The impact her incarceration would have on her little brother was very much on Boyd’s mind when she made the decision not to go to trial. “He was actually the reason why I accepted the plea agreement that I did,” she says. “Part of it was ignorance, too, because I was afraid of trial.” A lot of that fear was based on her race: “A disproportionate amount of black people were going to trial, and blowing trial, so I was kind of scared of that whole process.” The prospect of risking her freedom for an indefinite amount of time with an unpredictable trial was too daunting.
“I just constantly thought about the time difference—how old he would be if I did this amount versus that amount?—that actually played a role in my decision, as crazy as it may sound now,” Boyd says. The problem was, she had no idea how the system worked or what variables were in play. “I did the math based on his age, not understanding what the parole system was like and all the other politics regarding that,” Boyd says. “Ten years actually turned into 16 years.” In hindsight, Boyd says, she should have gone through with the trial.
So how did 10 years turn into 16? According to Boyd, New York state’s corrections system is leery about granting parole to first-time violent offenders. “It’s been a big challenge,” she says. “It’s at the discretion of the parole board.” She notes that “a lot of people” have fought to change rules that give so much power to parole boards, rules that result in frustrated prisoners with no certainty about their release dates. Boyd was eligible for parole after 10 years, but it wasn’t until year 16 that Boyd’s good behavior while incarcerated earned her a conditional early release. Six months was cut off her total sentence.
But Boyd and her younger brother managed to stay close through it all by writing letters and having visits. The state shuttled her among different facilities, some better than others. One facility had trailers set up for family visits. But no matter where Boyd was transferred, her family always made the trip to see her. Boyd struggled to “hold it together when I seen his little face,” she says, but afterward, there were a lot of tearful nights. During the earliest visits, Boyd says she tried to explain to Eric why she was in prison; she went into as much depth as was appropriate about what had happened and why it happened. She desperately wanted him to understand. But she soon realized that her need to explain was not as helpful as his need to share his life with her. “We passed that stage,” Boyd says. “Then we focused on a lot about what he was doing and what he was into in school—all his little dreams—talking about a picture he may have made for me, or a letter that he may have wrote, to try to make it as normal as normal can be.”
For her part, Boyd made crafts for him, she sent him gifts, she remembered his birthdays. “When he got older, he would come up on his own,” Boyd says. No questions or subjects were off limits, she says. She always answered him as honestly as possible, and he trusted her to help him understand the world. “Who was going to be there to guide him? You’re not going to open up to mom and dad about certain things that you would to your sibling; that’s just how it is,” she says. As Boyd tried to “stay sane” inside and ensure her brother’s well-being on the outside, Boyd says her biggest worry was always for Eric’s emotional health.