Thursday, October 27, 2016

LWOP After Death

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By Donald Ray Young

Yes, I would like to see Prop 62, the Justice that Works Act, passed this 08 November 2016. Prop 62 will eradicate Capital punishment in California. All death sentences will be converted to Life Without the Possibility of Parole (L.WOP). The appeal process will remain an option to challenge wrongful convictions. This is our last chance to abolish capital punishment in California via the ballot box.

There are innocent people languishing in California’s golden gulag. Actually innocent, wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. Victims of a dysfunctional system. "The state of California may be about to execute an innocent man," wrote Judge William A. Fletcher of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Judge Fletcher might have been describing my situation but in this case he was speaking of Kevin Cooper. LWOP will halt the next execution of an innocent person. Capital punishment is perfectly final yet fatally flawed.

In November of 2012 a Yes vote on Prop 34, the Savings Accountability and Full Enforcement Act, would have abolished capital punishment in California permanently. Prop 34 failed by a narrow 52%-48% split .We missed that opportunity. Lesson were learned, this is our time.

We can't get the years back but leave us a semblance of life. As an abolitionist I stand against government sponsored executions, whether strapped in a death chamber or in our streets at the hands of corrupt police. If all lives really do matter let us abolish capital punishment. Imagine a world where the government does not kill its people. I also believe other states will follow our lead. This momentous proposition has global ramifications. This is the right step a long our human rights struggle.

The people of California voted in the current death penalty, Prop 7, on November 7th, 1978. It's past time to vote it out. California will be the first state to abolish capital punishment at the ballot box. Vote yes on Prop 62 if you want to start spending more on educating our youth than on the prison industrial complex. Yes on 62 if you're truly pro-life and anti-death. Yes on 62.

Replacing the death penalty with LWOP takes state-sponsored lynching off the table. Prop 62 will preserve human life. Death is final. With life possibilities remain. California has the largest death-row population in the nation, hovering at 750 people. Not much of a life versus no life at all – choose life every time. Once we stop barbaric executions, we can join the struggle to abolish LWOP, sometimes referred to as "the other death penalty.’

Included on the ballot will be Prop 66, the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act. This proposition will gut constitutional safeguards while rushing through state-sponsored torturous lynching. If we allow this killing machine to resuscitate under Prop 66, prepare for the quick human assembly line draconian executions of the 750 and counting death-row prisoners. We are battling to put an end to the mind-set that would execute an innocent person. They race towards death while dilatorily walking to life and equality will cease. Conscious Californian voters will not slip in to this insanity of legal lynching. Not this time.

Justice Thurgood Marshall of the US Supreme Court wrote in his concurring opinion in Furman v. Georgia, the case that abolished the death penalty in the United States in 1972, "If people were familiar with the truth about the death penalty they would want to abolish it.”

In this election we will literally be voting for life - Prop 62, the Justice that Works Act and death -- Prop 66, the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act. One of these propositions will surely pass. If both pass, the one with the most votes will become law. We need every vote, your vote. Inspire someone to register and vote who otherwise wouldn’t. Vote for those of us without a voice.

The American Law Institute (ALI) has over 4000 members consisting of judges, law professors and lawyers. America’s pre-eminent legal minds. The ALI drafted the model statute for the death penalty 56 years ago to ensure a fair death sentence. Even though their model statute for the death penalty is being practiced today, seven years ago the ALI withdrew their support from the very law they created. Before you finalize your position on capital punishment consider the words of the ALI. The ALI stated that the system they fashioned does not work and cannot be fixed. They all further determined that we cannot devise a death penalty system that will ensure fairness in process or outcome or even that innocent people will not be executed.

We are fighting to abolish capital punishment because it is ethically, socially and even economically reprehensible. No one has the right to murder. Including the government. Our justice system is riddle with mistakes, corruption and racism. No space for mistakes, corruption or racism. It is not humane for the government to murder prisoners on death row. The criminal justice system must be absolutely faultless in all respects of litigation and law prior to state-sponsored lynching. Nothing concerning humankind has ever been flawless.

The influence of passion and prejudice manipulated by corruption in high places are the main ingredients to ensure an innocent person's death sentence. I have been held captive at San Quentin, California’s death row, for over ten years. Unity in our common cause is essential. I will continue the ardent struggle from the inside out as you protest the abolition of the death penalty from the outside in. We will intersect in success.

