Af­ter 47 years in prison, man en­joys kind­ness of stranger, now friend

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - Dan Ro­dricks

It takes Kurt Wen­z­ing the good part of an hour to get from his home in Car­roll County to Calvin Ash’s house in Wil­son Park on the north side of Bal­ti­more. He makes the trip at least once a week, some­times twice, to check up on Ash, to see what he needs and to do some chores.

He does this, he says, to make up for the way the state of Mary­land treated his new friend.

“Be­cause of the way two Demo­cratic gover­nors treated him,” Wen­z­ing says. “And I’m a Demo­crat.”

It’s a long story, re­ported in this space a few times over the last decade. I’ll sum­ma­rize:

Calvin Ash spent 47 years in prison for a crime he com­mit­ted when he was 21, a hos­pi­tal kitchen worker and the fa­ther of a 2-year-old boy: He shot and killed a man who was see­ing his es­tranged wife. Ash con­fessed to po­lice. A judge sen­tenced him to life in prison.

Af­ter 32 years, the Mary­land Pa­role Com­mis­sion rec­om­mended that Ash be re­leased. But the gover­nor at the time, Martin O’Mal­ley, a Demo­crat, re­fused to let that hap­pen. He and an ear­lier Demo­cratic gover­nor, Par­ris Glen­den­ing, had re­jected pa­role for in­mates serv­ing life sen­tences, a po­si­tion that Glen­den­ing later dis­avowed as tough-on-crime pol­i­tics.

Sev­eral years af­ter that, the com­mis­sion re­con­sid­ered Ash’s case and voted 8-0 for his re­lease. But five more years would go by be­fore Ash fi­nally caught a break from a dif­fer­ent gover­nor.

Last April, Larry Ho­gan, a Repub­li­can, com­muted his sen­tence. The 68-year-old

Ash came out of prison in July, some 15 years af­ter the pa­role com­mis­sion had orig­i­nally rec­om­mended his re­lease.

He had $300, mostly money his brother, Ju­lian, had sent dur­ing his in­car­cer­a­tion. Ju­lian, who lives in Ok­la­homa, ar­ranged for Calvin to live in their late mother’s home in Wil­son Park, a two-story row­house more than 100 years old and in need of work, in­clud­ing a roof re­pair.

En­ter Kurt Wen­z­ing, a 79-yearold re­tired So­cial Se­cu­rity em­ployee who lives in West­min­ster.

Ju­lian Ash first men­tioned him in an email to me in Novem­ber: “Mr. Kurt Wen­z­ing has been an ab­so­lute bless­ing! He’s helped with paint­ing the in­side walls, fix­ing fur­ni­ture and groom­ing the ex­te­rior. He takes Calvin to some ap­point­ments. He also brought a con­trac­tor who has done some emergency work for us at a price we were able to work with, so we have been Blessed!”

On Wednesday, I found Wen­z­ing in the Ash house. He wore a T-shirt with an amus­ing ex­pres­sion — “Bet­ter To Have Wres­tled And Lost Than To Have Played Bas­ket­ball” — and paint-splat­tered jeans. He had just fin­ished paint­ing door trim in the kitchen.

He had ear­lier painted the walls in the liv­ing room and dining room. He re­placed some ceil­ing tiles, too. He made an $800 loan for the roof re­pair that the Ashes have since paid back. “My wife is start­ing to com­plain that I’m spend­ing more time work­ing on Cal’s house than my own,” Wen­z­ing said.

How did this stranger from Car­roll

County be­come a help­ful friend of an ex-in­mate in Bal­ti­more?

Wen­z­ing read ac­counts of Ash’s predica­ment in The Sun and found it out­ra­geous that he had been im­pris­oned 15 years longer than the pa­role com­mis­sion felt nec­es­sary.

He fig­ured that, af­ter 47 years in prison, Ash had a dif­fi­cult tran­si­tion to make, and Wen­z­ing held no ex­pec­ta­tions that the state would pro­vide as­sis­tance. “I’m do­ing this be­cause they’re not help­ing him,” Wen­z­ing says. “I felt the state owed him, and I wanted to help be­cause I knew they wouldn’t. And I’m a Demo­crat, and I’m telling you, it made me so mad.”

Wen­z­ing fixed parts of the old wooden porch

“The front looked bad,” Ash said. “I cleaned up the lawn some,” Wen­z­ing said. “It looks as good as all his neigh­bors’ now.”

While the three of us were talk­ing about this, Calvin Ash’s 50-year-old son, Calvin Ash Jr., walked in with gro­cery bags in his hands and some stark re­al­ity on his mind: “I spent half my life — well, my life — with­out a fa­ther.”

The room fell quiet.

When he was just a boy of nine, Calvin Jr. ex­pected that his fa­ther would be out of prison by the time he was a teenager. It’s what the fa­ther told the son dur­ing a prison visit.

That false hope came in a let­ter from the se­nior Ash’s sentencing judge. “The judge wrote me back when I wrote him, and he said, ‘Look, you do all right, you’ll be out in15 years,’” Ash said.

“And to a child 9 years old that was like a prom­ise,” Calvin Jr. said. “And then I got guys say­ing, ‘He ain’t never get­ting out.’ And I’m not be­liev­ing people on the street, I’m be­liev­ing my fa­ther.”

But it was an un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tion. Al­most five full decades passed be­fore the fa­ther came home and settled into his new life

He gets some dis­abil­ity ben­e­fits and some food stamps each month. But the Jan­uary wa­ter bill shocked him, and he wor­ries about util­ity costs once a grant he re­ceived to cover some of them runs out. The house needs more re­pairs, and there’s the prop­erty tax bill.

“I’d like to get just a lit­tle part-time job,” Calvin Ash said.

If the right op­por­tu­nity comes his way, you can bet his new friend will drive him to the job in­ter­view. “Any time I’m help­ing him,” Kurt Wen­z­ing said qui­etly, “it makes me feel good.”

DAN RO­DRICKS/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Kurt Wen­z­ing, left, and Calvin Ash, who have be­come friends, sit on the front porch of Ash’s home in Wil­son Park in Bal­ti­more.

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