John Cumbee, by Cheryl Wurst

My friend John has been in captivity for 27 years for a crime he did not commit in a county he was not in at the time of the offense. Even though he was a public servant with no criminal history, he was given a natural life sentence in a politically motivated prosecution.

While in custody, he has successfully completed two comprehensive bible study courses and has earned 61 college credit hours toward his associate degree which he will receive this year. He has also completed 5 certificate courses through DePaul University (2), North Western University (2), and the Northeastern Prison Neighborhood Arts Project (1). He is a member of 2 DePaul University think tanks and has been instrumental in writing legislation to create the Re-entering Citizens Civics Education Act. He has also authored a paper on felony disenfranchisement and prison gerrymandering.

While confined, John has held many jobs that taught him skills in data entry, industrial food service, the garment industry, and floor maintenance. He has earned the trust and respect of his supervisors at these assignments.

John hopes to one day put his education and vocational skills to work if he is blessed to be paroled and to once again be a productive member of society.

Miguel Morales, by Miguel Morales

First and foremost, I appreciate you taking the time out to stop and read through some of these postings. I’m writing you this in search for understanding and support on an important issue that we’re up against behind these walls.

The muzzle has been put on us (prisoners) for far too long now. We’ve always been made to feel like we’re simply stuck and can’t do anything to change the way we’re being treated back here because of stigmas made against us, lifestyles we were living, choices made when we were younger, and because it works so much better for them and their agenda and pockets if we just keep our mouths closed and not say anything. But one truth is that the “system” has led some of the public to believe that the solution is to just lock us all away with extreme sentences and throw away the key, as if that’s what’s going to fix society’s problems. And clearly that hasn’t worked then and it definitely isn’t working today.

I’ve already been in prison for 17 years on a gang-related murder that happened in 2001, and I’m still facing 19 more years that are left to serve on my sentence. Because of sentencing laws in Illinois, I’ll have to serve all (100%) of those 19 years that remain without the possibility of ever earning any good time, no matter what type of program I complete or positive behavior that I show. So the question has to be asked — what incentive is there then to even “do good”? Why don’t we even have a parole board anymore? Where we can go in front of and show the positive that we’ve been doing (on our own), the changes we’ve made, the benefits we’ve made both for ourselves and those around us? We haven’t had a parole board in Illinois since 1978 and the sentencing just gets harsher and harsher. Why? Is prison without a parole board working? Are harsher sentences since 1978 working? With the crime wave happening in Chicago today, I think we all know the answer to that question.

A fair and just parole board here in Illinois will give us the opportunity to show and prove our ability to do differently. To change our ways and change our thinking, and take us from the mentality of not having anything to lose to having everything to gain back. It would bring a sense of hope knowing that there’s that possibility of being free again one day. And will very possibly be your next door neighbor, living next to you and your children, living on your block, in your neighborhood. So you have to ask yourself, what type of “neighbor” would you want him or her to be? Rehabilitated and helped in his growth with a different mindset and outlook on life? Or the same individual they were when they first came through these walls and learned nothing more but to become a better criminal while here?

To me it absolutely matters what’s offered to us in prison because what is or isn’t offered to us reflects directly on how we will succeed or not succeed when we make it back to society. Programming in our prisons, smart sentencing, and having a parole board available to us absolutely matters. But today our fight is with us finally setting a fair parole board established for us here in Illinois We’re hoping to get the proper legislation proposed on this and if you’re with us in this struggle and chose to support us, all of the needed info is here.

We might need your support again in the future so I’m hoping this isn’t a one-time deal for you! I’m also an artist that does oil paintings. Mostly for fun, some for family and loved ones and some on commission. There’s a boatload of talent trapped behind these walls. Mine is just one of the many. Enjoy what you see and always feel free to write directly.

Thank you for stopping. Thank you for reading and thank you for any and all support!