In Solidarity,

Donald Ray Young

Donald Ray Young E78474
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA 94974

Thursday, October 20, 2016

I'm Telling You So, Again

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By Santonio D. Murff

I have two Afro-American and ambitious, college-educated and hardworking, very respectful sons of whom I am proud. They are truly my pride and joy. In them, I see all of my creativity and potential without the negativity that poverty and miseducation had polluted me with at their age. I have high hopes and grand dreams for them.

To see so many young, unarmed Black men being murdered by private citizens, neighborhood watchmen, and cops strikes terror in my heart. The cold-blooded murder of 11 year old Tamir Rice by a police officer had an especially traumatizing effect on me and was the catalyst that spurred me to utilize my gift and resources to get involved, speak out, write, and do all that I could to help The Black Lives Matter campaign to be successful.

The Black Lives Matter Movement isn't about killing cops. It's about stopping racist and rogue cops from killing us. It is about holding corrupt and murderous cops accountable for their criminal conduct. Blowing the Blue Wall of Silence up, because there is no place for it in a righteous, transparent, judicial system.

The Black Lives Matter Movement is made up of good Americans from all nationalities who want equal justice under the law for everyone. Good Americans who want the slaughtering of innocent people to stop! We focus on Black Lives, because we are the ones being gunned down at an average of 26 a week, with 262 Afro-Americans having already been killed this year by cops claiming that they were scared as reported in the July 2016 issue of Final Call.

I poured my emotions into a piece I published here on MB6 entitled A Father's Plea: Please Don't Murder My Son. In that piece, I not only exposed the mass murdering of UNARMED men, women, and children by police officers, but I warned that if their heinous actions and the private war that was being waged against people of color wasn't addressed and curtailed that all of that urban fear, anger, and feelings of hopelessness would explode in what we've now witnessed in the retaliatory mass shooting of police officers in Dallas, Texas.

Renowned actress (and beauty) Jada Pinkett-Smith warned only hours before the sniper attack in Dallas that left five police officers dead, "Desperate people do desperate things." No community in America is as desperate as the Afro-American community. No community has suffered and wept more over the loss of innocent lives due to a coward's cry that "he was scared".

For years now, due to advances in technology and compassionate souls we have donned hoodies for an adolescent hunted and gunned down for walking while Black, held our hands up in surrender for a teenager cut down in his prime and left dead and uncovered in the streets for hours--because a cop was so scared he had to shoot him NINE times, two in the head.

Week after week, we've had to watch UNARMED people of color shot to death, choked to death, and beaten to death by cops who have claimed they were scared. Week after week, funeral after funeral, we've witnessed cop after cop fail to be indicted by grand juries who hide behind their judicial cloaks much as the Klan hide behind their white sheets, basically rubber stamping our removal with their approval. For years now too, we've suffered seeing juries acquit those who kill us, because they were standing their ground and scared. They with the guns were scared of the unarmed. . .

Today, we end the lies, kill the propaganda, and speak truth into existence. Those racist and rogue officers don't fear us. They hate what they see: US breathing!

They murder us with abandon, because they know a community of color's words will not be taken over a single white cop's statement, no matter how absurd his statement is. No matter how "disturbing" their actions are as the mayor of New York called the murder of Eric Garner, other officers will support them, try to hide their misconduct, and attack anyone who seeks transparency and justice.

"I was scared" has been proven to be the only defense a white cop needs; whether he takes a man's life with an illegal choke-hold as other officer pin the passive man down, shoots a woman to death while she's sleeping in her car, shoots a nine year old girl to death while she's sleeping on the couch, or shoots two senior citizens to death while they are sleeping in their beds, after mistakenly confusing their address with that of a dope house. And, on and on, the carnage goes. . .

Do you all truly get that none of these cases involved incidents where a cop's life was in danger? Where a weapon was aimed or fired at him? None of these victims even had weapons! None of them were fugitives or criminals! None of these innocent people should be dead today, but a coward said he was scared. . .

How can we be divided along racial lines on this? Right is right. Wrong is wrong. A badge does not immune you from this universal truth.

Okay, here's something I hope that we can all agree upon: Good cops are not cowards: If you are so scared that you must shoot UNARMED women and children, or sleeping senior citizens, before you determine conclusively that they are armed, that your life is in jeopardy, that they're AWAKE--your coward ass don't need a badge. You need to go to the wizard and get you a heart!

