Press Conference about cancellation of the Stateville debate class

Press Announcement

 

Press conference Wednesday, May 30, 11am, James R Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph, Chicago.

 

Concerned citizens will present a letter written by the Stateville Debate Team to Governor Bruce Rauner.  The class was summarily and unjustifiably cancelled and teacher Katrina Burlet banned as a volunteer.

 

The class was conducted at absolutely no cost to Stateville.

 

Education is key to rehabilitation.

 

The Debate Team requests reinstatement of Katrina Burlet.

 

Contact

Bill Ryan (708)574-8046

Katrina Burlet (630)209-4132

Government Argument by Howard

Deputy Prime Minister – Howard

 

My opponent began his last speech by diminishing the significance of the numbers that Al Ameen presented.  After hearing the rest of his speech, I understand why he tried to discredit the numbers – he didn’t have any to offer.  That’s obvious. What’s not so obvious is why the savings of hundreds of millions of dollars would be insignificant. What Luigi said about these numbers is both pessimistic and untrue.

 

First of all, a change as dramatic as cutting out up to 2/3 of people’s time served in prison would undoubtedly have an effect on the operating costs of Illinois’ prison system.  

 

The opposition team talked about the minute financial impact of paroling one person, but we’re not paroling one person.  Illinois upholds a standard of equal justice under law. Under our proposal, everyone has the chance to be considered.

 

At the implementation of this system, our prison population would quickly drop substantially.  The IDOC would be justified in cutting expenditures across the board – that includes those fixed costs as well.  If you have a fraction of the population, you’re going to spend a fraction of the money.

 

And this money does matter in Illinois.  Let’s say for argument’s sake that this parole system would end up saving the criminal justice system $500 million/year.  That’s a little less than 1/3 of current cost of running prisons in Illinois. It may not have quite that impact in its first year, but once the board is established and all of the people who are currently eligible for parole have been seen by the board, we think the idea that we could save 29% of our operating costs every year is actually a very conservative estimate.

 

And what can $500 million in savings do for Illinois?  We could fully fund the Department of Veterans Affairs and take care of some of those homeless people you talked about earlier ($72m additional needed), nearly double the capacity of the Illinois State Police Force ($318m – current budget $339m), and pay off all of the pensions and healthcare that we have backlogged ($110million). So, you see, those numbers really aren’t insignificant after all.  It’s a good thing Luigi is arguing for parole and not running for state comptroller.

 

Let’s talk about justice.

 

I understand what the opposition team is trying to do in granting the parole board authority to set different minimum sentences for different people, even if they committed the same crime.  We concede that there are good things that can come from taking individual considerations into account, but we don’t think that the handful of people that would benefit from this special consideration are worth the costs of muddling justice and opening the door for discrimination.

 

We should stick with the standard of having everyone serve 1/3 of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole, because the idea that you could have two people who committed the same crime serve different sentences for it does not fit with the idea of just deserts. If the punishment you assign to people is based off of a bunch of factors that have nothing to do with a person’s culpability, then are you even enacting justice?

 

The second, and perhaps more important, failure of the opposition’s proposal pertaining to minimum sentence determinations is this: they are doing nothing more than re-establishing the failed system of the 1970’s.  

 

What we are proposing on the government team is that we take the principles that were established in those laws and tone them down a bit.  The ideas underneath determinate sentencing provides a positive, proactive response to the bias and discrimination that were present in the old Illinois parole system.  The problem with this law is not the principle it was grounded on, but just the fact that its application was a little extreme. The severity of this law resulted in our prison population jumping from 10,000 inmates at the time the parole board was abolished to 49,000 inmates in 2015. So yes, the overeager nature of these laws has had harmful consequences, but we are confident that if the application of these principles is tempered, they will swiftly and fairly uphold justice.  The principles of equality and non-discrimination are good ones. We should want them in our justice system.

 

Moving on to public safety.

 

In the system we have today, we have a Prisoner Review Board that is costing the state $4.3 million in 2018.  The opposition’s system, is more complex, multi-faceted, subjective and it will cost countless additional hours to complete the same number of evaluations. It may even require bringing on all sorts of professionals who will likely need to be paid more than our current members in light of their expertise.  We now understand why our opponents didn’t have any numbers to offer. And get this – all of that would still result in less accurate determinations.

 

Let’s keep in mind that once someone is eligible for parole, justice has been served and is no longer a concern.  Public safety is now the pertinent consideration. Remember that under our proposal, we are increasing public safety by 258%.