Always in strength,

Ricardo Rodriquez, written by Mary Rodriquez

My husband, Ricardo Rodriquez, was sentenced to 24 years in prison without a chance for parole in March of 2012. He has served 7 yrs. He was convicted of sexual assault. He pleaded not guilty. He has never had a police record of any kind. We have been married for 45 yrs. He also served in the Vietnam War in 1970 – 71. In 1995 he owned and operated a woodworking business out of our home until 2012 when he was convicted. My husband is not the evil monster they portrayed him to be. He is not a danger to anyone. We are victims of this crime. Ricardo is now 65 and it is a heartache to see him serving all this time for a crime he did not commit. Life is too short to spend so many years away from loved ones. Please help him get a chance for parole! Thank you, his wife Mary

Joseph Arrieta, written by Flory Rivera

I am one of the thousands nationwide and one of the hundreds who initially was sentenced to die for murder as a juvenile at age 17 two and a half decades ago. Despite my going to trial and proving beyond a reasonable doubt that these murders were committed in self defense, I was convicted and sentenced to life without parole. Why? Not because of the murders themselves or because the court found that I was beyond any hope for rehabilitative potential, but for the circumstances of my childhood and home environment that I was raised in until I was 17, when they were taken away.The likelihood that I could change or become a productive member of society — none of theses things mattered to the court until the U.S. Supreme Court announced their decision of Miller v. Alabama, This decision took away automatic life sentence and gave those in my situation new hope and gave me a chance to show that I am no longer an immature juvenile who committed murder 24 years ago.

In light of this new hope I was re-sentenced on October 11, 2017. I came into court a man. A man who brought with him every educational certificate he could provide. A non violent disciplinary history showing no violence was proven or committed during my years in prison. Most importantly, I took full responsibility for my actions,apologizing to the court and to the victims’ families. I spoke of true, sincere, heartfelt remorse for the lives lost and the tragic loss I suffered losing my mother, brother and a part of myself that I can never get back regardless of what I said. I was mocked in the courtroom. I was wished death by the victim’s family. This re-sentencing was a mockery to the integrity of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in cases like mine. Despite being sent back to prison again to die I kept positive and continued correspondence courses of educational subjects.

The greatest gift of all was meeting my wife, Florinda, who saw me for me, for the man I am, and took me into her life and home, making me a father to two young beautiful daughters, Hayley age 12 and Ivy age 6. These kids are loved by me, love me, wait for me to come home, and often ask when I’m coming home. Not wanting to lie to them, I simply tell them soon . My wife often cries for me, knowing what I went through and continue to go through. My wife has been my rock ,my torch, my pillar of love and hope and happiness. I can’t bare the thought of ever letting her down or the kids. I know that with my family by my side, the things that once corrupted me as a juvenile, recklessness and addiction, are forever gone, never to be repeated,. My wife and kids are all I hope to live for and I know if simply given chance, I can show that people change .

People like me regardless of how dark it was never gave up, never stopped believing in the human spirit of forgiveness. Never stop this fight to show how the juvenile I once was,where I came from and what I’ve seen and done, the things I did to get to this point, should never be thrown away because they can change with a second chance. I changed. I’m not deserving of a sentence such as this one. Keeping me and those who deserve a second chance to die in prison serves no phenological justification. I’m not a threat to society nor to myself. The retributive measures behind these types of sentences, now among evolving measures of decency, demands the end to life without parole nationwide . I can tell you why I deserve parole, but showing everyone would be that much greater. A new start in a new direction, forgiveness and second chances, should be demonstrated by all who have a voice . A voice that asks and shows that he or she can do it can make the changes in their lives and lives around them.

Michael Bell, written by Annette Donaldson

Michael Bell, was a typical young man, just a couple of months past his 18th birthday when he committed his crime. He does not wish me to write about his past, but just to say that he deserves his sentence, he took a life, he made mistakes, and that is a simple as it gets. He has never denied his crime, and has faced all the challenges that his life without parole sentence has brought to him during the past 27 years. It is true to say that when he was first incarcerated, he rebelled against the system, as many people do in such a horrible state. However, during the past 12 years, Mike has settled down, and has really focused on turning his life around.

When I last visited Mike, the visitation desk sergeant looked me in the eye and told me, “he’s one of the good guys, he does not deserve to be here now.” During the past 12 years, Mike has not even gotten so much as a verbal warning, not to mention a written ticket for bad behavior, or crossing the line. He is sadly a model inmate. I say sadly, because I feel that as worthy as this is of a mention, it is also testament on how controlling and manipulating the judicial system can be.

Mike, mentors a student at Louis University, Illinois, each semester, and is one of a few inmates that his college professor is willing to testify for and say that his people skills are considerable. His professor has even selected him to mentor students he feels need a more “softly, softly approach.”Mike, has worked for most of the past 12 years, often in positions of responsibility, which shows how much he is held in high regard by the managers and correctional officers that are responsible for his incarceration. He works daily to come home to his family, friends and loved ones.

