By Cynthia Kobel for the Project 1-11 Campaign to Bring Back Parole in Illinois
“[Life without parole is] like trying to describe a broken heart or communicate what it feels like to mourn the death of a soul mate. The words to convey the pain do not exist. When you’re serving a life-without-parole sentence it’s as if you’re experiencing the broken heart of knowing you’ll never love or be loved again in any normal sense of the word, while simultaneously mourning the death of the man you could and should have been.” – Joseph Dole, The Meaning of Life
Joseph Dole is not your ordinary prisoner. He has published three books as well as essays in several publications. He just won first place in the Columbia Journal Writing Contest, a prestigious award in which he was up against highly educated and prominent writers. It is not his first award, but certainly the most laudatory. Recently, he was awarded a Davis-Putter Scholarship, a fund that pays college tuition for students who are working for positive social change.
Joe is currently incarcerated with a natural life sentence after being convicted of a double murder via a theory of accountability (i.e. aiding others who allegedly committed the crimes). It was his first felony conviction.
Since his time in prison he has taken every course he could possibly take. He is a superior writer and has won many other writing competitions from several literary forums and, in particular, from the prestigious PEN Society. He has been published in newspapers, magazines and educational periodicals.
His first book: A Costly American Hatred describes how “America’s hatred of criminals has led the nation down an expensive path that not only ostracizes and demonizes an ever-growing segment of the population, but is also now so pervasive that it is counterproductive to the goals of reducing crime and keeping society safe, wastes enormous resources, and destroys human lives.”
Several proposals Joe has written were catalysts for legislation in Illinois. The first was
Illinois House Joint Resolution 80, which was passed and created. He wrote an 80-page research paper/proposal titled: “Predicting Individual Recidivism: A Safeguard for Granting Parole Eligibility to Prisoners.” Several advocacy groups sponsored the publishing, copying and dispersion of that research paper to hundreds of legislators, policy makers and judges throughout Illinois.
Joe has spent his time wisely in prison, and as the saying goes: “He did not let the time do him.” He is constantly active in classes and self-education. He has taught himself how to read Spanish, Italian, and French. He works hard on his case, but also uses his knowledge to help others in prison who cannot help themselves. He is a generous and caring man.
Joe is a copious reader and does remarkable research. When he found out a woman he knew was told her son had terminal cancer, melanoma Stage IV, Joe went to work to find out what medical advances in that area were available. He sent her pages of medical studies that were new to the field in attacking the disease.
He has close family ties that support all his endeavors as well as enormous support from followers he has acquired through his work as a writer, artist and advocate for prison reform. To Google Joe you will find that he is known throughout social media for his writing and artwork. Few prisoners have such a following.
Joe has two daughters whom he adores, and he wants nothing more than to be out there for them. Like their father, they are both very studious. One daughter is enrolled at Eastern Michigan University with a full scholarship. His other daughter is currently debating between returning to college or enlisting in the Air Force.
Joe’s family has never given up on him. His mother, step-mother and aunt have all continuously provided support either in the form of books for his self-education, filing FOIA requests to obtain government case files, researching case law, or garnering support for his clemency petition. They have been steadfast in working and praying for Joe’s release.
Joe has been fighting his wrongful conviction of accountability in a double homicide pro se and has uncovered evidence suppressed by the State, which proves the State’s star witness committed perjury on the stand.
He is a man who will not accept NO. He is a man who stands up for everyone, every day.
- Joseph Rodney Dole, II
- K84446, Stateville Correctional Center
- PO Box 112
- Joliet, IL 60434
- I was born in Saginaw, Michigan. After first grade I was accepted into Handley Elementary, a school for the advanced. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter my parents divorced and I moved to Illinois where I would attend nine additional regular public schools (12 total) due to several additional moves, until I was finally able to obtain my high school diploma via night school.
- After graduation, I moved into the only neighborhood that I could afford – an immigrant community with a heavy gang presence – and began hanging out with the wrong crowd. Long story short, I am currently incarcerated with a natural life sentence after being wrongfully convicted of a double murder via a theory of accountability (i.e., aiding others who allegedly committed the crimes).
- During my 20 years of incarceration, I’ve educated myself by reading hundreds of books and articles. I’ve also taught myself how to read Spanish, Italian, and French. Additionally, while in Tamms Supermax Prison, New Day Prison Ministries paid for my tuition to enroll in four Ohio University courses. I averaged a 4.0 GPA before funding ran out. Since then, I have taken every course available to me at Stateville.
- College Courses
- University without Walls. Bachelors to be received spring 2019.
- Ohio University correspondence courses, 4 courses and taking 2 currently (GPA 4.0).
- DePaul Restorative Justice courses, 3 college-level classes taught at Stateville prison (“A” average).
- Davis-Putter Scholarship, $4,500 (2017-2018).
- University without Walls Scholarship. One of eight men awarded a scholarship to participate in a Bachelors degree program through University without Walls and Northeastern Illinois University.
- WRITING AWARDS AND HONORS
- First-place, Columbia Journal Writing Contest (tied for first-place, nonfiction) for “Yard Time with the Animals” (2017).
- Second-place, PEN America writing awards for prisoners, for “Prison Diary” (2013)
- Selected by the Anne Frank Center USA (which had read my prize-winning PEN essay) to keep a journal while in solitary confinement.
