Freed 3-strikes offender is being watched closely by supporters, critics
In the month since he left the Monroe Correctional Complex as the state's first three-strikes offender to be granted clemency, Dozier says he hasn't spent much time dwelling on the pressure that could lead him back to prison nor the pressure of having so many people counting on him.
Seattle Times staff reporter
When the gate slowly rolled open, revealing a cloudy May afternoon, Stevan Dozier tried not to look back at the prison behind him.
Dozier ran forward and kissed his wife, Lillian, and thanked her repeatedly for supporting him during his 15 years behind bars.
He didn't feel the pressure that afternoon, while his ailing mother slept on his shoulder, nor days later when he went to work scrubbing toilets. He didn't even feel it when driving past police cruisers or boys in saggy jeans standing on street corners near his home and Seattle's Central Area.
In the month since he left the Monroe Correctional Complex as the state's first three-strikes offender to be granted clemency, Dozier says he hasn't spent much time dwelling on the pressure that could lead him back to prison nor the pressure of having so many people counting on him. Among those closely following his progress are King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, King County Councilmember Larry Gossett, Gov. Chris Gregoire and even conservative radio talk-show host John Carlson, who was behind the three-strikes law. All of them worked to grant Dozier a second chance at freedom.
If there is pressure, Dozier said earlier this week while seated at an Alki coffee shop, it's in his overwhelming desire to avoid letting down his wife and family, the people who stood behind him during a decade and a half in prison, even when there appeared no chance he would ever walk out alive.
"I'm grateful every day. My wife is a religious lady, and she told me that through God everything is possible," said Dozier, 47. "My intent is to do everything I can to give back to society in a positive way."
A lesson to share
Dozier spends his days pounding the streets — visiting politicians, community centers and school-district offices in search of an opportunity to share his story with elementary and junior-high-school children who are on the verge of falling into trouble.
"I'm tired of seeing them kids coming to prison. They need to learn from me and other people about our mistakes. We can contribute to them," Dozier said. "Once the kids get on the streets, it's hard to pull them off the streets. I'm looking at the prevention."
When he's not trying to land his first speaking engagement, Dozier is engrossed in technology — learning how to send e-mails and search the Internet. He "pecked out" his first text messages with help from his grandsons, downloaded his first digital photos, and he has even started a blog that he hopes to use in sharing his story with at-risk youth.
"It's like coming out of a cave," said Dozier. "It's beautiful."
Part of Dozier's technology education comes from Seattle interior designer Robin Anderson, who volunteers with a Swedish nonprofit organization that is hoping to establish roots in the U.S. In December, the director of The Sea of Stars Foundation wrote Dozier a letter after reading a story about his clemency petition.
In a letter she sent to Dozier, the foundation's director said she would like Dozier to "spearhead" a youth project.
Dozier and Anderson meet at least once a week to discuss the nonprofit's plans for him and so he can learn how to work a laptop the group has loaned him. Dozier reads her what he has posted on his Blogspot page and calls Sea of Stars members in Sweden over the Internet.
"It has been a joy to get to meet Stevan; he reminds you to be grateful about everything," Anderson said. "To see his energy and enthusiasm, when there are so many people who can't seem to find the energy to get themselves out of bed, is just a thrill."
Larry Evans, legislative aide for Gossett, views Dozier as the image of success in "habilitation," what he describes as "becoming a more human, a more productive and a more humane individual."
"Stevan is an extraordinary individual," said Evans. "There's no question in my mind about his sincerity. I think one of those things that separate Stevan from a lot of people is Stevan has done so much introspection. He has become grounded."
Evans said he met Dozier about five years ago through Seattle's Village of Hope, an organization that works closely with black inmates. Gossett even appeared before the state Clemency and Pardons Board in December to plead for Dozier's release.
Satterberg, King County Superior Court Judge Brian Gain and Carlson also spoke in support of Dozier during the hearing. In the end, the board voted 4-0 to recommend clemency, and last month Gregoire agreed.
While Dozier attributes his release to prayer and luck, he firmly believes that the crimes he committed should not come under the three-strikes law, which mandates life in prison after convictions on any three of a list of felony charges.
After graduating from Rainier Beach High School in 1979, Dozier began getting into trouble and abusing drugs, mainly cocaine. He was arrested after punching a woman during a purse snatching on Aug. 26, 1986, and he hit or grabbed two women during purse snatchings in March 1988. He also grabbed a 69-year-old woman's purse and pushed her down in February 1994 — his third-strike offense.
During his 15 years in prison, Dozier said he held down a number of jobs, attended drug and alcohol counseling and was part of the "Concerned Lifers," a group of men serving life sentences who get together to discuss social issues. It was his behavior in prison — while serving a term that had no end — that earned Dozier the support of Satterberg and others, who argued for his release.
The placement of second-degree robbery on the same list as murder, rape, kidnapping and more than 30 other violent offenses, all of which qualify for a life sentence after a third conviction, has been questioned repeatedly in recent months.
State Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, introduced a bill in the Legislature that would have removed second-degree robbery from the three-strikes list. The proposal, which would have resulted in the release of more than 80 offenders from state prisons, didn't pass.
On average, it costs nearly $37,000 per year to house an offender inside the state prisons, according to the Department of Corrections.
While Satterberg, the prosecutor, doesn't support the removal of second-degree robbery from the three-strikes list, he said that his office rarely uses the charge as a third strike. Last year, he asked a group of senior prosecutors to review three-strike cases filed between 1994 and 1997 to make sure the sentence of life without parole fit the crime.
Today, Satterberg will appear before the Clemency and Pardons Board in Olympia in support of early release for two other offenders, Al-Kareem Shadeed, 39, and Michael Bridges, 47, convicted robbers who are both serving life in prison for third-strike crimes.
"I think the purpose of their imprisonment has been realized," Satterberg said. "At this point they're changed individuals and don't pose a risk to public safety any longer."
Dozier, who knows Shadeed and Bridges, said, "There are people who have been convicted of low-level offenses who have transformed their lives."
When Dozier speaks of "transformation" he talks about becoming a man who gets up every morning and drives his wife to work. He said he works at her janitorial company several nights each week, attends alcohol-abuse counseling and spends as much time as he can with his grandchildren, his siblings and his parents, who live in Federal Way.
Mary Bedford, the victim of the 1994 attack, wanted to see Dozier sentenced to life in prison. She told the King County prosecutor's office that she didn't support clemency.
Seattle police Detective Mike Ciesynski, who investigated the 1994 attack on Bedford, believes Dozier is a sociopath who never should have been freed. The longtime detective said that in his 30 years of handling robbery and homicide cases he has rarely encountered a more dangerous person.
"They're putting people's lives at risk by having someone like Stevan Dozier released," Ciesynski said. "They could have found murderers with less of a chance to re-offend."
Dozier said he knows there are people who disapprove of his freedom, but he said they need to learn to forgive and trust that "my release from prison is not a threat to society." He checks in monthly with his probation officer for required meetings.
"I don't feel any pressure, because when I feel pressure I slow down and think things through," Dozier said. "When I took a drug class in prison, a guy taught me to do a cost-benefit analysis of everything I do. Think about what the outcome could be."
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or email@example.com
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