 

And that estimation only applies if we look at our parole system in a vacuum.  If we actually used our savings to do what we suggested earlier – double funding for Illinois state police force and maybe cut taxes to benefit the overall economy, we would easily have a more positive impact on the crime rate than the opposition team.  Pew Research and the Bureau of Justice Statistics came together to do research on what most impacts our crime rate, and they found that 75% of our nation’s decrease in crime is attributed predominantly to better policing and favorable economic trends. If we take this into account, and used our savings wisely, we more effectively fight crime on the front end and have less people entering prison in the first place.  

 

Sure, the opposition team’s nebulous idea about sending the message that people who commit crimes are still people first is a great one.  I would love nothing more than for people to know me for the funny, witty, strikingly handsome, talented guy that I am… that also loves grilled cheese sandwiches and baby penguins, but it is too far down the path of idealistic thinking to imagine that the nuanced operations of one of 49 parole boards in the United States would have any impact on broader society’s perception of the caged animals they have stashed in the back of their minds.

 

Not only that, but putting the burden of such careful and subjective determinations while adding literally tens of thousands of cases to the board’s load would keep the board from being able to make decisions about paroling people who deserve a chance to be seen by the board.  Your system will necessarily cost so much time and money, that you won’t only cost taxpayers more money, but you will also withhold justice and the chance for parole from the very people you are most concerned about helping. Folks, what the opposition team is proposing is not a plan.  It’s a plot.

 

Opposition argument by Luigi

Leader of Opposition – Luigi

 

I thank my opponent for his speech but respectfully disagree.  There are some things that just should not be dictated by their price tags and the administration of justice has got to be at the very top of that list.  It’s just got to be. Besides, since when is the fastest, cheapest way the better way?

 

To start this speech, I am going to provide some points of rebuttal to what Al Ameen brought us.  Then I am going to tell you all how my team plans on achieving the goals set forth in the resolution while at the same time serving the interests of both justice and public safety.  

 

$

 

First off, let’s talk about money.  I know that the government said that public safety is their primary concern, but it’s not.  It’s money. It’s always the money. They do their best to hypnotize you with large numbers, making the amount of money they save seem like an amount you can’t refuse.  But you can. Let me explain. The operating costs of the IDOC are largely fixed. When you parole someone, the actual savings to the department are limited to the food/water/power costs that the parolee would have accrued up until the next poor schmuck fills his bunk.  

The government team will say it’s cheaper to put someone on parole than it is to keep them incarcerated.  And that’s true! On paper, having someone on parole costs 1/10 of what it does to keep them in prison. BUT as the government’s plan does nothing to address the causes of incarceration, the people they send out of the system are likely to end up right back in it. This means that all the government team is really doing is making bed space for new – and repeat – offenders to fill just as soon as the old ones are paroled.  There will be no savings.

 

I have other objections with my opponent’s proposal, but for brevity’s sake, I will address these as I offer our own solutions.

 

Justice

 

There is a problem with our current criminal justice system.  Not only does this system ignore the humanity of those subjugated to its authority, it strips their humanity intentionally. The stated goal of our penal system is to restore offenders back to useful citizenship.  To restore. Not to degrade or to warehouse.

 

But when someone is thrown into prison, there are a number of degrading things done to them.  Their civil rights and personal liberties as they once knew them are gone, most, gone forever.  Their very personhood is diminished to almost nothing as they are assigned a serial number like trade goods or chattel property, all the better for warehousing, I guess.  When I first entered the system I was given the designation R-74391. I asked the officer at the terminal if I could change it to R2D2, but I was informed that this is what I will be referred to until the time of my death. They gave me a number and took away my name.  I like my name. Do you have any idea what I had to go through maintaining a name like “Luigi” during the era of Nintendo? It was rough, I’ll tell you that.

 

Our current system, and the system proposed by my opponents, restores no one. Even after those convicted completely serve our their sentence, their debt to society is never marked paid in full.  A red mark stains their name forever. They will never regain all the freedoms and opportunities they enjoyed before their conviction. They will remain degraded, devalued and dehumanized for the rest of their lives.  This isn’t just true for people who have spent time incarcerated. Approximately 1/3 of American adults have some sort of a criminal record. We all carry the same stain. By revoking our rights, liberties and humanity, the system is praised for its equal treatment of all. But to be treated equally like garbage?  Is this what we mean by ensuring equality? At least some garbage gets recycled. Can we do no less for people? Really?