Eminem, one of the greatest lyricist to ever do it spit, "Now it's a tragedy/ now it's so sad to see" in reference to no one caring when gun violence was out of control in urban America, when Black America was getting killed. There was no major cry for gun control until White America started dying through mass shootings.

262. Two hundred and Sixty-Two Afro-Americans have been killed by police officers this year. The vast majority unarmed. That's not a tragedy? So sad to see? That's not news worthy? No flags are flown half-mast. No one in power seems to care enough to seek and implement real solutions. (Note: Body-Cams are a joke! Since Rodney King, a blind eye has been turned to what is seen!)

But, five cops get shot to death in Dallas. ...  in no way do I condone the killing of innocent people. Truly, I would put my life on the line for a good cop! But, watching the aftermath of the shooting, the unity and earnest search for solutions, in a town hall meeting, it begged the questions, is that what it took, silent majority? Did you have to feel our pain to hear our cries? Must cops get killed for us to live? For solutions to our slaughtering to be sought? It sure seemed like it.

Let me be very clear, it is tragic whenever a good person dies unnecessarily. I have beloved family members in the military and law enforcement as cops. I understand fully how hard and dangerous their jobs can be and a good cop deserves to be respected and appreciated for his contributions to society. So does a good father, a good mother, a good teacher--and, no child should ever have their lives cut short, their potential stolen by a coward's bullets.

My cousin Bobby has been a police officer for decades in Shreveport, Louisiana. He's had dozens of altercations with crazed women with knives, drug addicts with weapons, and even a couple of frightened kids with guns--he's never shot a single one. He's no coward. He'd rather talk to an inebriated or frightened person for hours than kill them forever.

"At the end of the day, if I have a gun and you don't, I'm not in fear of my life. So, I'm not taking yours," he's said. He is a good cop.

Okay, okay, let me set the record straight. Micah Xavier Johnson, the man who allegedly was responsible for the sniper attack that left five cops dead in Dallas was not mentally ill. Oh yes, he was sick. Sick and tired of watching those who kill us no billed or acquitted. He was sick and tired of watching our men, women, and children being slaughtered and no one being held accountable. Just like half of America is-- The good half.

The difference between Micah and us is America trained him to kill for a cause. Their cause. They never imagined that he could break the mental shackles, take all of his training and kill for his own cause: US.

Quit being afraid to say his name, look at the truth, and examine what led this patriotic soldier who proudly served his country for seven years in the army before being honorably discharged just last year in 2015, down the road to reportedly being responsible for the greatest American tragedy since 9/11.

Kill the propaganda! You need to know that Micah was remembered by his friends of all races and those who he went to school with as a goofy, fun-loving guy. You need to know that he had a white step-mom and that he never voiced a dislike of any race. You need to know that all he ever stressed hating was injustice. So what could drive such a young man to do such a thing? Year after year, month after month, week after week, and remembering the days leading up to the mass shooting--day after day of seeing injustices like the murders of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in St Paul (MN), because cops were scared.

But, you can continue to lie to yourself if that helps you to sleep at night. Continue to contribute to more tragedies like Dallas through your silence and callous disregard for the innocent lives being lost. As a patriotic American who truly doesn’t want to see any more families suffer unnecessary loss, I forewarn you again, Micah Johnson was not the first to entertain such thoughts. He's merely the first to act upon them.

He can now be the catalyst who moves us together for peaceful resolution and reconciliation, or he can be the martyr for some who turn mass cop shootings in retaliation for us being killed into the new norm in America....

No one has to agree with me. You can continue to promote the propaganda. I'm on the frontlines. I'm privy to the private conversations that go on behind closed doors and on street corners. The politically correct, the so-called Black spokesmen won't tell you this, but a very large segment of Black America breath a collective sigh of relief, exhaled years of pent-up emotions, and felt a certain kind of way to see that the Dallas shooting wasn't another case of them killing us--especially in light of the fore-mentioned constant footage of the two Black men being shot to death by cops in Louisiana and Minnesota in the days preceding the shooting.

No doubt, it is a tragedy! A tragedy that started long before a young brother went out for Skittles and tea, long before a man attempted to sell loose cigarettes on a New York street, long before a young woman refused to put out her cigarette, long before a much loved pillar of his community was told to produce his concealed weapon's license. NOW, they say the nation is in mourning? No, I'm sorry, but we've been in mourning. We've been shedding tears for a long time now.

