It has been a long three and half years for former detective Sammy Franklin.
After serving that time in two federal prisons, a halfway house and on home confinement, Franklin is now a free man.
On Jan. 23, he was officially released from the federal bureau of prisons roster, leaving him to serve two years probation.
Now back home with his family, seated at his kitchen table, Franklin is a different man.
In 2005, Franklin and four other Campbell County Sheriff’s Deputies entered guilty pleas in federal court acknowledging their part in the violation of Lester Siler’s civil rights.
All but one of them, Josh Monday, has been released. He has to serve additional time because he upholstered his weapon that day in July 2004.
To say the lives of Franklin, Monday, David Webber, Shayne Green and Will Carroll were forever changed by what happened that day is an understatement.
After being questioned by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation following the allegations and now infamous audio tape coming to the surface, all of the men but Carroll were indicted by a grand jury for perjury and official oppression.
When state prosecutors had the case, Franklin, a career law enforcement officer, said he at least knew what to expect.
After working for nearly 20 years in law enforcement, he understood how that system worked. Fast forward a few months and Franklin, along with the others were in uncharted territory.
Federal authorities assumed the matter, basically overriding the state’s case. Learning that news was a daunting moment for Franklin.
“There was uncertainty when the feds got it,” he said.
After Franklin was indicted by a federal jury, he was booked and placed at the Blount County jail. It was there federal prosecutors outlined the options.
The men could either face a jury of their peers, taking their chances at trial or they could plead guilty not knowing what their sentences would be, Franklin said. A conviction on the civil rights charge meant a minimum of 17 years behind bars.
After being presented with the options, the men were given 24 hours to make a decision.
“I couldn’t see trying to fight it. I didn’t want to take that chance,” Franklin said adding that even if he was given 10 years to serve under a plea agreement it still beat the minimum he would serve with a conviction.
As time elapsed between when the deal was struck and Franklin appeared in front of federal Judge Thomas Varlan, he mulled over what his sentence could be, he said. When it was finally handed down, Franklin said it was more time than he had hoped for. The 54 months was more than double what he had hoped for.
Franklin can now spend his time playing the “if only” game in his head.
But he chooses not.
Instead, he is accepting of what has happened. Franklin also admits that while serving time behind bars is a police officer’s worst nightmare, there were others whose lives were more difficult during those years.
“My wife and children served a worse sentence than I did,” Franklin said of his family.
When he departed for the razor wired prison in Manchester, Ky., Franklin left behind his wife, Shelia, daughters, Alisha, 15, Faith, 3, Cassie, 2, and his son, Sammy, 22, at the time.
As he faced an existence filled with uncertainty, Franklin had another complication hurled his way after entering the prison gates.
When he and Monday arrived at the medium to high security complex, prison officials had a word of advice for the two.
“They said to make up a story and try to stick to it,” Franklin said. This move was an effort to keep them safe.
The men, whose prison numbers indicated they were co-defendants, chose the cover story they had been convicted of meth dealings. It was a logical tale given that the drug was just beginning to emerge, Franklin said.
He deemed the fabrication as one of the hardest parts of being behind bars. “To live a lie,” Franklin said as he shook his head. “It was miserable, not being able to be myself.”
When he was transferred to the federal penitentiary in Ashland, Ky, Franklin took his meth cover with him. However, it was short lived that time.
Given the high profile nature of the case, Franklin and the others had become well- known across the state and in some parts of the country. So when he crossed paths with a man he knew from the Blount County jail, his tale began to untangle.
“Eight days after I got to Ashland, somebody asked me if was a policeman and I lied,” he said. Shortly after that, the inmate passed the word about Franklin’s past. Instead of feeling anger, Franklin said he felt relief.
“He released me from that lie,” Franklin said. Making amends with his fellow inmates, Franklin went back and apologized to the ones he had lied to, he said.
Once Franklin learned he was going to prison he said he set his mind to the fact, he was not going to be home for quite awhile. After he got there, Franklin developed an adage, “I said I was going to turn darkness into daylight,” he recalled.
For days that began before the sun came up that proved a tall order.
Franklin said he often woke up earlier than the other inmates in order to grab an hour of quiet time.
”It could be so loud and noisy,” he said of the concrete building. In that hour he read and he prayed- plenty. And while he prayed “God would be a fortress and refuge” around his home, others were in his prayers.
“I prayed for everything,” Franklin said of the prayers that included the troops, the elderly and others. Behind the walls, his spirituality grew, he continued. Without the prayers and daily meditation time, Franklin said his time behind bars could have gone differently.
Instead, his days were spent assembling furniture, making military clothes and taking classes. In his free time, he walked regardless of the weather.
“I did a lot of walking in cold weather,” he said. The difference that made is visible. Franklin is now 100 pounds lighter and probably unrecognizable to the many children he was D.A.R.E. officer to through the years.
Through his entire ordeal, Franklin said members of the community lent support to him and his family in numerous ways. For that, he will always be indebted to them, Franklin said. And while the community was there, one supporter stood head and shoulders above the rest. His wife Shelia was not only mother and father to the couple’s three daughters she was also her husband’s biggest advocate. From taking the couple’s girls to see their father on a regular basis to organizing a petition drive asking for harsher penalties for convicted drug dealers, Sheila Franklin stood by her man. It is a point not wasted on her husband.
“I was blessed to have a good wife that stayed with me,” Franklin said.
With the conversation drifting back to family, Franklin stops for moment to talk to his daughter Faith. The little brunette crawled in and out of her father’s lap as he talked about the joys of being home.
“It was great,” he said of the first time he was allowed a weekend pass from the halfway house. A full time father and husband now Franklin is focused on returning to family life.
Some of the 100 pounds he lost has begun to creep back. With 10 to 15 pounds back on his waistline, Franklin smiles as he attributes that to his wife’s cooking.
The job he now holds with the county highway department has been literally and figuratively liberating. Working outdoors is a positive part of the job but it has another compelling aspect.
Franklin said he had no idea holding a job could be so stress free. He is also thankful to Dennis Potter, county road superintendent, for hiring him. At one point, the two men ran into each other before Franklin was sentenced. He said Potter graciously offered his help should Franklin ever need it. Years later when he reached out to Potter, “he held his word,” Franklin said.
“A couple of people cast a few stones,” Franklin said of new life. “But I went and accepted my responsibility. I have no hard feelings towards no one.”
Again, Faith leaves her father’s lap and he pauses before saying it’s not the big things that are missed while being locked up.
“It is the freedom, being free and able to come and go,” Franklin says. “Looking through cell bars, razor wire, barbed wire, that is a hard pill to swallow.”