 

No one should ever be identified solely as the worst thing they have ever done in their lives while ignoring everything else.  We are not our crimes! We are human beings. Each and every one of us has a unique story and a unique set of circumstances that led to us being incarcerated.  No two cases are ever truly the same.

 

The government team is advocating for another blanket of standardized treatment to throw over all the incarcerated.  Their plan solves none of the problems it is meant to, but further propagates the mindset of marginalization and dehumanization that has allowed the criminal justice system to keep 2.3 million people behind bars.

 

This is not OK.

 

When my cellmate and friend Ryan Miller overturned his sentence of natural life for being unconstitutional, he naturally had to go back before the court for a resentencing hearing.  In the decade it took him to overturn his original sentence, my friend not only kept his nose clean and out of trouble, he took full advantage of every opportunity to better himself.  He presented all sorts of evidence to the court that proved unequivocally that he was a truly rehabilitated man. The court heard all of this evidence, and even agreed that his efforts at rehabilitation were genuine and successful, but then dismissed their importance and showed them no consideration as it sentenced him to the maximum allowable sentence of 60 years to be served at 100%.  The judge said this,

 

“You’re rehabilitated and would probably never commit another crime.  I won’t argue that.  But I don’t care about your faith or the man you’ve become.  All I care about is what you did.  You took a life and that is unforgivable…  20 years, 60 years – they’re all life sentences, so it doesn’t really matter if I sentence you to the max, either way you will die in prison.”

 

We, as the opposition team, want to encourage people like Ryan in their rehabilitative efforts.  We want to recognize and support those efforts, so we propose a parole system which emulates the state of Hawaii’s in many respects.

 

The Plan

 

The process begins within 6 months of sentencing.  The paroling body will look at the totality of a person’s situation and the details of their case to determine what it would take to restore that person back to useful citizenship.  Both the time at which they will become eligible for parole and the things they need to do to earn parole will be determined and laid out clearly at that time.

 

During this process the prosecutor and victims, families, and community will be as involved as they wish to be.  They may present oral or written statements about the impact of the crime on the community or their lives. They may also speak into what rehabilitative milestones they would like to see for the defendant.  

 

Impacts

 

The impacts of this plan are these:

 

  1. The safety and security of all institutions right off the bat.  Our system gives incarcerated people something positive to focus their efforts on, something that not only helps them to succeed in the real world but is also a means of shortening their stay in prison. Knowing ahead of time what is expected of you, and knowing that your behavior will directly impact how much time you spend in prison will cause an immediate, permanent, and positive effect on institutional safety and well-being.
  2. Recidivism and crime rates will fall as our plan actually puts corrections back into the department of corrections by identifying and addressing the causes of incarceration.  It begins preparing people for release as soon as they enter prison, giving them the tools needed to guide the youth of their community away from criminal activities – actually fighting crime from the inside out.
  3. It restores the moral integrity of our justice system.  As it stands now, people are receiving equal sentences for the same types of crimes, despite their circumstances or involvement. Equal treatment of someone who shot and killed a person with a gun versus someone who knew about the gun but wasn’t at the scene makes justice seem more braindead than blind.  It’s just plain lazy and it perverts our entire system of justice on the most basic level.

 

Now let’s talk public safety.

 

My opponent suggests that we can boil a living, breathing person’s whole life down to an easy set of stats that will tell you everything that is worth knowing about them.

 

Boy oh boy do we disagree.  As someone a lot smarter than me once said, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  Statistics never tell the whole story and can be easily made to tell a false one.

 

Clinical Analysis Plan

We propose the parole board take a look at whatever actuarial tables it can, but only as a tool.  The actual parole determination should be based on using a clinical analysis that takes a holistic view of the individual.  Taking things like disciplinary infractions, participation in positive programs and activities. Employment history, education and occupational skills, vocational training, military service, the evaluation of psychological professionals, the attitude of the inmate, the level of maturity, community support and remorse.  Look at everything they can about a person, and treat them like one.

 

Impacts

Making parole determinations in this way gives far more of an accurate picture of who a person is and whether or not they will reoffend than relying on some stats.  It also actively makes them less likely to reoffend. Our opponent’s plan claims to use unbiased science, but do they really? Where does the homeless Mexican national fall on their actuarial tables?  Or the under-educated, single, black male? I’d bet that those same scientific tables would ensure bias instead of prevent it.

