Like most of us, Diane Covington looks forward to weekends. But that’s where the similarity ends. Traditionally, our two days away from it all are spent having fun, doing chores, just relaxing or combining all three.
To Ms. Covington it means one thing only: bonding with her son in a loving, hope-filled relationship, while each draws strength from the other. The site of their getaway is the Richard J. Donovan State Correctional Facility prison at Otay Mesa, near San Diego.
Her son Tyler, age 28, has served 10 years of a 25-year to life sentence here for shooting another young man during an argument over the man’s refusal to pay a drug debt. Tyler intended to use the gun only to intimidate him. Instead, they got into a fight; the gun accidentally went off; and a father of two sustained life-crippling brain damage.
Bad advice, sad result
Adding irony to tragedy is the fact that the Covington’s lawyer at the time advised Tyler to plead not guilty. And his mother and stepfather, Hilburn, were not only unfamiliar with the legalities that govern this type of case; they were too distraught to even think of challenging their lawyer’s recommendation. Result: a jury trial.
So this frightened, confused 19-year-old Marymount College student, desperate for help, did as he was told. According to his mother, “If he had pleaded guilty, my son could have received 12 years, not 25 to life.
“Since the verdict came down, Hil and I have dedicated ourselves to doing everything in our power to get the sentence reduced. Four lawyers have already tried and failed. We recently hired a fifth.”
Leaving it all behind
No matter how stressful things get, Ms. Covington finds solace in those three or four hours spent with Tyler on Saturday. The six-hour, 342-mile round trip drive from her home in Malibu to Otay Mesa and back is no problem.
“We bought a boat and docked it in San Diego. When I’m too tired to drive back, I rest up there and leave the next day. If I absolutely must be home early the next day, I just do it.”
The lady has been ‘doing it’ with love most Saturdays for the past 10 years— rain or shine, fog, smog or freeway tie ups. “I want to be with him so much that things like putting up with tiring drives don’t matter a bit.
Reason to hope
“I always try to look at the positive side of things, and these days it’s a little easier. If lawyer number five is successful, the end of these trips may be in sight.” Without question there is a positive side, and Ms. Covington proudly provided the details.
“Ty has matured into a wonderful young man. He recently was named a clerk to the prison officers. Only the most trustworthy and able inmates are considered for this position.
“He also has earned his GED (General Educational Development) rating, which is widely accepted as the equivalent of a high school diploma. The next step up is a degree in Business Administration from Ohio University’s Long Distance Learning program. Tyler is currently hard at work on that project.”
Self-rehabilitation at its best
In addition, he has mentored other inmates—helping them adjust to prison life and familiarizing them with opportunities for improving their lives. A standout baseball player in high school and college, he somehow finds time to work out and run three to five miles a day to keep in shape. “He even cuts his own hair,” his mother noted.
Like her son, Ms. Covington has managed to bring a certain amount of normalcy to a life torn by tragedy. But it was far from easy. During Tyler’s first ten years in prison, she underwent a breast cancer lumpectomy, which she considers “a little glitch in my life that made me a better, stronger, more compassionate person.”
The effects of her second “glitch”—a strip search at the prison— were exactly the opposite. She was subjected to this humiliating ordeal by over-zealous prison officials who became suspicious when she applied for visitation privileges to the wedding there of a visitor she had befriended. This was not unusual, since visitors frequently become friendly with each other while waiting for the appearance of the person they came to see. Needless to say, the search turned up nothing incriminating.
Moments worth forgetting
With characteristic optimism, she considers these two experiences “history that is not worth looking back on. The only thing I want to remember is that they helped bring Hil and me closer together. Thanks to him and Ty, I stay strong.”
Considering all she’s endured—and is still going through—Ms.Covington’s view of herself as ‘strong’ is quite accurate. ‘Compassionate’ completes the picture. She focuses on an intense desire to improve the lives of the disadvantaged and the disheartened.
Showing others the way
As a volunteer at the organization VIP Mentors, she is a guide, advisor and friend to two 17-year-old girls who live in South Los Angeles. She introduces them to places they’ve never been before, such as restaurants, the theater, museums and other cultural and educational centers.
“It’s so gratifying to see how enthusiastically they respond to new experiences and discoveries, conceptual and visual. By enriching their lives and widening their horizons, we enable them to make more informed choices when planning their futures,” Ms.Covington pointed out.
Now meet Diane Covington, Sculptor. Her distinctive figurative creations have been widely exhibited in galleries and shows throughout Southern California and at the University of Illinois in Chicago. In typical style, she also participates in art shows where a percentage of sales go to Susan G. Koman For the Cure, an organization of breast cancer survivors and activists committed to helping wipe out cancer.
A longtime student of renowned sculptor Jonathan Bickart, she has two solo showings in Ojai and one in Malibu to her credit. Her work has also graced UCLA’s Artistic Creations Exhibit.
It is interesting to note that none of Diane Covington’s grand and graceful sculpted figures reflect her 10 years of sadness and regret. Interesting but not surprising.
This woman doesn’t wallow in self-pity. Nor does she look back. Her eyes are on the future and her heart is full of hope that her son will one day be free.
Then so will she.