Editor’s Note: Tim Busch is a convicted felon who served 28 years in state prison for his crimes. Busch maintains his innocence to this day.
By Seth Carpenter
In March of 1989, 26-year-old Tim Busch was sentenced to prison for what would ultimately become the next 28 years, seven months and 15 days of his life. Most of that time for him was spent without the certainty of how long it would actually be.
“It was kind of in increments when I was first convicted,” Busch explains. “I had a sentence of 15 years to life, and the day I was sentenced, my lawyer told me, ‘Well, you’ll be out in seven and a half years. You do half of your sentence.’”
He eventually discovered it would be 10 years before he was eligible for parole, and even once his initial decade of incarceration had passed, release remained a distant dream.
“I began to realize that California at the time was telling everybody no, any indeterminately sentenced inmate was just being told no. So 10 became 15 and then another denial and another denial,” he says.
Coming to terms with his situation was a painful process starting out.
“Initially, I was extremely depressed, and scared, and in denial, too. I kept thinking that it was going to be like some TV show or a movie where the truth would come out,” Busch relates.
But as Busch points out, he was not entirely alone. He credits a long list of people, including the Lugo family, for helping him through the experience both while he was in prison and once he was eventually released on parole in 2017.
“Mark [Lugo] and I met the day we both arrived at old Folsom, June 2, 1989. His family was in California, mine was not… and they adopted me right away, started visiting me when they visited their son,” Busch says. “They were with me the entire time I was incarcerated, even when their son and I were at separate prisons, they would still visit me. And it was their home I went to live in when I got out. No way I succeed without all they did for me.”
Once he was released, Metanoia Prison Ministries connected him with a local church which immediately helped to provide him with some much needed sense of community and family.
“I walked out on a Thursday, went to my first service on that Sunday… and the minute I walked in, I was greeted, not just accepted, but I was welcomed and wanted,” he says. “And these were people that let me know that I was equal to them. I didn’t feel equal. I never looked at myself as equal.”
Three and a half years later, he was discharged from parole and moved to Chattanooga to work for Metanoia. He now manages the mentoring program, which sees that volunteers meet with inmates twice a month. In addition to his professional role, Busch recently became a volunteer mentor himself, a very personal decision given his past.
“People had done so much for me while I was incarcerated. Any opportunity I have to reciprocate in some way, or as I say, pay it forward, I wanted to do,” Busch says. “It’s meant the world to me to, hopefully, be a positive change in somebody’s life. Even if it’s just to let that person know they’re not forgotten.”
The reality of the years he lost is not forgotten by the 59-year-old. He maintains his innocence to this day, however, he also accepts the inescapable fact that nearly three decades of his life are gone, and there really isn’t anything he can do to change that fact.
“I’m living in a studio apartment wondering if I’m going to have to work until they close the lid. Yeah, that can beat me down a little bit, but there’s a weird thing about spending all that time in prison for me is I’m so appreciative of the small things,” he says. “Later on this afternoon, I’m going to pull my bike out of the back of the car and go for a ride, and I’ll go in one direction for 10 or 15 miles. And to me that’s a joy because in prison, if I wanted to go for 10 miles, I had to take 86 left hand turns around the yard to do it.”
Seth Carpenter is a photojournalist as well as the current Photo Editor of UT Chattanooga’s student-run newspaper, the University Echo. Recently, he told the story of how a nurse and her family have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. He hopes the stories he tells will make a difference in the lives of people around him. You can contact him at Sethcarpenter101@gmail.com.