By Lester Dobbey
Good morning ladies and gentlemen, state representatives, PRB, IDOC officials, members of the community. And to all of my fellow brothers and Professor Burlet, I greet you by saying, “peace be upon you.”
Today, I stand before you all as a prisoner equipped and ready to present a question of great importance:
If I rehabilitate myself with no official incentives, who shall be a witness to record the methods and progress of my rehabilitation within a maximum IDOC facility?
PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that “true rehabilitation” under the Illinois State Constitution, article 1 Section 11 shall mean: “to restore to useful citizenship.”
To Stateville’s Debate team, it shall mean, “to transform the mind, nature, and character of a person’s former capacity in destructive activity and behavior.”
“Inauthentic rehabilitation” shall mean: “The inability to transform a complacent reality; a rehabilitation that is deprived of its dimensions in action; idle chatter; an indifferent ‘Blah!’; empty words and activity that has made a commitment to impossible transformation; and, silent conditions, nourished by falsity.”
These definitions are crucial as I tell you a short story of my life while free, and my life while in prison. The story contains important insights designed to raise awareness about the struggle for rehabilitation while in a maximum IDOC facility. The contents are based upon true events.
When I was a child in pre and middle school, to about 3rd grade, I was considered to be a smart child who made all A’s and B’s. Entering the 4th grade, I made all F’s. I was passed to the next grade, making all F’s in 5th, 6th, and 7th grade. I didn’t even commit the times table to memory until 8th grade, where my grades elevated to B’s and C’s. Now, going to Carver High School, it was a living nightmare. Every day there were multiple gang fights, inside and outside the school, that were severely dangerous. There was no place to feel save, not even in my own neighborhood. I dropped out after failing freshman year and joined a Chicago street gang and the violence thereof.
Juvenile detention and Illinois Youth Centers became my safe summer homes as I tried, but still did not accomplish much in school. After a final release from IYC at age 19, I would be arrested, charged, and convicted of murder and attempted murder five months later. During pre-trial custody, I passed the G.E.D., guessing half of the answers. At age 21, I was sentenced to 51 years of imprisonment and sent to Menard Correctional Center.
Menard is a maximum-security facility, that operated with prisoners being locked-down 23 hours a day. I quickly learned solitude within the 4 walls and slipped into a silent, untreated, depression. The following 2 years I learned that I had forgotten how to learn. IDOC provided no obligations besides, “Don’t violate our rules.” There were no schooling or programs offered to those prisoners with a high school or better education. Although there was a vocational program that only allowed 15 students out of 3,000, and provided 350 jobs to the same 3,000.
By age 23, I began to teach myself how to read and write all over again. I studied criminal law and the obligations bound to IDOC and the state of Illinois under statutory and constitutional mandates to rehabilitate prisoners to useful citizenship. Now learning law, I became zealous for change but was dissatisfied with IDOC’s inauthentic rehabilitation. I filed an internal grievance against Menard’s lack of rehabilitative programming. I complained that I was:
- Enduring oppressive treatment;
- Being denied employment;
- Denied training and skills; and,
- Denied a teacher of: humane virtues, honesty, self-control, respect, integrity, dignity, compassion, forgiveness, consideration and love.
At the conclusion of the grievance, I sought relief in the form of training programs that would restore my person to society civilized. The counselor, grievance office and warden of Menard denied my request because a job and education were based upon institutional need, and because prisoners were responsible for their own rehabilitation and needed to take an active role. Basically, I had to rehabilitate myself.
I filed a mandamus against the warden, asking the court to compel IDOC to rehabilitate me. My pleadings were inartful, but well-understood. However, I lost the case, but appealed.
On appeal, the warden argued that my contentions of him owning a legal duty to develop programs of rehabilitation and to restrain from oppressive treatment, “were too vague,” because they could not be enforced without immersing the court in the day-to-day management of Menard to determine whether the offered education and training programs are adequate, or the treatment of inmates, “oppressive.” The warden furthered his argument by stating that I “had no legal right to participate in education and training programs and that IDOC was under ‘no clear duty’ to provide specific educational programs.” The appellate court agreed and affirmed the appeal. I lost.
Over ten years later, the IDOC has not obligated me or enforced any plan for rehabilitation for any prisoner within a maximum security facility. This is vital while considering legislation for parole boards and parole plans, because whenever IDOC has “no clear duty,” to rehabilitate persons within their care, custody, and control, the actual threat of public safety is ever so near, and the expectancy of recidivism has found its road map.
So, I ask you again… If I rehabilitate myself with no incentives, who shall be a witness to record the methods and progress of my rehabilitation?
As this debate team stands here before you today, let this day be recorded in your minds that:
WE ARE REPRESENTATIVES OF PROGRESS… AS WE ADVANCE OUR MINDS FOR A GRADUAL BETTERMENT OF SOCIETY;
WE ARE REPRESENTATIVES OF RENEWED CHARACTER… CHARACTER TO WHICH APPLIES THE TOTAL SUM OF OUR MORAL QUALITIES THAT SHOULD BE JUDGED APART FROM OUR INTELLIGENCE, COMPETANCE OR SPECIAL TALENTS;
WE ARE REPRESENTATIVES OF PERSONALITY… PERSONALITY WHICH DISTINGUISHES EACH OF US AS INDIVIDUAL PERSONS;
AND AT LAST, WE ARE REPRESENTATIVES OF TEMPERMENT… A RESILIENT TEMPERMENT THAT IS ACQUIRED THROUGH EXPERIENCE AND EVIDENCED BY HOW WE MEET THE DIFFICULTIES OF LIFE AND HANDLE SENSITIVE SITUTATIONS.
So think about it, rehabilitation first.
Thank you, that’s my time.