I wrote A Father's Plea over a year ago. It is still posted on Minutes Before Six. Read it! Witnesses our tears! Witness our fears! Witness our pleas! Witness our grief! Witness... the warning!

You all, the silent majority, have merely joined us in our mourning--and, I hope, the seeking of peaceful solutions. I'm no politician, no great scholar, but since everyone else claim to be at a loss for solutions, I have some proposals for the peaceful and progressive. Because, the road to peaceful resolution is simple: STOP KILLING US: 

(1)There must be zero tolerance not just for those who commit such acts, but also for those in positions of responsibility who turn a blind eye to or try to cover up the acts.

As an expert at the UN has stated, "The root of the problem lies in the lack of accountability for perpetrators of such killings despite overwhelming evidence against them, including video footage of the crime."

Further, cops are put through rigorous fitness tests and given hand-to-hand combat training. They have an arsenal of non-lethal weapons at their disposal from pepper spray to stun guns in which they can subdue unarmed combatants with. There is to excuse for cowardice!  A mandatory-minimum sentence of ten years in prison needs to be imposed on any officer shooting an unarmed civilian.

Yes, I know, the cowards and callous will reach for the hypothetical of cops' lives being endangered by the hesitation to determine if their lives are in jeopardy, if the person has a weapon. Good cops aren't cowards, and I'm not speaking of hypotheticals! I'm speaking facts: Rice, Brown, Boyd, and every single man, woman, and child in A Father's Plea, and so many more did not have to die. Should not be dead today. But, they are dead due to a very real, very deadly coward's bullet, because the officer said that he was scared.

As I detailed in A Father's Plea, we need only look at the officers' actions after these shootings to see that hatred, callousness, and racism played a greater role than any fear ever did. In all of these incidents from city to city, state to state when has an officer ever rushed to render or secure aid after their "Mistake"? When has a single officer personally made an apology to the family?

Hard truths are oft times hard to accept, but if you watch the video of Tamir Rice's murder, you realize that these rogue cops aren't concerned with whether there is a threat to their safety, they aren't concerned with whether it's a man, woman, or child, they don't care whether it's a real gun or toy gun, whether it's in his hand or waist band. All that they are ascertaining before opening fire is that the person is Black.

We must through rigorously enforced laws and severe punishment let the perpetrators and their cohorts and covers know with a certainty that such cowardly and criminal conduct will not be tolerated.

(2) The second and most imperative path to peaceful progression must begin with #GOGOODCOPS! That is a movement ignited by the courageous police woman in Louisiana, shown on TMZ, but otherwise suppressed by the press, who spoke up about cowardice and corruption within police departments, which results in innocent people being murdered by cops and keeps us divided as a nation with too many choosing to see color instead of character.

In the brave police woman, that GOOD COP who deserved praise and accreditation from our Commander-in Chief lies our hope. In her and those like her – GOOD COPS –lies peaceful resolution. In them – GOOD COPS – lies the power to do the imperative and create a movement from the inside with GOOD COPS weeding out the bad.

The true heroes, the courageous cops who risk their lives day in and day out to serve and protect, only to have a few rogues and racists with badges continually burn them all with the negative rays of light that result from their criminal conduct, most come together with honesty and integrity to say NO MORE, to crush and stomp out the cowardice and racism, expose the lies and misconduct, and render the injustices and killings rare if not obsolete over time. If one is not willing or brave enough to step up to the challenge and do their sworn duty to serve and protect ALL, to put an end to the criminals masquerading as cops - - then a GOOD COP they are not. They are no more than the best of the worse...of the cowards.

That mighty step towards justice, #GOGOODCOPS, MUST BE supported by the top brass or it is destined to fail as GOOD COPS continue to be marginalized or ostracised.

Police officers are given the arduous task of keeping civilized societies civil. When some of their actions reflect the most barbaric and sadistic actions in the country as shown in the videoing of Philando Castile being shot to death in front of his girlfriend and a four year old as he calmly complies with the officer’s requests, all faith in the law is lost. All of society suffers. And, it’s not long before civility devolves into civil unrest, or riots, or sniper attacks on cops...

