Ex-prisoner, teacher reunite at Montgomery ISD retirement party

There are continue to lots of Texans who know the identify Kerry Max Cook — a guy who has fought the condition judicial program for in excess of 40 years to show his innocence. But the Prepare dinner we know now — an author and advocate living in Houston still combating for the court docket to declare “actual innocence” — could not have been achievable without having the enable of a gentleman named Steven Meeker.

Cook dinner was arrested in 1977 for the murder of a girl named Linda Jo Edwards in Tyler, Texas, a crime he has always managed he did not dedicate. Over the next 20 several years, Cook dinner was attempted 4 periods for the criminal offense: a responsible verdict in 1978, a retrial in 1992 following an appeals court docket overturned the unique verdict, a next responsible verdict in 1994, and a fourth trial that finished in Cook using a no-contest plea following however one more appeals court docket overturned the 1994 conviction.

From the starting the case was comprehensive of questionable police work and a county District Attorney’s office with a lengthy document of extremely-aggressive prosecutions. Cook put in more than 20 years on death row, enduring extraordinary violence and sexual assault though there.

“They explained I was there to be executed, not educated,” Cook stated of getting on death row. “So, I couldn’t go to college no make any difference what, and as a ninth grade drop-out that was the detail I required the most mainly because I did not recognize until I strike the wall of dying row how vital an education was.”

In 1988, following a notably brutal sexual assault by other prisoners, and the news of his brother’s demise, Cook dinner tried suicide by chopping himself in multiple destinations. He was despatched to the psychiatric ward in a further device at the jail in Huntsville the place he achieved Steven Meeker, a trainer with Windham Impartial College District which operates in prisons across Texas.

Prospect conference

For part of the working day, Meeker experienced a classroom in the prison the place he would educate the main subjects for the GED examination. For the other part of the working day he would pay a visit to all those who could not leave their cells. This is the place he met Cook dinner.

“Usually they’d want to explain to me their story initially, so I read a great deal of intriguing stories. Then I would say ‘Well, I truly can’t do something about that, but whilst you are here I can enable you get your large college diploma, so why do not we get the job done on that,’” Meeker explained. “That’s very significantly the way that I was when I met Kerry for the 1st time. But there was some thing about his tale.”

“He walks up to my cell and he’s got free of charge globe apparel on. You really don’t see individuals with free entire world apparel any more so I’m looking at the shoes, the belt, I like that shirt — because I haven’t witnessed any one in totally free earth cloths in years,” Cook dinner reported of his first sighting of Meeker. “He instructed me who he was — Windham College District — I reported ‘I’d give everything to consider my GED.’”

For numerous months they worked jointly to put together Cook to get the GED. Meeker was only allowed to meet up with with Cook two times a 7 days so he would provide him content to function on and exhibit him what to do, and when he would return afterwards in the week they would go about it. Whilst doing the job with Cook, Meeker noticed an clever guy who picked up ideas promptly.

“Kerry picked up on things truly rapidly, and realized factors immediately, so we were being equipped to go quite speedy,” Meeker explained. “It was just a several months of functioning with him that I claimed ‘I believe you’re all set to take the GED.’”

Mainly because Cook dinner was on demise row, Meeker requested him why he was so eager to get his GED.

“Yes, but I’m innocent, and the only chance I’ll at any time have of acquiring myself out of here is as a result of an education and learning,” Cook dinner advised him.

Graduation Day

Cook dinner handed the take a look at with substantial scores in numerous subjects. When Meeker arrived to inform him the fantastic news he introduced along a certification he had printed out at his business so that Cook dinner could have actual physical evidence of his achievement.

“Congratulations, graduate,” Meeker claimed that working day, handing Cook the certification as a result of the bars and shaking his hand.

Meeker snuck in a digicam and a person of the guards allow slide the rule about no images for just a number of seconds, lengthy enough to get a image of Cook and Meeker alongside one another, with Prepare dinner keeping his new certification.

The picture is the only evidence of the certificate still left. At some place, Cook explained, it was taken from his cell throughout a shakedown by the guards. But he designs on obtaining out how he can get a copy of the true 1 from the point out.

About the months that Meeker served Cook prepare for the GED they shaped a friendship. Prepare dinner was cautious who he spoke with since he didn’t want to jeopardize his circumstance, but his connection with Meeker gave him hope. No just one else was telling him he was good, or encouraged him to proceed his schooling.

In August of 1989 Meeker and his relatives moved to Seattle in which Meeker continued to educate outside the house of a regular classroom. He has labored at a psychiatric facility, and a juvenile facility. He promised to produce to Cook and for several months he did, sending him pics of Seattle and telling Prepare dinner to appear stop by when he acquired out. He credits God and his faith for bringing him to the jail at that time.

“To be wholly honest with you, I wanted a job and which is what I found,” Meeker explained. “But bigger than that, I gave my lifetime to Christ when I was 18 and I have sensed that he guides me exactly where he desires me to go, and he opens doorways for me, and then when I go by means of the doorways he enables me to do what demands to be completed there.”

Sooner or later, Meeker and his household returned to Montgomery County and Meeker uncovered additional educating positions with regional university districts. He ended up teaching sixth quality geography in Montgomery Impartial School District — the initial career in education and learning he ever had. Along the way he would inform his students about his buddy Prepare dinner, who was adamant about receiving his GED while on demise row.

Meeker retired this yr following 42 yrs of teaching, lengthy adequate to see 1 of his previous college students become his principal. The geography office at his faculty made particular T-shirts in his honor and the facility where by the retirement celebration was held was packed. Amid the quite a few associates of his relatives, his buddies, his pupils and former students, and his co-employees was a specific visitor Kerry Max Cook.

‘Changed my life’

“I experienced to go, no matter what, due to the fact I realized it was likely to be a home total of educators,” Cook claimed. “I required to convey to them, ‘You guys are not usually appreciated. You are not initially responders but in a way you really are for the reason that what Dr. Meeker did for me altered my daily life and enabled me to commence my training.’”

Meeker fulfilled Prepare dinner at a person of the lowest points of Cook’s life. His brother experienced just been murdered, the appeals court docket had just reaffirmed his conviction, he had been brutally assaulted, and he was commencing to truly feel hopeless.

“When I hit dying row I did not know sales tax from syntax,” Cook dinner claimed. “He gave me the expertise that would afterwards enable me fight my way off of death row.”

Soon after he was launched in 1997 next the next court docket of appeals verdict that overturned his conviction, Cook dinner grew to become an outspoken advocate in opposition to the death penalty and began touring the planet telling his story. In 2016 a county choose in Tyler threw out his conviction but he proceeds to combat for exoneration and a ruling of “actual innocence” from the Texas Courtroom of Legal Appeals.” He talks of likely back again to Montgomery ISD with Meeker to talk to his former students with each other and share their tale.

“As a trainer you in no way know the impression you have on men and women right up until lots of decades afterwards often,” Meeker reported. “It’s really gratifying to hear any person arrive back again and say ‘you actually built a difference for me,’ so it is a person of the causes I truly feel sorry for anybody who’s not a instructor.”

[email protected]