At her parole hearing last summer, Jennifer Reali insisted that she's a different person from the 29-year-old, ninja-clad assassin who ambushed and killed her lover's wife, Dianne Hood, outside Hood's lupus support meeting in 1990. The parole board didn't entirely agree, but there's no question that the soundtrack to Reali's life has changed since her murder conviction — as demonstrated by two albums of original gospel music Reali recently recorded while serving time at the Denver Women's Correctional Facility.
Instead of "Your Cheating Heart," Reali now sings (in a high-pitched, Joni Mitchell-ish trill) songs of hope and Christian redemption, written and performed by her on acoustic guitar. Both of her CDs, Prisoner of Hope and Love Me In, were released in very limited editions, with liner notes from Reali herself: "I was not a songwriter. I was not a singer nor a guitarist. However, God chose me to sing, write and play."
Hood's murder made national headlines as a so-called "Fatal Attraction" killing. Reali, a mother of two, had become enmeshed in a torrid affair with hunky Brian Hood — their first sexual encounter, she later confessed, took place on top of the washing machine in her laundry room — and then claimed to have been manipulated by him into killing his wife. Hood got 37 years; Reali got a life sentence, with the possibility of parole after serving forty years.
Shortly before leaving office last year, Governor Bill Ritter commuted Reali's sentence to allow her a shot at an earlier release. Last July, though, the parole board rejected her application; she won't be eligible for another hearing until 2016. Yet that setback hasn't dampened Reali's newfound enthusiasm for soulful tunes of worship, such as these lines from her song "Promise Child:"
My flesh fought against your plans for me Now my heart's poured out in praise... There's no more running from your will's embrace.
Ironically, Reali claimed that Brian Hood cited Bible verses to convince her it was "God's plan" that she kill his wife. There are plenty of references to Biblical texts in her music, but few specifics dealing with her own situation beyond the usual generic expressions of ecstasy over being washed clean of sin and loving the heck out of Jesus. Perhaps the most personal song in her oeuvre is the title piece, "Love Me In," which asks the listener and/or the Lord the essential questions of life in point-blank fashion:
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Would you find me acceptable if you knew where I'd been? Would you cringe in horror at the stories I could tell? Would you judge and condemn me? Sentence me to hell? Oh-oh, straight to hell....
If you knew my dark side Would you sense the hands of Christ?
I broke every commandment I've hidden special sins.... Are you willing to hold me When I'm poison through and through? Can you see past my number To see a child of God?
God knows what's truly in Reali's heart. But there's certainly been worse music that's come out of prison. (The swingin' stylings of Charles Manson come to mind.) "I'm humbled by the invitation to dance around the Throne with Jesus barefoot and free," Reali writes in her introduction to Prisoner of Hope.
Judge for yourself. Here's an interview with Reali from 2010.