UTAH STATE PRISON — Matthew James Day says he gave up the gang lifestyle eight years ago after arriving at the Utah State Prison.
“It’s been the biggest chip off my shoulder I could ever relieve myself of,” he said in a recording of his parole hearing on Sept. 1. “It’s not conducive to society in my eyes anymore. ... They don’t care about me, they only care about how they prosper as a group.”
But whatever strides Day, now 40, has made while in prison is of little consequence to the father of the man Day helped kill.
“Apologies is not going to affect what he did. He hurt us. He changed our lives, bad. Our son is not going to come back. He’s dead,” said the father, only identified as Mr. Contreras. “I don’t care what he’s done in prison helping other people. It’s too late. He should have thought about that before he did what he did.”
On Jan. 9, 2009, Day was driving the vehicle that pulled up next to Cesar Ramirez, 18, on the I-15 southbound collector near 2100 South. A passenger shot Ramirez, who died a week later. Day was convicted of manslaughter and was ordered to serve to up to 20 years in prison.
Despite allegedly giving up the gang lifestyle, Day also hasn’t given up the name of the person he was with that day who shot Ramirez, prompting state officials last year to issue a new reward for information leading to the arrest of the gunman.
During his parole hearing, Day said he had no confidence in himself in 2009 and was scared of being hurt by others.
“So I always resorted back to what I learned as a kid, and that was to run from everything, to pretty much do what I wanted to without responsibility because it was easy. Because it held no responsibility at all,” he said.
Day said he never thought about how living the gang lifestyle would affect those around him. Now, he said he has become a mentor in prison and finds it “healing” to listen to other inmates who were like him and try to help with their problems.
But Ramirez’s father and mother — who spoke to the board in Spanish with the help of an interpreter — said they are still hurting.
“He took away our son. Every time, every day, every minute I’m missing him. And I don’t think it’s fair that he will come out,” the father said. “Everyday I dream of (my son). How good he was. He took it away from us. It’s not fair.”
“All of those classes, they do not bring our son back. I don’t think that it’s fair that someone would be released. He took someone’s life and he needs to pay for what he did,” the mother said. “He thinks that by saying sorry it makes everything OK. For me, he is a bad person because it destroyed all of us.”
Day said victim impact classes have taught him that his crime affects more than just the person who was killed and how hard it is for surviving family members to continue with their lives. He hopes now to help others avoid making the same mistakes he did.
“I know my apology will never bring your son back. I know I deserve anything given to me here. And no matter what’s given to me here, I don’t know how much it means. Yet, if I can prevent this from happening again, I know it doesn’t bring your son back and I’m so sorry for having a hand in that, I do wish you to know that I will continue to pay it forward and I will continue to strive to be a better person so that hopefully I can prevent this from happening to another person. And I’m very sorry,” Day said.
The full five-member board will now decide whether to grant parole.