- A Costly American Hatred (CreateSpace, 2015)
- Control Units and Supermaxes: A National Security Threat (CreateSpace, 2016)
- ARTICLES IN LITERARY AND ACADEMIC JOURNALS
- “Endless Punishment: What Happens after a Staff Assault.” Justice, Power, & Resistance (spring 2018)
- “The Name-Game: Testimonial Injustice against People Incarcerated at Stateville Prison.” Journal of Ethical Urban Living (2017)
- “Yard Time with the Animals.” Columbia Journal (spring 2017)
- “Diary Excerpts,” Mississippi Review (Winter 2013).
- “The Meaning of Life,” Prison Culture (June 2011).
- ARTICLES IN NEWS JOURNALS
- “Misconceptions about Violent Offenders” (currently under consideration at Truthout).
- “Prosecutorial Objection to Bringing a Parole System to Illinois,” San Francisco Bay View (April 2018).
- “Why Illinois’ HB531 or any Parole Bill or Sentencing Reform Should be Retroactive, Truthout (February 2018).
- “A Plea from Inside: Prisons Must Offer College Classes,” Truthout (June 2017).
- “Abolish Long-term Solitary Confinement: It’s a Threat to the Public,” Truthout (July 2016)
- “Shutting Down the Panopticon: A Report from Inside the Stateville Correctional Center,” Truthout (December 2016)
- Additional publications in Stateville Speaks, Prison Legal News, The Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, Graterfriends Newsletter, The Insider Magazine, Scapegoat 7: Incarceration, The Public 1 Newspaper, The Marshall Project, Vice News, www.realcostofprisons.org, www.SolitaryWatch.com, www.prisonwriters.com, www.minutesbeforesix.com, www.PrisonLawBlog.com, and www.allthethingscrimeblog.com.
- CHAPTERS IN ANTHOLOGIES
- “Supermax Diary,” in Hell is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement , ed. Jean Casella, James Ridgeway, and Sarah Shourd (The New Press, 2016).
- “American Supermax,” in Understanding Mass Incarceration, ed. James Kilgore (The New Press, 2015).
- “I’m Sorry,” in Lockdown Prison Heart: Too Cruel, Not Unusual Enough, ed. Katy Ryan (iuniverse, 2004).
- POLITICAL REPORTS AND RESOLUTIONS
- House/Senate Resolution: Resolution for the Creation of Truth-in-Sentencing Review Task Forces (2018). To be filed in the upcoming fiscal year in Illinois House and Senate.
- Open letter to Governor Rauner (2018). Statement delivered to the Governor on behalf of the Stateville Debate Team in support of reinstating their unjustifiably cancelled debate class.
- Truth in Sentencing Report: Preliminary Findings Concerning the Financial Costs of Implementing Illinois Truth-in-Sentencing Laws (2011).
- Illinois House Joint Resolution 80, which passed and created “the Long-Term Prisoner Study Committee to examine whether life without parole and sentences over 30 years are necessary for public safety and are the best use of State funds” (2006).
- Predicting Individual Recidivism: A Safeguard for Granting Parole Eligibility to Prisoners.This research paper (80 pages) advocates for the creation of an algorithm based on personal characteristics that could determine an individual’s risk of recidivating if released. Several advocacy groups sponsored the publishing, copying, and dispersion of this research paper to hundreds of legislators, policy makers, and judges throughout the state,
- Proposal to extend the time limits for filing a petition under the Illinois Post-Conviction Hearing Act. This became Illinois House Bill 1292. Due to vociferous opposition from both prosecutors and victims’ rights groups, the bill died in committee.
- Proposal for legislation that would provide opportunities for sentencing reduction for incarcerated individuals who have reached the age of 50 and have served 25 years in prison. The resulting bill has had several incarnations, including Illinois House Bill 3668. It will be re-submitted again under a new number and has steadily gained support through each reincarnation.
- PRESENTATIONS, PODCASTS, GUEST-LECTURES
- “The Name-Game: Testimonial Injustice against People Incarcerated at Stateville Prison.” Presented (by phone) at the Philosophers for Peace Conference (November, 2017).
- Interviewed for Backstory, “Prying Eyes: Privacy in America” (June, 2017).
- “Why it’ Imperative that Illinois Prisons Offer College Courses.” Presented (by phone) at the Philosophies of Mass Incarceration Conference, Villanova University (March 2017)
- Guest-lectured (by phone) in philosophy courses, global-scholars courses, and honors courses at Ohio Wesleyan University (fall 2016, spring 2017, fall 2017, and spring 2018).
- PUBLISHED ART
- “Got Buried,” in San Francisco Bay View (April 2018).
- Additional artwork posted on Minutesbeforesixblogspot.com, The Chicago Reader (“At the Hull-House Museum: Artwork Made while Doing Time”), and the Realcostofprisons.org
- OTHER ACTIVISM AND SERVICE
- Co-producer of “Prisoners’-Lives-Matter” Stamp, a rubber stamp and accompanying statement and flyers that help friends and family members of incarcerated individuals to resist the stigmatization of their loved ones.
- Director of Parole Illinois, a campaign to bring a fair and inclusive parole system to the state of Illinois. Directed coalition-building and resource-sharing among people inside and outside of prisons, a website, and promotional materials.
- Jailhouse lawyer: Assist inmates in challenging convictions and sentences as well as suing government agencies under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act to obtain files related to their criminal cases.
- Member, National Lawyers’ Guild.