Skip to comments.Priest to Be Paroled in Time for Easter
Posted on 03/10/2006 6:04:46 PM PST by sionnsar
The Rev. James Tramel, 38, is scheduled to celebrate his first Easter as a priest and a free man April 16 at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
Last year Fr. Tramel was scheduled to be released from Solano State Prison in Vacaville in time to serve as a deacon at the Easter Vigil at Grace Cathedral, but those plans were put on hold when California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reversed the parole boards decision on Good Friday. The board again recommended Fr. Tramel for parole this year and on March 9 a spokesperson for Gov. Schwarzenegger said he would not review the decision. His release is scheduled for March 12.
As a 17-year-old student, holding a nomination to attend the United States Air Force Academy, Fr. Tramel and some other students sought one night to confront gang members whom they said had attacked a fellow student. They did not find any gang members in the park in Santa Barbara, but one of the other students stabbed a homeless man to death. While he did not wield the knife that killed Michael Stephenson, Fr. Tramel was found guilty of second-degree murder as a co-conspirator and sentenced to a 15-year-to-life prison term. In 1987 he became San Quentin prisons youngest inmate.
During his incarceration, Fr. Tramel underwent a religious conversion while caring for sick inmates in a prison hospice. He acknowledged his guilt and said he was ashamed that he did not try to help Mr. Stephenson or get help for him. Supporters of Fr. Tramel note that since 1990, psychological and counseling evaluations have repeatedly established that he does not pose a threat to society.
I feel humbled, Fr. Tramel told the Los Angeles Times from prison upon learning the news. I feel the weight of my responsibility to justify the faith that people have put in me.
After his religious conversion, Fr. Tramel started an Episcopal congregation in the prison. The congregation began with inmates reciting prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. Eventually the congregation grew and chaplains began visiting to conduct full communion services. After earning a college degree in prison in 1996, Fr. Tramel enrolled in the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in 1998 with the support of the prison chaplain and the backing of the Bishop of California, the Rt. Rev. William Swing. Fr. Tramel earned a Master of Theological Studies degree in May 2003.
Bishop Swing ordained Fr. Tramel to the priesthood in June 2005. He is the only prison inmate to enroll in an Episcopal seminary while incarcerated, and the first to be ordained while still a prisoner.
Last Easter Bishop Swing strongly criticized the decision to deny parole, calling Gov. Schwarzenegger a 90-pound moral weakling from the cathedral pulpit. After the decision this year, Bishop Swing thanked the governor and acknowledged that any inmates parole is a leap of faith.
I realize that the test is whats going to happen when hes out, Bishop Swing said. Thats where folks have to trust somebody and I thank them for trusting James and me and the Episcopal Church.
Upon his release Fr. Tramel will take up the post of assistant at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Berkeley and will marry his fiancé, the Rev. Stephanie Green. Long the subject of media attention, Fr. Tramel was profiled in a front-page story in the Los Angeles Times.
Episcopal News Service contributed to this report.
The Rt. Rev. William Swing, Bishop of California (left) and the Rev. James Tramel are scheduled to celebrate Easter together at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco after Fr. Tramel was granted parole March 9.
Finally! A positive story of repentence and redemption. What a blessing.
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