Sandra “Sam” Barbano was one of many nominations for the Courageous Truth Award this year, and one of our favorites.

Innocence Matters asked Sam how she first connected with Suzy.

Following a back surgery in July 2006, I spiraled into a downward slump and realized I needed to feel useful to someone for something.  I heard a presentation from an organization called “Friend-2-Friend” at church recruiting mentors for women at the Chowchilla prison.,  The duties were to visit once a month and write once a week. I was matched with Susan Mellen.

But, as Susan’s daughter, Jessica Besch, explains, Sam did so much more!

Sam has gone above and beyond in supporting my mom and making it easier on her throughout the years. Sam not only allows my mother to call her multiple times a week to chat, but she also visits my mother on a monthly basis to keeps her hopes high.  Sam has financially contributed to my mother’s commissary since 2006 and does it out of the kindness of her heart. She has also played a huge role in supporting Innocence Matters’ investigation. The generosity this woman displays is rare. My family and I appreciate all that she does for my mom!

We agree with Jessica, Sam is one special lady!  She gave Suzy the priceless gift of love and genuine friendship.  Suzy describes those visits as “her escape from prison.”  For a couple hours, every month, Suzy could put the prison life out of her mind and share a little girl talk (yes, Katy, I said “girl”) with Sam.  This eight-year friendship with Suzy made prison a little more bearable and gave Suzy the emotional strength to persevere.  As Sam sees it, she was beneficiary.

Susan gave to me much more than I could have possibly given to her.   She is my inspiration; my friend; my mentor; my confidant; my spiritual model; and she can rattle off a prayer at the drop of a hat,  faster than you can shoot a machine gun.  But then  Suzy is always in a hurry…. to pray,…… to love……, to minister to others,…… and ultimately to be free!

Thank you, Sam, for giving Suzy the love and comfort she needed to make it through all these years!  You are her angel and one of our heroes!

Join us at the Courageous Truth Award to learn more about Sam, our many other nominees, and this year’s recipient.