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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

“I Have Been Dealt an Extreme Hand of Injustice”

Yale law professor John Langbein      
     I received the following letter from a prisoner at the Augusta Correctional Center after he had read my Open Forum piece on plea bargaining, “Justice Gone Awry,” in the Daily News-Record:

Dear Pastor Yoder,

My name is Mr. Ashley Jefferson Grissette #1143033, and I have been dealt an extreme hand of injustice.

My original home is in Lumberton, North Carolina. I came to Virginia and promised myself that I was going to straighten my life out before I move back to NC. This was in 1996, and I’m still in Virginia in trouble with the law again.

I have a pretty extensive criminal record dating back to North Carolina in the mid-80’s. There is nothing pretty about my criminal history and I’m not proud of it, but I do take responsibility and own up to it. I did a lot of dumb and stupid things and my record reflects that I paid the price by spending most of my life in jails and prisons.

There is also another side of me that loves to work hard and believes in honor. Drugs and alcohol contributed in large part to my extensive criminal history. I now have documentable employable trades in which I am certified.

After being released from doing a little over three years on my last sentence, my former employer gave me another chance, and immediately hired me the very week I got out. I was released in September of 2009 and stayed in a homeless shelter until I saved up enough money to move out and rent a room.  I have enclosed a letter from my employer with the Virginia Pump Company in Alexandria that was written on my behalf for the court.

I was out for six months doing everything that I was sure would keep me out of prison until that day in February, 2010, when I went to visit my probation officer and was arrested for credit card theft and credit card forgery. The police told me that they showed my probation officer photos from the store’s surveillance cameras and he said he thought the black man using the stolen credit cards might be me.

After holding me for thirty days they released me, then arrested me again in March. Both times they searched my house and found nothing to link me to these crimes. While I was confined in jail awaiting trial, my defense attorney had tried to talk me into pleading guilty, but I refused to do so. He told me that by refusing a plea bargain that I had got the commonwealth’s attorney mad.

After I sat in jail for five months, the commonwealth seemed to realize they didn’t have the right person for the crime, but instead of letting me go, she had the lead detective in the case take her to one of the locations where the alleged credit card fraud took place to get a witness to identify the suspect by way of a photo line-up. I have enclosed a copy of the police report which states how the photo line-up turned out and how the Commonwealth’s Attorney implicated me as the suspect.

I wish I could get the press involved so the world could see how I was arrested and sentenced to 18 years just because I possibly resemble an African-American they allege to be using a stolen credit card on video surveillance.

The bottom line this. This last time when I got out I didn’t get back on drugs and I know that for once in my life I’m in the right. I have written to a few Innocence Project organizations, but they don’t want to get involved with cases that don’t involve DNA testing.

I am 46 years old now and it would really benefit me to spend the next 12 years working at a job so that I can have something when I get older. I thank you for your time with this matter and, most of all, I thank God for his help.

Sincerely,

Ashley Jefferson Grissette 1143033
St. Brides Correctional Center
701 Sanderson Road
P.O. Box 16482
Chesapeake, VA 23328

Here's a link to some additional posts on prisons and criminal justice http://harvyoder.blogspot.com/search?q=jails
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