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An hourglass is perched on an orange football tee on a football field with the Minnesota Vikings logo
Illustration by Steve Worthington

Time is a funny thing.

When we are young, tomorrows seem so far away, like they will never come.

Today, I think of time in multiple ways. There's the NFL season, when I get to watch my favorite sport. There are times where I think, “Come on, let’s get this over with,” and there are moments where I think, “Where has the time gone?” But more than anything, there’s the time I’ve spent contemplating how and why I destroyed my life, her life and their lives.

Before I killed someone, I never thought about what my actions would do to so many people, and how it would affect time for others as well as myself.

On Oct. 6, 1993, I took a woman’s life and forever destroyed the dynamics of the people who relied on her and loved her — a ripple effect that has played out over years.

My devastating decision that day took precious time away from a husband and, most importantly, a child. I deprived a husband of time he assumed they would have together — to raise a family, to enjoy their lives. I deprived a child of her mother, and the years they would spend together.

I stole time from them.

A tragic death

In 1994, I was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, plus 120 months. This meant that the earliest I could be released from prison was about 30 years after my conviction.

In the beginning, I refused to think of the harm that I caused. I refused to take responsibility for what I had done. I blamed everyone but myself. I told people that I was innocent, and that I had been wrongfully convicted, and that I was a victim of the system. In this way, I was able to deny what I had done and convince myself that I would be set free. But the man in the mirror does not lie, and so I drank alcohol and played sports to try to bury and forget the pain of my actions.

At times, I wanted to die. I thought about taking my own life, but was afraid of the cost. Then, in 2000, my mother informed me that she needed a new liver. She was dying from alcohol abuse.

I thought to myself that maybe this was the reason I hadn't killed myself yet, that this might be a way to atone for what I did, for all of the hell that I had put so many people through. I thought that if I died and gave her my liver, I just might be able to clean some of the dirt from my soul.

But, in the midst of this, her mother’s intuition read my mind. She told me I couldn’t kill myself.

“I did not give you life for you to take it away!” she told me.

My mother and I had not always seen eye to eye. We had both found disappointments in each other over some of the decisions we had made. But we did love each other, even if we were often unable to express it.

In December 2000, I lost my mother to alcoholism, something she had been fighting for years.

My true sentence

Within the prison culture, lifers tend to ink themselves with some type of tattoo that represents loss of freedom, that time itself has stopped for them. Usually a stopwatch with no hands, or an hourglass with no sand. For me, no such tattoo. Within my mind, I always heard the ticking of the watch or the sands of time. I needed to hear them, for inside my heart and soul I knew the harm that I had done, and that the consequence was me doing time.

Coming to accept the sentence I was given was a hard thing. Losing my mother, without a chance to see her before she died or the chance to ask for her forgiveness, brought home the reality of my actions. In some ways, this was my true sentence.

The ticking of the clock was my reminder of what I had done. It brought home the knowledge that I never would be able to be there for her.

For some, thinking of the length of their prison sentence drives them to try to escape that reality. In the beginning, for me, it was denial, alcohol and playing sports to help distract me from the cavern of my mind. But Father Time eventually breaks down the body, and the hooch is not always available.

I turned to my love of books to help relieve some of this pain. Books helped me to escape. I preferred to select novels where I could grow with the lead character. I love Laurell K. Hamilton and Robert Jordan, as well as J.D. Robb (a pseudonym used by Nora Roberts). Each of their main characters have given me the opportunity to live a life through them.

But my love of Minnesota sports has helped me most. I am a diehard Minnesota Vikings football fan.

Once I ratcheted up my Vikings fandom, a year was no longer January to December, but from NFL training camp to the Super Bowl, with a little stopover for the NFL draft combine and the greatest promoter of hope, the NFL draft, where college players are selected by NFL teams.

New hope

Around 2013, I started hearing rumors about the possibility of getting paroled. At first I didn't really pay attention, because there are always rumors. To distract myself, I focused on my Vikings and fantasy football, but the rumor wouldn't die.

Over the years, I had taken some courses on cognitive thinking improvement to help me understand some of my mistakes. I had taken them simply out of curiosity: I wanted to understand why I had killed someone. Those classes, to my surprise, were enough to get me moved into a medium-security facility before my first parole hearing 27 years into my sentence.

In June 2021, I went before the parole board and was denied. I was given three years to make more improvements for a shot at parole in 2024.

I measure that time as three Vikings seasons, three Super Bowls and three NFL drafts. Regardless of whether or not I am paroled in 2024, I know that the work I have put in to better myself will give me the tools I need to make the gift of time work for me.

I recently realized that I’ve stopped hearing the ticking of the clock and the sands of time. Now that I’ve acknowledged and accepted my actions and the harm I have caused, along with the time that came with it, I no longer care whether I hear those things.

As with the NFL draft, I now have hope. Hope that I could be paroled. Hope that I could possibly have a life. Hope that one day I will be in the stands at a Minnesota Vikings home game, cheering on the team that helped me get through my time.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Kamili Matata is a writer incarcerated in Minnesota.