he had to learn how to negotiate the new century as a man in his mid-30s with a felony on his record. And the family of Trice’s murder victim, Sandra Lee Raph, had to learn to live with the knowledge that he was now free.
We first met Trice in 2014 when we broadcast a show from the Oregon State Penitentiary. When we spoke to him there, he told us that two decades in prison had helped him learn how to be a man.
"It's been a long time since I've been free, but freedom for a lot of us just comes from being free on the inside. ... I can say at this point in my life that I'm actually freer now than I was before I got locked up."
Trice says he began changing his life from the moment he stepped into prison. He sought the advice of older prisoners who were living what he saw as positive, goal-oriented lives. The best advice he received was to be honest with himself about who he was and to work hard to change things about himself that were harmful to others.
From day one I knew that I had to change. I saw the harm and the hurt that I caused people. I knew that I had to change my life ... it wasn't about me. It was about about my victim's family and the harm and the pain that I caused.”
Trice tried to spend his time in prison living as closely as possible to the kind of life he wanted to have on the outside, so that when he was finally free, it wouldn't be overwhelming. "I chose to hold down a full-time job. I went to college. I worked with at risk youth. I went to church. And I volunteered my time."
Once he was released, Trice began looking for jobs. He says he exhausted every job opportunity on Craigslist, even though he'd never even been on the internet before being released from prison.
At first I thought I was going to be really involved with the internet, but I got on Facebook for like 10 minutes and I was burnt out ... it was a little too much for me.”
He eventually called every listing under woodworking in the yellow pages, asking if they needed help. His prospective employer asked about Trice's history in prison and decided to hire him anyway. Trice says some people will always have a negative opinion of him because of the crime he committed, and he hopes his actions afterwards will show his character.
I have a huge responsibility upon my shoulders. I didn't go through the 22 years that I did to get out and enjoy it just for myself. ... I got a story to share with young kids ... whoever will listen, whoever is going through a tough time.”
Trice says there isn't a day that goes by that he doesn't think about the crime he committed.
For me it teeter totters on whether it drags you down or motivates you. For me it's a motivator. The pain that I've caused somebody motivates me to pass on my experiences so that no one else will cause the same pain. It's almost a driving force.”
We spoke to Trice a few weeks before he met with the older sister of his victim. When Angela Thomas learned that Trice was getting out of prison, she said she was afraid he might come after one of her kids to hurt her — because he had hurt her before by taking away her sister. She was also frustrated that he was allowed to be free.
He gets to come out in his late thirties and start his life. Where my sister can never have kids, can never graduate high school. It's not fair.”
Trice was Thomas's stepbrother. He lived with her family on the weekends and was one of her and her younger sister Sandra Lee's best friends. For four days after Sandra Lee was murdered, Trice grieved with Thomas.
He held me in my sister's bedroom and grieved with me. ...I watched him get arrested and when they read him his rights he looked at me and gave me a head nod, like 'Yeah, I did it.' And it was probably the most heartbreaking feeling. Because not only did I lose my sister because of an act that you did, but I lost my brother also.”
After he was released, Thomas decided that she needed to meet with Trice to get some clarity about why he had committed his crime. And to try to get a sense of peace for herself.
I can honestly say that I accomplished it. ...I got a sense of closure, and now I feel like I know where his mind is at, and I feel like he is sincerely apologetic for what he did to my sister and what he did to my family.”
Thomas says both she and Trice cried for most of the four hours they talked. Several hours in, said Thomas, "my heart told me that I can never forgive him for the crimes that he committed and what he did to take my sister away. But I forgave the person that he is today."
Thomas hopes that Trice will continue to walk a "righteous path through the rest of his life." For herself, she says the conversation with him was "probably the most rewarding and powerful thing ever ... to heal and to forgive is such a tremendous feeling for yourself."