Bernard Pease Jr. and his sister Linda Thomas will spend the holidays together for the first time in 40 years.
Back when they were kids, the Pease Family’s holiday celebrations were right out of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
“Dad and I would go out hunting, and we’d pick Christmas trees and bring back bows for the fireplace,” Bernie said. “It was always a big feast. Dad would not be skimpy on anything. He was very generous when it came to holidays and bonuses for people. We’d always have wild turkey and geese.”
“There would be 30-plus people,” Linda added. “‘Simple’ did not belong in dad’s vocabulary.”
On Thanksgiving, all the kids in the neighborhood would count on Bernie to take them sledding on the big hill behind their house. He’d find moments to go fishing and hunting with family and always photographed the memories.
Everything changed for the Pease family in 1984.
Linda describes those first holiday seasons after Bernie’s wrongful conviction as “empty, quiet, and hard to do.”
“I tried to keep that feeling, that sound [of the holidays at home] in my head and in my heart to keep from breaking down in prison,” Bernie said.
Bernie learned to adapt. He brought family traditions inside of the prison walls. Employed as a cook, Bernie served nearly 100 turkeys a year. He decorated the tree in the same fashion as his mom—hanging only one strand of tinsel at a time.
This year, Bernie will spend the holidays with Linda using 48-hour passes from pre-release. Bernie and Linda are most looking forward to holiday shopping together and recreating their mom’s famous recipes—namely, her potato salad.
Bernie and Linda want other families with the shadow of wrongful conviction over their lives to know how important it is to make the most of the season despite the circumstances. “It’s what keeps hope alive.”
But we envision a world where innocent people and their families are not faced with such circumstances.
Together, we can remediate the system that took 40 years of Bernie’s life away. Thank you for your continued support in bringing the wrongfully convicted one step closer to home. From all of us at the Montana Innocence Project, happy holidays!