Prison or Parole – You Can Help Decide

With the release of another book in my hospital-based Aimee Machado Mystery series, it’s time to explore a new topic that fits into the collection of facts I’ve learned while writing fiction.

This one came up while I was working on RENEWAL, book six in the series. The mystery to be solved in this case does not involve the prisoner directly. The crime that sent him to prison happened a few years earlier. Back then, Aimee was his victim, but now he has crucial information that she needs to help solve a new case. An opportunity arises when she receives a request to provide a victim impact statement at the prisoner’s parole hearing.

Again, I found myself learning fascinating facts I would not have known if I had not been writing fiction. Here’s what I discovered by visiting the California Department of Corrections website.

  • The purpose of a parole hearing is to determine whether an inmate should be released on parole. (Okay, this one is pretty obvious.)
  • Only adult inmates sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole receive these hearings.
  • An example is a sentence to serve a term of “15 years to life.”

To assist you with your thoughts and feelings, they recommend you write your statement on paper. There are specific things that the parole board will want to see in a victim impact statement.

  • What specific physical injuries did you or family members suffer?
  • How long did your injuries last or how long you expect them to last? Detail medical treatment you have received or expect to receive in the future.
  • What medical expenses were incurred?
  • Did the crime impact your ability to work and cause any lost wages?
  • How has this crime has affected you, your family, and those close to you physically, financially, emotionally and even spiritually?
  • How has life has changed for you and those close to you?
  • How has your ability to relate to others changed?
  • Have you received any counseling or other support?
  • What fees have been incurred for counseling or therapy for you and your family?
  • What specific details of the crime and the offender’s actions do you want the panel to know?

Victims and their family members speak last at parole hearings, just before the panel deliberates. Statements usually range from 5-15 minutes in length.

Even though inmates serving such sentences are automatically eligible for a parole hearing 13 months prior to their “minimum eligible parole date,” they are not automatically entitled to parole, and can be held in prison for life. Ultimately, it is the parole board that will determine whether inmates are suitable for parole.

Victims sometimes ask if they have to make a victim impact statement. Whether or not you choose to submit a statement is a decision made by you and your family. It is a voluntary right that you have as a victim of crime; however, without the input of victim impact statements, many offenders may never know the true impact of their actions.
Although it is your choice, it is very important to help the parole board members understand how the crime affected you and those close to you.

If you choose not to attend a hearing but would like your impact statement considered, you can mail or fax your statement to the institution. You can also submit an audio or video statement (with transcript), appear via video conference, or have someone speak on your behalf.

Most of us will never have the need to know these facts in the course of our lives, but it’s reassuring to know that our penal institutions realize the importance of hearing the victims’ voices before a parole decision is made.

RENEWAL, book six in the Aimee Machado Mystery series, is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback and ebook formats.

For more specific information about parole hearings and victim impact statements, please visit:

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation,to%20work%20and%20lost%20wages.

Coffee Chat With Ally Shields

PictureCheck out my January 30 Coffee Chat with urban fantasy writer Ally Shields.

I enjoyed answering her thought-provoking questions about my writing journey and about Primary Source, the soon-to-be-released fifth book in my Aimee Machado Mystery Series.


You might think you know what an IED is. I thought I did, but I was only half right. Most of us who have followed the various military conflicts in the Middle East are familiar with the term. It’s an abbreviation for a deadly roadside weapon called an Improvised Explosive Device.

There is another IED, however, which is often described as a “temper tantrum,”  or “flying off the handle,” but it is more than that. It is a psychological diagnosis found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5 for short), and it’s called Intermittent Explosive Disorder. Coincidentally, it can also be set off on a roadside, as seen in cases of road rage. This diagnosis is another fact I’ve learned by writing fiction.

In Breach of Ethics, book three of my Aimee Machado Mystery series, an angry outburst occurs in a most unlikely setting—a hospital conference room during a meeting of the Ethics Committee. Until I wrote the scene, I had never heard of this other IED. Taking on the persona of my protagonist, a hospital-based health sciences librarian, I decided to research impulsive rage, and in doing so, I discovered Intermittent Explosive Disorder.