I don’t know it all. I do know murder when I see it. A court’s ruling does not change that. A lot, many many, way too many people of color have been murdered by police officers with little to no punishment s, and with virtually no one being held accountable. Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Tamon Robinson, Ramarley Graham, Nicholas Heyward, Oscar Grant, and so on and so on, the carnage to us has gone - - with the criminal injustice system failing us horribly.

Over a year ago, I gave a warning that has become reality. Today, I warn you that if these solutions aren’t seriously examined, refined, and implemented immediately to restore faith in the government, law and order, and GOOD COPS, if America does not seriously and expeditiously address the systemic problems and criminal conduct that led up to the Dallas sniper attack that left five police officers dead and several wounded – Dallas will merely be remembered as the shots that shattered the shackles of fear and myth, unearthing a lot, many many, too many more tragedies that will leave us all in mourning together.

From mob books and movies to American Gangsta starring Denzel Washington, it has always been instilled in the oppressed, the criminal, and the disenfranchised that you can’t kill a cop. Micah Johnson put that to the test and now desperate communities, full of scared, angry, long-suffering, and desperate people know it to be a lie...

Our Commander-in Chief has stated on numerous occasions that there is no excuse for violence against police officers. We now need that same cement convictiona nd proclamation when it comes to the shooting of unarmed men, women, and children.

You all have the power to push the legislation through. To ensure that the new laws are enforced. To fuel the movement from within with your support and pressure upon your elected officials. Right is right and wrong is wrong. Do right, America or we shall all be suffering for a long time to come. 

AFTERWORD:  Before this piece could be published, my words are already proving prophetic with Calvin Long, a marine, shooting cops in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where Aiton Sterling was shot to death by police officers only a week ago. Targeted shootings of police officers have alos been reported in Georgia, Tennessee, and Missouri. Solutions over shootings, please. Solutions over shootings.

Santonio Murff 773394
French M. Robertson Unit
12071 FM3522
Abilene, TX 79601
Santonio D. Murff is a seven-time PEN Prison Writing Contest winner, award-winning novelist and essayist who is searching the planet for the right agent/publishing house for his anthology of rehabilitated prisoners’ memoirs and essays, Apologies From Within. He’s become the go-to author for dealing with prisoners’ rehabilitation and prison reform.
Santonio and his family THANK YOU for your support!!!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

To Be Useful

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By Isaac Sweet

The vacuum cleaner started making a loud, obnoxious noise. It smelled like something was burning. Frustrated, Mom shut it off and walked away. I didn't know if her frustration was limited to the broken vacuum or how much could be attributed to raising four kids on her own. I was just happy that she wasn't frustrated with me--this time.

I was the only male growing up in a home dominated by four women: my mom and three sisters. I was number three of four in the birth order. Naturally, the majority of youthful mischief in our house included me. My sisters didn't get in much trouble with their dolls, clothes, and lipstick. But anything I ever put in my pockets (frogs, matches, pocket knives, firecrackers, etc.) evoked some form of theatrical reaction from Mom, and subsequent punishment for me.

I didn't like seeing Mom frustrated because most of the time it was because of me. That's why I wanted to help her so much. I'd heard some people refer to me as "the man of the house," and even at nine years old I recognized the prestige of that title and the hint of the responsibility it implied. Grandpa was the man of his house and whenever something broke, he fixed it. I knew where Mom kept some tools. I had a vacuum cleaner to fix; I just had to wait until she wasn't looking.

Using a screwdriver, I removed the screws and cover plate from the bottom of the machine. A wad of string, hair, dirt, and gunk had wound itself around the moving parts. I managed to remove the belt and revolving brush and then dug that stuff out of there. I had vacuum cleaner parts and little piles of dirt and gunk spread out all over the place (like any other respectable kid my age) when Mom came in. I was busted.

Mom had a flair for the dramatic. I was used to her theatrics. I was accustomed to seeing her bolt out of a chair in an attempt to rescue one of us kids from some hypothetical danger. There was occasional yelling -- especially at me. She would even scream and jump up onto a chair at the mere sight of a spider (she actually called the police on a spider one time, but that's a story from before I was conceived).

This time was different. Like every other time I had been caught mid-mischief, Mom yelled "What are you doing?" But this time, instead of the tirade that normally followed there was an electrically charged silence. A whole new level of mad. So I started explaining to her what pieces I'd taken apart and what the problem was. I pleaded with her to let me finish what I'd started and promised that when I was done her vacuum cleaner would work. The unthinkable happened. She let me.

