Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"For My Foolishness At 18, I May Have To Spend The Rest Of My Life In Prison"

"We look at the examiner's as well as Department of Corrections data on the original offense and how he has acted since he was incarcerated. After that the decision is basically done by the computer."
- Mr. William Muse, former chair of the Virginia Parole Board

When an inmate at one of our state prisons read the above quote in an op-ed piece I had written for the Daily News-Record last year, he wondered if that might help explain the content of some of the varied rejection notices he's gotten from the Parole Board over the past four years.

The Board is to cite every factor considered in each case, but the following are the varied reasons given in this person's rejection, after the Board "reviewed all available information":

- Serious nature and circumstances of the offense
- Crimes committed

- History of drug and/or alcohol use
- History of violence--indicates serious risk to the community
- Serious nature and circumstances of the offense
- Serious disregard for property rights
- Considering all of the offender's records, the Board concludes that the offender should serve more of the sentence prior to release on parole

- Serious disregard for property rights
- Risk to the community
- Serious nature and circumstances of the offense

- Serious nature and circumstances of the offense
- You need to show a longer time of stable adjustment
- Release at this time would diminish seriousness of the crime

Several things should be noted here:

1. All but one of the above items have to do with events that happened prior to incarceration, and are things neither he nor any other inmate can possibly do anything about.

2. If the two reasons given after the first hearing are the definitive ones, one wonders why more are added later, since there was no new information available after 2011 except for his behavior in prison and the extraordinary number of educational and work opportunities he had availed himself of, none of which are even mentioned.

3. There is no "history" of violence in this case, only the threat of violence involved when he brandished a knife and threatened a female sales clerk while robbing a convenience store of $31 and four packs of cigarettes at 18 while high on drugs. He had robbed the same store of $300 while sober several weeks prior and had not been caught, which added to his sentence.

4. As to the longer time needed for a "stable adjustment", this inmate, after an initial year of some defiance when first incarcerated, has demonstrated consistently exemplary behavior in prison for well over two decades.

5. It seems especially odd that "considering all of the evidence" includes no mention of this person having completed his GED and every educational course available in the system, plus having earned 39 credits by correspondence toward an associates degree (which he was unable to complete because of Pell grants no longer being available to prisoners) and is now a computer drafter who designs furniture produced at his facility.

In spite of all of his accomplishments, because of the crimes he committed when 18--for which he takes full responsibility--he has a 260 year sentence.

He writes:

"I've gotten good reviews from every prison guard, teacher, employer, counselor and supervisor I've had contact with over the past 22 years. I have worked very hard to transform the 18-year-old immature, irresponsible person with no future into the person I am now... I only wish that when I was 18 I had the clarity of vision I have now at 42...

"...It was always my hope that the Parole Board would see in my efforts that I was changed person and that my future was worth saving. I was wrong in my hope. The Parole Board continues to see only the crimes committed, to only see the person I was 24 years ago.

"Meanwhile, the very support base I've built over the years is slowly eroding beneath my feet. The first time I went up for parole I had multiple places where I could live, jobs I could work at.. and anything else I would need to live in society. Now there are no jobs lined up for me, and one place where I could live... I've had family and non-family supporters  die, retire, and move to another state, and with them went many opportunities. As the years go by, my chances of making it in society are only decreasing... I may have to spend the rest of my life in prison."

Meanwhile, I am hearing encouraging news of some recent releases by the newly appointed Board of prisoners who have good records of behavior in prison.
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