In some cases, as in extreme road rage incidents, this lesser-known IED does turn deadly. As defined by the Mayo Clinic, “Intermittent Explosive Disorder involves repeated, sudden episodes of impulsive, aggressive, violent behavior or angry verbal outbursts . . . grossly out of proportion to the situation. Road rage, domestic abuse, throwing or breaking objects, or other temper tantrums may be signs of intermittent explosive disorder.” Simply put, this explosive disorder brings out the beast in some of us in a terrifying manner.

Once diagnosed, treatment might include a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medications, including antidepressants, anticonvulsants, antianxiety and mood regulators.

For more detailed information on diagnosis and treatment of this disorder, visit the sites shown below.

The Aimee Machado Mystery series, published by Camel Press and Harlequin Worldwide Mysteries, is available in print and e-Book format from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and by request from your local bookstore. Visit again soon to learn more facts I’ve learned by writing fiction. Primary Source, book 5 in the series, is due for release in mid-February.

(Bear photo by Andre Tan on Unsplash)


Get Hip to HIPAA: Hackers Want Your Health Data

I have a question for you. What do hackers want more—your Social Security number or your health information?

If you guessed Social Security, you’re wrong. Here’s another fact I learned by writing fiction. The answer is health data, and criminal hackers are busy stealing it every chance they get.

Despite this alarming trend, there is some protection in place for patient privacy. In 1996, the United States legislature passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act  known as HIPAA. This act provides for data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.

The passage of this act was meant to protect patients’ privacy, but it means nothing to a criminal hacker whose day job is stealing your health data. The law has emerged into greater prominence in recent years with the proliferation of health data breaches caused by cyberattacks and ransomware attacks on health insurers and providers.

Hackers can fetch only around $15 a pop on the web for a Social Security number, but a medical record with personal information attached can go for $60 or more. 

Criminals can use health data to create fake identities that allow them to buy and resell medical equipment or drugs, to file fake claims with insurers, or to file fake tax returns. Hackers will use stolen hospital records for extortion—the patient must pay to keep from having their records sold on the dark web.

One reason health data fetches more dollars is that medical identity theft can go undetected for years. The modern practice of electronically storing medical records rather than using paper charts has resulted in a bonanza for criminal hackers. They can sneak in with a few taps on a keyboard, grab the data, and sneak out without being detected.,

How is this possible? One explanation is that medical facilities and private practices tend to put patient care items first when considering expenditures. If the budget is tight, money is not spent to replace aging computer systems, hire IT consultants, and upgrade security infrastructure. These cost-cutting practices make hackers’ work remarkably easy.

Visit these sites for more complete information on this topic:\

The security of health data is a recurring theme in the hospital-based Aimee Machado Mystery series published by Camel Press, an imprint of Epicenter Press. Available in print and eBook formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and by request at your local bookstore.

Music Makes Mystery Memorable

As a very small child, I recall my mother playing “The Third Man Theme” on her accordion. It was a compelling tune that evoked vivid memories for her of the 1949 suspense film, The Third Man. If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend that you add it to your film list. Visit the following link for more about The Third Man.

I suspect Mom’s fondness for the movie and the tune stemmed from her belief that Joseph Cotton, the handsome leading man, bore a remblance to my father.

The movie version of the “The Third Man Theme” was played on the zither. The YouTube version at the link below captures its essence and provides some still clips from the film, which the British Film Institute voted the greatest British film of all time. Listen for a bit and decide whether this theme might linger in your mind long after seeing the film.

With this memory in mind, I began to think of the music I chose for my novels when writing the Aimee Machado Mysteries. As the series grew, each book lent itself to a different genre. So far, these have included country, blues, classical piano, and in Spine Damage, the most recently released book, fado. In the U.S., fado is likely the least known of these musical genres, but in the Azores Islands and in Portugal, it is part of the fabric of the country. Fado became my choice of music genre for Spine Damage, because the story spans the globe from rural Northern California to the Azores Islands of Faial and Pico in the nine-island Atlantic archipelago.

In this fourth book in the series, the solution to the mystery is advanced by the discovery of links between Ana Moura, a real-life Portuguese female vocalist who is possibly the most famous fado singer in the world, and two iconic American musicians: Prince and Mick Jagger. The links between these musical artists are real and easily researched.

Here is a sample of Moura’s artistry:

Visit these links for more about Ana Moura and fado music.

Books in the hospital-based Aimee Machado Mysteries are published by Camel Press (an imprint of Epicenter Press) and are available for purchase in print and eBook format from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and from your local bookstore.

Camel Press