TILLERY, N.C. -- When he was 20, Dalton Windley fetched a .22-caliber rifle from his car, aimed it from the hip and fired a single shot at Glenn Brame from about 150 yards, catching the young man in the neck.
They'd been arguing over a girl. Windley knows it doesn't matter, but he insists he didn't mean to kill. Those few seconds of wildness got him a life sentence in prison and, after nearly 20 years, he doesn't expect to get out.
Prison gives a man plenty of time to think, and the way Windley looks at it, his life is a waste. One big nothing. He took a man's life, robbed a little girl of her daddy. Not only that, but he ran from the crime scene, then from the police, who caught him fleeing into the Beaufort County woods.
So nearing age 40, he'd like give his life some small purpose. If he can't do it as a free man, he'd like to try it behind bars. Windley's hope: donate a kidney and one blue eye, while he's still living.
"Let me step up to the plate," said Windley, practically pleading behind the razor wire at Caledonia Correctional Institution in the state's northeast. "If this is going to be my life, I want to do some good. I am better than this right here."
Windley promises he isn't crazy, and his plan isn't as freakish as it might sound.
In Arizona, Maricopa County encouraged inmates to sign up as organ donors, and many did without promise of reward.
In South Carolina, the legislature flirted with offering reduced sentences for organ donations in 2007, though doctors called the idea unethical.
In Oregon, convicted killer Christian Longo has asked -- without success -- to donate his organs after death. His offer also raised ethical and practical objections, especially from prison officials and the victims' family.
"I spend 22 hours a day locked in a 6 foot by 8 foot box on Oregon's death row," he wrote last year in an opinion piece published by The New York Times. "There is no way to atone for my crimes, but I believe that a profound benefit to society can come from my circumstances."
Whether Windley can actually donate an organ isn't clear. Numerous medical sources specify that eye donations come from the dead except in the rarest circumstances. But donors go through extensive screening. If there's anything wrong with Windley's eye or his kidney, it won't go unnoticed.
Windley grew up in Beaufort County, just east of Greenville. Before he shot Brame, he'd been living in a mobile home park, working on tractors for a living. He and his girlfriend were going to have a child, but she miscarried, and Windley blamed himself.
Around that time, in 1993, Brame accused Windley of fooling around with his girlfriend. Windley denied it.
They fought both over the phone and in Brame's front yard. Windley had gone fishing that day and brought a rifle to shoot turtles.
Witnesses said the two had finished arguing and walked away from each other when Windley retrieved his rifle. When he fired, at long range, Brame dove to the ground. It took him two days to die. Windley pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, avoiding the death penalty.
Today, he occupies a bunk at Caledonia, a 7,500-acre prison on the Roanoke River where inmates work on both a farm and a cannery.
In his early years as a prisoner, Windley committed a string of infractions, including assault with a weapon and taking a hostage. But his record has been nearly clean for the past 10 years.
"I came here as a young'un," said Windley, 39. "I was scared. I thought I had something to prove."
After repeated parole denials -- Windley counts eight -- he is resigned to being locked up. But sitting in prison, analyzing what might have been, he dwells on the chance for redemption.
(Contact Josh Shaffer at email@example.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)