 

Our proposal is actually tougher on crime, as it allows for the varied treatment of individuals and puts the onus on the prisoner to better themselves.  We are both humane and demanding of those convicted. No one is guaranteed release at the start of their parole eligibility based on factors that were predetermined before their incarceration.  For example, no one would enter prison knowing that they will only have to serve 1/3 of their sentence because they happen to be middle-aged and married. The prisoner is forced to put in the hard work it takes to better themselves, becoming a useful citizen or else face serving out the entirety of their sentence.

 

At last I reach my final point.  

 

Who would you rather see return to the community – someone who, as soon as they entered the system, worked hard to become a restored, useful citizen and was only released after they had successfully done so?  Or someone who took a knee and did nothing at all to better themselves, running out the clock on their 1/3 of a sentence, because some chart allows them early release no matter what. A person like that might come out of prison more angry and mal-adjusted than they went in.  If public safety is paramount, what seems like the safer choice to you?

 

 

Government Team argument by Al Ameen

Prime Minister – Al Ameen

 

It is the stance of the government team that the primary concerns in deciding how to implement a parole system in Illinois are 1) upholding justice, 2) public safety, and 3) minimizing the cost to taxpayers.

 

Upholding justice is the primary concern of the justice system.  When someone commits a crime, there ought to be punishment, and we believe that the punishment should remain equal among equivalent crimes.  What this means for this debate, is that we think anyone in Illinois who commits the same crime should have to serve the same amount of time before becoming eligible for parole. This is the most just way for the system to operate.

 

And we are not alone in thinking this.  In the status quo, Illinois operates on a same-crime-same-time principle.  The problem with Illinois’ current application of this principle is that it is substantially more severe than is necessary or practical.

 

Current sentencing laws in Illinois require that non-violent offenders serve 50% of their sentence in prison, violent offenders serve 85% in prison, and those convicted of murder serve 100%.  

 

For fiscal year 2014, the state appropriated and spent almost $1.3 billion on the prison budget. Off budget items, including pension contributions and group health benefits for state corrections employees, were an additional $600 million spent on the adult corrections system.

 

The total cost of Illinois’s prisons—to incarcerate an average daily population of 45,551—was therefore more than $1.9 billion, of which 32.5 percent were costs outside the corrections budget. (2010) In total, this makes the average annual cost per inmate $38,268.

 

Many states, including Maryland and Texas require ½ of a court-imposed sentence to be served in prison, whereas there are states like Montana that require ¼ of a person’s sentence to be served in prison.  We propose a middle ground. We will adopt the standard of the state of New Jersey – requiring people to serve 1/3 of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole.

 

This is also the standard sentence that the federal parole board had when it was in operation, AND the standard that Illinois had for a few brief years prior to abolishing parole back in 1978.

 

The first thing this will do is uphold justice.  One quarter to one third of a sentence is a standard amount of time to serve before becoming eligible for parole.  People who have broken the law in Illinois will continue to serve time for their crimes, and now it will be at a rate that is considered reasonably standard across the United States.

 

We believe that granting parole consideration is in itself is an act of justice.  Along with our neighbors in Wisconsin, we on the government team believe that being released on parole is not an entitlement, but being considered for parole is.  

 

This also upholds justice in that it maintains a fair and equal requirement for equal offenses.  The primary criticism about Illinois’ old parole board that led to its abolishment in 1977 was that it was biased.  We do not want to repeat that mistake, and we believe the first step to achieving that is establishing a policy that doesn’t allow for discrimination.

 

Now, we understand that not every person is going to be released after serving 1/3 of their time.  We think that’s a good thing. We think there are definitely legitimate reasons to deny people parole.  But we think, by and large, most of the people serving time in Illinois will serve significantly less.

 

In the 70’s, our nation put a lot of energy behind being tough on crime.  Illinois isn’t the only state that abolished parole and increased sentencing in that decade.  Across the subsequent 40 years, most states responded to the over burgeoning prison population, massive costs to tax payers, and harms to public safety that resulted from the over-incarceration to which this period led. Most states have reinstated their parole systems and cut back sentencing.  Mississippi made perhaps the most remarkable change, reducing in 2008 the percentage of sentences that nonviolent offenders must serve from 85 percent to 25 percent.

 

The impact of this in Illinois would be massive, and we have a few estimates about the amount of money it would save the state.    

 

For every one year that a person does not serve in prison, the state saves roughly $40,000.  I am currently serving LWOP which means I have not and will not have hope for release during any part of my incarceration.  But LWOP is a whole other topic, so, for argument’s sake – let’s say I had been given the standard sentence for my crimes. I would be serving 69 years.  That would put me up for parole in 2022, after serving 23 years. Given that the parole board did not deem me a danger to society, my release would save the state $1.84 million.  

