Saturday, December 27, 2008

Out of prison, Brevard man rejoices with family

Out of prison, Brevard man rejoices with family

From right, William Dillon sits with his mother Amy, father Joe and brother David at his home in Satellite Beach.

Craig Bailey, Florida Today

From right, William Dillon sits with his mother Amy, father Joe and brother David at his home in Satellite Beach.

SATELLITE BEACH -- The guy in the red suit could have done very little last night to make the Dillon family's Christmas any happier.

David Dillon said he wanted a miracle for his brother, and the family said that's what they received.

The holiday came two weeks early when the state dropped all charges against 49-year-old William Dillon, who had spent 27 years of a life sentence in prison for a 1981 homicide. He had been given a new trial based on new DNA evidence in November.

The last Christmas that Dillon spent with his family was in 1980.

"This is something we didn't expect. It's such happiness. It's unbelievable," his father, Joe Dillon, said at his Satellite Beach home. "This is everyone's present. We don't need any other presents."

Dillon, his parents, two brothers and a sister are spending the holidays celebrating his freedom and thanking God.

"Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, and this year, it means even more to our family because we have been given a special gift," said Dillon's sister, Debbie Lohse of Orlando. "Our family is very blessed this Christmas season to be able to rejoice and celebrate with Bill after more than 30 years."

Faith plays a strong part in the family's day-to-day lives, and it's what Dillon credits for helping him survive nearly three decades behind bars.

"I was angry, and I was bitter, and God took it all that away," he said with a smile. "I'm so happy for everyone. God gave me a Christmas present by just letting me slip out that door."

'An ordinary day'

The family Christmas tree is new -- to celebrate Dillon's return -- and is decorated with gold, blue and red ornaments. A giant, inflatable snowman stands guard on the front lawn, a far cry from the Christmases spent in the Hardee Correctional Institution and the Florida State Prison.

"Christmas in prison?" he asked, emphasizing the irony of the statement. "Christmas in prison is morbid, morbid, morbid. It's sorrow and sadness. In there, Christmas is loneliness.

"There's a lot of attempted suicides in prison at this time of year. People remember being with the people they love because that's what Christmas is about -- love, not presents or other things. It's just a morbid situation in there."

Dillon said it's been years since the prison personnel tried making Christmas anything but an ordinary day for the incarcerated.

"They used to do special things," he said. "But they don't do that anymore. Now, they might substitute chicken that day instead of the regular menu, but that's about it."

During his first few years in prison, Dillon's family could send him Christmas presents such as radios, sneakers and his favorite snack, peanut brittle. But that changed as prisons began cracking down on contraband. Families were allowed to send only money for spending in the commissary.

'Years without Bill'

Christmases at the Dillon house were not much cheerier.

"It was never the same without Bill," Joe Dillon said slowly. "He was always included in our prayers. Having him now is just unbelievable."

Dillon's mother, Amy Dillon, said Christmas was a difficult time of the year, especially because she couldn't stop it from coming.

"Life goes on. Unfortunately, it does," she said. "You just live day by day, and you go year by year. We tried to make the most of it for our other children and our seven grandchildren."

During the past few weeks, Dillon has gotten to know his family members again, found a job at an auto parts store, gotten a cell phone and learned about DVDs and the Internet. He also has bought a car.

No one in the family talks with regret about the missed memories.

"Bill has missed so many years of birthdays, weddings, births of our kids and special holidays," Lohse said. "We can't make up for all those lost years without Bill, but we can start enjoying the years we have ahead to spend with him."

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