When I was finished and Mom had visually inspected my work, she plugged in the vacuum and turned it on. It worked. My sense of relief was overwhelming but the look on her face was priceless. Thus began my lifelong love affair with being useful.

* * *

During my transition from childhood to young adult, I associated with some friends who didn't have my best interests in mind. Many in my family warned me about my associations, but I knew what I was doing -- or so I thought. It wasn't until I received an ultimatum from one of my so-called friends that I realized I was in over my head. I lacked the courage and the integrity to make the right choice so, a few weeks after my eighteenth birthday I drove the getaway vehicle from a crime I genuinely wanted no part of. Afterwards, I was convicted of conspiracy, burglary, and assault, and sentenced to serve just over 35 years in prison.

I spent the first decade or so of my prison sentence in denial. I felt the system had failed me. I felt I was, for the most part, innocent and had become mere collateral damage in some "tough on crime" political war. It wasn't until I was in my late twenties, after a conversation with a friend about culpability, that I began to understand my responsibility for the crime. If it weren't for me and my truck, it wouldn't have happened.

I cannot adequately articulate how sorry I am to all who were affected by my poor judgment. I say "all" because the ripple effect of collateral damage in its wake continues today. I have dragged a number of my family and friends into this lifetime of misery with me. The emotions I experience regarding the poor choices of my youth, which cost so many so much, culminate in a rock bottom, lowest of the low feeling. But, instead of wallowing in self-pity, I use that detestable feeling as motivation, fueling and galvanizing my commitment to live the remainder of my life with honor and integrity. I define that as: simply doing the right thing, in every situation, to the best of my abilities, regardless of who or if anyone is watching. I'm not foolish enough to think I won't falter from time to time, and I know that by my participation in a crime that caused so much suffering, I forfeited the possibility of any righteous adjectives being etched on my headstone. But maybe, just maybe, as I live out the remainder of my life, I can inspire or influence someone else who could still have them chiseled on theirs. I still want to be useful.

* * *

Being useful in prison is quite the dilemma. No one is allowed to "fix" anything. I doubt that rule was designed exclusively to discourage prisoner productivity and ingenuity, but it's become the end result. That seems counterintuitive to public interest. Most people I 
communicate with generally prefer that prisoners emerge from incarceration with the skills necessary to function in society. So sometimes I question the wisdom of the professionals who dream up policies within the DOC. Nonetheless, once an item belonging to a prisoner malfunctions, it is considered contraband and subject to disposal. The only exception to that rule is in the workplace, and then the item must belong to a staff member or the prison itself. At nearly every job I've had I have proved myself mechanically inclined and gained the confidence of my supervisors regarding equipment repair.

I held my last job for five years. I served as a machine operator and mechanic at the prison's Print Factory. In that position I had the opportunity to fix all kinds of equipment including some pretty complex machines. One of the major surgeries I performed was on a printing press and entailed completely disassembling the top half of the machine. I had to remove all that stuff to reach the internal bearings that needed replaced. A few days later, that machine was reassembled, properly adjusted, and back in production.

About a year and a half ago a new guy started in the shop. On his first day he inquired about a malfunctioning electric pencil sharpener. I motioned towards the tool cart and he took the initiative. The first time he put it back together the pencil sharpener was running backwards. We shared a laugh but a few minutes later it was fully functional, and this kid, who probably hadn't touched a tool in a few years, was beaming. I was happy to be sharing the shop with someone who shared my mechanical inclination -- someone else who could speak my language. That’s how I met Johnny.

Johnny was in his mid-twenties and had been in prison for a few years. He was a bright young guy who had worked after school at a vacuum cleaner sales and repair store. Even though we both had a history of vacuum cleaner repair, that was the extent of our common ground. He transitioned from selling vacuums to peddling drugs and made a reputation for himself by joining a gang and packin' a pistol -- which was eventually what led him to prison.

The primary objective of the Department of Corrections is to incapacitate Johnny for the duration of his prison sentence. I had a better idea. I wanted to help him and our respective communities by teaching him as much as I could. My hope was that through what he learns and from successes he experiences, he would realize enough of his own potential to put down the pistol and pick up the tool belt. So, I capitalized on every opportunity to show him as much as I could. 