 

And even that is assuming that the cost of incarcerating me remains equal every year of my sentence.  In reality, I cost much less to incarcerate now than I will 40 years from now. The reason for this is two-fold.  

  1. The cost of incarcerating people in Illinois is rapidly escalating.  Whereas today it costs nearly $40,000 to incarcerate someone, only 8 years ago, in 2009, the IDOC reported that it cost less than $25,000 to incarcerate someone for a year.
  2. Elderly inmates cost up to 3x as much to incarcerate per year.

 

So, if we adjust our estimation for increasing costs of incarceration both across the state and across an inmate’s lifetime, paroling me in 5 years would actually save the state $14.5 million.

 

In fact, we did the math.  If each of the 13 men on our team were released after serving 1/3 of his time, the state would have saved $68.4 million.  That’s 13 of us. There are tens of thousands of people serving time in the state of Illinois as we speak.

 

When we discuss releasing people from prison, alongside justice, the other primary consideration is public safety.  The main concern here is this: how will the board determine which people would threaten public safety if released?

 

On the government team, we advocate for an actuarial system.

 

In 1970, when the IDOC was created, Governor Ogilvie said that, “In Illinois we keep our adult felons incarcerated for periods longer than 45 other states.”  Across the last 50 years, we have adopted every national trend that made us “tougher on crime” and frankly, only a handful of minor policies that make us “smarter on crime.”  We now keep people incarcerated for periods longer than any other state.

 

This has obviously proven to be problematic and unmanageably expensive.  However, we do not want to open up the doors to early release only to see an increase in crime rates, so we must have a board that implements a method that is effective in determining the dangerousness of potential parolees.

 

We propose the adoption of an actuarial evaluation system similar to the one utilized by the state of Virginia.

 

In place since 1997, the Virginia Risk Assessment Instrument is a single sheet of paper that measures an offender’s likelihood of recidivism based off of 11 factors with a proven relationship to future risk.  The evaluation measures some demographic information, information pertaining to the current offense, and any previous offenses. The factors are assigned various quantities based on their predictive power. If a person’s score comes out below 35 points on the 71-point scale, then their sentence is diverted from prison time to probation.  

 

The only tweak that we propose to the system is that, while Virginia has been using it to determine who to put on probation, we propose using it to determine who to put on parole.

 

The ultimate impact of utilizing this kind of system is three-fold: it is efficient, it is cheap, and it is just.

Its efficiency is truly unparalleled.  Through the development and refinement of this system, social scientists have been able to hand a judge one sheet of paper, wait mere moments while they answer the questions, tally the answers, and predict with over 85% accuracy whether or not the person standing before them will reoffend.

Considering that currently 2/3 of prisoners released across the US return to prison within 3 years, this would lead to at least a 258% improvement in our protection of public safety.

 

We can easily cut the time the board members spend evaluating a given case down to a fraction of what they would have spent otherwise and with next to no effort save the state over $14 million with a single evaluation-  if you’re paroling me, of course.

 

At the end of the day, it seems clear to me that this is the best way for Illinois to move forward.  Illinois needs to cut spending, and we are confident that we can do it in a way that upholds justice and maintains public safety.  Let’s cut the unnecessary 2/3.

 

Pre Debate Speech on misapplication of Natural-life sentences by Oscar Parham

Are Natural Life Sentences Being Applied In The Way They Were Meant to Be?

By Oscar Parham ~ a.k.a Smiley

 

Here is a fun fact that society may not know: the state of Illinois claims to focus its system on rehabilitation rather than retribution.  However, the rampant over-sentencing and gross misuse of life sentences tell a very different story.

 

The overuse of life sentences in the state of Illinois is a sad reality that needs to be addressed.  But many politicians are reluctant to address it for fear of the dreaded label “soft on crime.” But is showing mercy being soft on crime?

 

An 18-year-old kid is convicted under the theory of accountability.  Accountability means to aid, abet, or facilitate the commission of a crime.  It says that the person who is the look-out man is just as guilty as the person who pulled the trigger, even if the lookout man didn’t know if the person was going to pull the trigger.  

 

But concerning this 18-year-old kid: he had no gun.  He wasn’t present during the shootings, and he had a minimal criminal record with no history of violence.  This 18-year-old kid was sentenced to a mandatory natural life sentence – the same amount of time that would have been given to a serial killer if he were sentenced under the present Illinois sentence statute.

