Tim and Deion
You will gain great insight to our society by understanding how we create our criminals.
Admit who you are and forgive yourself. Then you can grow to be the person you need to be.
Teresa Deion Harris
Tennessee Prison for Women 2007
My wife, Teresa Deion Smith Harris, was born eighth generation in West Tennessee. Her mother suffered crippling injuries causing her to be bedridden during Deion's early life. Deion found herself “hanging out” and seeking a cohesive family, somewhere to belong. Her rapes began at an early age and by 12 the price of acceptance to her limited circle was to submit to gang rape and drugs. She suffered post traumatic stress disorder most of her life. By 15 she was drug and alcohol addicted with a dependent personality disorder. At 22 she was with a dominating abusive male who killed a young man. The 24 year old killer took a plea bargain to testify against her. This resulted in her conviction of First Degree Felony Murder and a sentence of Life Without the Possibility of Parole. She had two children, three and four at the time.
I met Deion in February 2000 while doing prison research. I had employed ex-felons and men in trouble with the law on construction in Washington State. I was very happy with their work but needed to understand their culture to better utilize them. Through the Internet I met several prisoners and visited six prisons in six states. Unlike most prisoners, Deion would not take money nor give out a visitation form. Amazingly, she had handwriting and a picture that indicated a fascinating and mature woman. I first saw her during a court Post Conviction hearing in Paris, TN. After that she consented to meet the following September. In January 2001 I was present when she met with her parents and children and watched for three hours as she tried to guide her children’s lives. Following the family visit I said the ominous words “Any woman working as hard as you to raise children from a prison cell deserves help and I guess I am it.” I was then 55 with two very successful children of my own. I had served four years on a local school board and felt I knew something of raising children. Thus I added to the first statement, “Your children will likely follow you to prison but it need not be and we must start now to re-orientate their lives.” Thus began my odyssey that pitted me against the community that convicted her and convicted her children at the same time.
By the end of 2001 I had possession of all her legal files, court transcripts; family, school, and counseling records. In 2002 I moved from Washington to Tennessee to be near her, the children and the conviction scene. I began an exhaustive reconstruction of the crime and her life. I questioned all who would talk to me. After a year I concluded with certainty that she, or likely even the second young man involved, were not guilty of first degree felony murder. Of a lesser charge; perhaps (by 2011 I would conclude that no lesser charge was justified and in fact, she should have been honored for her action that fateful night and the next 36 hours.). At that point my major interest became why the community needed to convict her and how the conviction was carried through the court system. I began to learn who America really was.
I am a retired Pilot, a former 747 Captain. I have led a privileged life. Nothing in my previous life prepared me for the shocking physical, emotional, and sexual abuse Deion suffered from childhood. I worked in an industry known for meticulousness. I was not prepared for the casual standards of the legal and court systems. More than anything else, coming from life in Northern Cities, I was not prepared for the lives I found in Tennessee. I found the history of slavery and Jim Crow marking every aspect of society. My quest to get Deion, who I married in 2003, out of prison and prevent her children going to prison set me against the very social structure that America developed in its journey to become the world’s largest prison society.
Parenting is the first cause of incarceration. America is by and large a nation of mediocre and poor parents. The second cause of incarceration is of course the system itself. Prisons have a higher retention rate than high schools. Once a child is caught up in the criminal justice system they seldom escape until their lives are expended.
I soon turn 65. Deion is now 39 and still in prison. We have exhausted all legal appeals with not surprising refusals. Her son, the “sweet young boy” pictured is now in prison. He has a son, now 1 year old, who stands a very high probability of going to prison as well. This is America. This is the system. This is a system I find fault with.
After ten years of knowing my wife Deion I feel fortunate. I have a purpose in life. She is held in prison for vengeance and cruelty, not for justice. The children are condemned with her and for the same reasons. Her son stole drugs to sedate his lifelong pain. What he will do next? Her daughter struggles and slowly moves ahead but at 20 she must overcome nine generations of stagnation.
I am the lone husband in this series. It is my honor and privilege to be featured with these wonderful ladies. And I have a purpose in life.
January 1, 2010.
Deion is happy to get mail. Her address:
Teresa Deion Harris 233590
Tennessee Prison For Women
Unit 2 north B 37
Nashville, TN 37218-3302
PlEASE Sign the petition to release Deion from incarceration;
Teresa Deion Harris is serving a life without parole sentence for a murder she tried to prevent 17 yrs ago.
Februrary 12, 2012
Deion and I remain happily married, or as happy as a prison marriage can be. I do not try to set any standard for love and support of the imprisoned. I just do what I can for Deion. In the interests of open knowledge, to help people know what being married to a prisoner is, I list the simple facts of what support means.
I send her $225/mo on account.
I send stamps whenever needed.
I put $50 on her phone account most every month.
I send $40/mo to her cell mate.
I put $25 on her cell mates phone account every month.
I give help and guidance to her children when they will accept it.
I visit her every week end I am in Tennessee.
A visit will cost $38 in round trip gas, $16 in vending machines,
and a $10 donation to the Reconciliation House where I stay.
There is a Christmas package for her and her cellmate at $125 each.
There are clothing and necessities from Union Supply every three months at
About $175 each.
But the most important item is really the visit, the ability to make her feel unthreatened, listened to, and counseled during visits. Visitation is the only opportunity for a prisoner to feel totally human, totally loved. Without these visits and the emotional guidance and support she could have no growth, rehabilitation, or self respect. Deion is one of less than ten women out of 900 who enjoy this type of support; the rest languish in neglect by family and society.
The emotional burden is lessened by the growth of our marriage into a wonderful relationship where both of us mature. After eight years of marriage we still have regular talks about the status of our lives, hopes, and the relationship between us. Honesty and openess continue. Disagreements have been few and far between in all these years mostly because of our concensus approach to life. I wish every married couple were so fortunate.
Visit the Free Deion website to learn more about battered women and Deion's life.