Sometimes, that included working on stuff we weren't supposed too. I'm not a big fan of violating the rules, but as I've lived out my life in the DOC I've learned that not all of their rules have ethical value. And sometimes doing the right thing is in violation of the rules, like soldering the wire back on a pair of headphones so that some old codger doesn't have to spend thirty dollars and wait two months before watching John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart re-runs on AMC again.

One day, during our lunch break, it happened. Johnny was head down, elbows up, tongue hangin' out, diligently trying to repair a pair of headphones, when a prison guard walked up. This particular guard had the disposition you'd expect from someone who is perpetually constipated. He seemed angry and aggressively sought opportunities to flex his authoritative muscle. It's possible he resented how talented and mechanically inclined Johnny and I were. So he wrote an incident report that got Johnny and I fired. In the report I was accused of being the "lookout." An absurd assumption because after more than twenty years of prison experience, had I been the "lookout," Johnny wouldn't have been caught. But, anyone believing guards are always honest is simply disconnected from reality.

I'll miss wrenching on those machines but most of all I'll miss the opportunity to work with Johnny. That job offered me the platform to facilitate conversations with him about his future. It gave me the opportunity to share with him the ethos by which I strive to live and to show him what it looks like in real life. Working alongside me, Johnny was gaining experience, building confidence, and rapidly maturing into one of the best hiring decisions of his future employer. But trying to explain all that to anyone as mentally "bound up" as Mr. Constipated is fruitless. I'm not going to be discouraged, I'll just look for alternative ways to be useful.

* * *

Many people claim to be experts about criminal justice and the administration of corrections, but not many of them have viewed the issues from my perspective. I'm thirty-nine years old and I've lived my entire adult life in prison. I know what motivates and discourages prisoners. As far as education and rehabilitation, I've got a pretty good idea about what works and what doesn't. I have experienced both as student and mentor. I actually care about my outside community too. It's more than just a place I see on TV--It's where my family and friends are, and where I will go when I'm released. And I care about people in the world, like Johnny, who come to prison, mature a little, visit me for a few years, and then go home.

When Johnny returns to his community he will strengthen it. But his prison experience and growth is anomalous. The problem is, it shouldn't be. The legislature must redefine the mission of our State criminal justice system, and with it the delivery of our correctional services. It's time to stop tinkering at the edges of this thing and do a major, sweeping overhaul. It's time rehabilitation reemerges as the centralized theme of our criminal justice system.

Experts agree that education is the best tool for crime prevention and recidivism reduction. And there are some politicians with the courage to pursue some unpopular pieces of legislation, designed to improve public safety through education in Washington State. However, others are deeply entrenched in their otherwise convictions, like Senator Mike Padden, who serves as the Chair of the Senate Corrections Committee, and single-handedly refused to allow any legislation of the sort to pass through his committee last year. The return on investment for education vs. incapacitation in terms of crime prevention and reducing recidivism has already been established. This means a criminal justice system endowed with educational opportunities would be fiscally cheaper because of fewer future crime victims. Maybe the good senator and his cohorts would feel differently if the next time an uneducated former felon victimizes someone, they were to go to that person, look her in the eyes as she's mourning the loss of her innocence or a loved one, and try explaining how her sacrifice was worth it in their war against improving public safety through education. 

There is one fundamental flaw in the education--equals--rehabilitation equation. Most young prisoners don't recognize educational opportunities as privileges. To maximize their potential positive effect, the Legislature must revisit criminal sentencing and incorporate substantial incentives motivating prisoners to capitalize on those additional educational opportunities. The most responsible and effective way to do that is to reinstate parole. One stroke of the legislative pen could immediately change the paradigm in prison. Instead of hordes of prisoners sitting around with their feet up waiting for a release date, great numbers of them would seek opportunities and apply themselves to whatever they are learning, in an effort to earn back their freedom.

The overwhelming majority of us will return to our respective communities. Which will make for better neighbors, those who were warehoused? Or rehabilitated? We all have a vested interest in public safety. Please, take the initiative Johnny had with the pencil sharpener, and fix this broken thing. Contact your local congressman and ask for responsible justice legislation that restores "rehabilitation" as the centralized theme of our criminal justice system.

Isaac Sweet 752399
WSRU D-2-27
P.O. Box 777
Monroe WA 98272-0777