 

With this in mind, I would like to ask the question: “Are natural life sentences being applied the way they were meant to be?”  In order to answer this question, we have to consider for whom natural life sentences were meant. For an observation of this question, consider words of former democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.

 

During a democratic town hall meeting in Ohio, an African American man who had been wrongfully imprisoned and released after 38 years on death row, asked Clinton if she would continue in her stance for the death penalty, seeing that it is a flawed system.  While he answer was mostly vague, the good that came from her response was a clear definition of the type of people she had in mind when she voted for the death penalty bill.

 

According to Clinton, the death penalty was meant for the worst of the worst: John Wayne Gacy or the Oklahoma City Bomber.  These are the types of people that Clinton considered a serious threat to society.

 

The late Barton Leisure, professor emeritus of philosophy at Pace University, wrote a paper on the death penalty called “The Death Penalty is Permissible.”  In his paper, he quotes Justice Potter Steward in his majority opinion in Gregg v. Georgia saying: Capital punishment may be the appropriate sanction in extreme cases as the community’s belief that certain crimes are themselves so grievous that the only adequate response is the death penalty.

 

Maybe this is what Clinton had in mind when she voted for the death penalty bill, or maybe she had in mind what Lord Justice Denning told the British Commission from the same paper; “some crimes are so outrageous that society insists on capital punishment because the wrongdoer deserves it irrespective of whether it is a deterrent or not.”

 

In either case, from these quotes, we have an understanding that the death penalty was meant not only for the most outrageous crimes, but also for those people who are considered the worst of the worst.

 

Mainly due to incidents like the Ohio incident mentioned earlier, in 2003, Governor Ryan commuted all death row prisoners to natural life sentences.  It was officially abolished through legislation in 2011. With the abolition of the death penalty, the harshest form of punishment in Illinois became mandatory natural life sentences.  

 

Since we now know that the death penalty was meant for the worst of the worst, and natural life sentences are an alternative to the death penalty; how is it that natural life sentences have become commonly applied to accountability cases, juveniles, and young adults (those ages 18-25 who recent brain science shows have the greatest capacity for rehabilitation).

 

If a study were done, I would estimate that at least 60% of the people who have life sentences in Illinois would not be considered the worst of the worst.  Many were convicted under the theory of accountability. Some just simply made mistakes. And others were young and convicted under the theory of accountability.

 

For example, take my situation: I am the 18-year-old kid convicted under the theory of accountability that I mentioned earlier. With that being said, there is no question about the seriousness of my case.  But the argument made by the Supreme Court in Miller V. Alabama can also be made in my case. In Miller, the court stated: “we agree with defendant that a mandatory sentence of natural life with no possibility of parole grossly distorts that factual realities of the case and does not represent defendant’s culpability such that it shocks the moral sense of community.”

 

I was offered an eleven-year plea agreement at 50% without having to testify for the state against any of my co-defendants.  Based on my level of involvement in the case and because I was an 18-year-old kid with no history of violence, the state felt that eleven years was a sufficient sentence.  This says that I was not considered by the state to be beyond rehabilitation, irredeemable, nor the worst of the worst.  In fact, they felt that in 5 ½ years, I would be fit to rejoin society. When I didn’t take the deal and was eventually found guilty, I was sentenced to mandatory natural life in prison.

 

What changed?  How was this leap from 5 ½ years to forever justified and rationalized?  OR as a wise man once asked, how is it that I was considered rehabilitatable after 5 ½ years, but when I don’t take the deal, now I’m beyond rehabilitation.  Moreover, Is as just a kid who needed time to grow up and reflect as the eleven-year plea suggested? Or was I a monster who threatened the very fabric of society like the natural life sentence suggests?  According to the state, one day I was the former, the next day I was the latter. If I had taken the plea agreement, I would have been home in 1995.

 

In the 28 years of my incarceration, I have had minimal record of infractions with no history of violence, much like my pre-prison record.  So which is the better indicator of who I am: the conviction under accountability theory, or the 48 years of minimal trouble with non-violence? Do I sound like somebody who should be labeled as the worst of the worst?

 

Sadly, natural life sentences are not being applied the way they were meant to be applied, but with a new approach, an openness to change and a bit of creativity, things can be different.

 

In closing, making sure that natural life sentences are applied correctly does not mean just letting all prisoners go free and ignoring responsibility for crime.  It’s about cutting in place a fair system so that true justice can prevail. Just as prisoners must change and reform, so must the system.