Mike, has worked hard to obtain many certificates while incarcerated, and has more recently authored 3 books, which are being used by the Louis University and various church groups in Illinois to offer perspective into the lives of young people on the streets. In fact, within the past month, his books have been reviewed by the assistant warden of programs at Stateville They may start a program to assist inmates with counselling and education.

Michael, is well respected within Stateville, not only by the correctional officers whom acknowledge his change in attitude, but also by the younger men for his sound advice and patience. On behalf of Michael, his family, friends and loved ones, I ask for your support to assist this man in his quest for his freedom, and the opportunity of being considered for parole. He is, without a doubt, worthy of a chance at life outside of the prison system. One of his aims is, in his own words, “to make his mom proud.” Thank you for reading.

Anteshia Lee, written by Armoni Todd

Since I was 2 years old my mom has been in jail. I am now 20 and we have managed to keep a very tight bond. She is the most kind hearted and sincere person I know. In 2002, she was wrongfully prosecuted and sentenced to 28 years for what I know was self defense. Growing up is still hard for me to this day being so close to my mom who is so far away. I am so grateful for the relationship I have with my mom, but it’s really hard for me to wait days for a phone call or a letter when I need someone to turn to. I’m not good with letters and it’s really hard for me to put the time aside to sit down and write one.

I do believe my mom deserved punishment for what she did because I can understand the trauma that was put on the other person’s family. They will never get their loved one back. However, my mother was defending herself the only way she knew how. Growing up with men hitting on you and being put in the position where a man is harming you, your first instinct is going to be to secure your safety. For 18 years she has been incarcerated. As a kid I thought she was in “school” and they really had me fooled. I even came down to Dwight for her graduation. She managed to learn many things while incarcerated. One of the things that stood out most to me was dog grooming. My mom is a creative. She has made the best out of any situation she’s been put in her whole life. I admire many women, but my mom is the only woman I look up to. She deserves to shine her light in the world now. She deserves to see what the world has to offer and give it back.

Carrie Pierce, written by Barb Krause

My daughter Carrie is now coming into her 19th year of a 40 year sentence. She and her ex-boyfriend got into a fight 19 years ago. The victim was stalking my daughter and took personal items from her. My daughter and her ex went to get the stolen stuff and a fight broke out. The ex kept punching the victim. They all would take a break and have a beer. The only one that was sober was the ex-boyfriend. Sadly the victim died of shock — he also had a couple of broken ribs. The ex tied the victim to a pole in the basement and at that time the victim was still alive. In the morning when my daughter and the ex took coffee down to the victim, he died. Both my daughter and the ex were tried together. Neither of them was ever in trouble, they both got 40 years. My daughter has been a model inmate this whole time. She has even been in the paper for working in a children’s reading program. At one point she even worked with a warden at Dwight and was always called by her first name. Where she is now she is just an inmate and they don’t offer hardly any programs for the women. My daughter has 2 grown children. They were very young when she got arrested, and she has missed everything in their young lives. At the time of the arrest, she was on Paxil for 2 weeks, which was a trial period for her depression, but she was also drinking beer. Paxil is known to cause a manic state of mind. My daughter was also going to college to become a teacher. We all feel that 40 years was very harsh when you see some inmates will get something like 15 years for killing a child or cutting someone up in pieces. She is going through an appeal now with her medical records that weren’t allowed in court. She will never forgive herself for what happened. We need to bring the parole board back.

Nancy Rish, Written by Kelly Klein

My close friend Nancy has been incarcerated for 32 years now and is now in Logan Correctional Center.

Nancy Rich

Nancy Rich

She was convicted of a crime that she did not commit at the age of 25 and deserves a chance at parole. While incarcerated, Nancy has maintained her faith in God and has done everything she can to better herself, including get a degree. She has been involved with the Helping Paws Program in Logan, and is now a certified dog groomer. Nancy has proven that she, if released, would be a useful member of society. Her elderly mother is not in good health and needs her at home with her.

Nancy has maintained a relationship with her son, grandsons and the rest of her family. Nancy has never sat around asking, “Why me?” She has used her time being wrongfully incarcerated to excel and mentor others.

Please help free Nancy Rich. 32 years is long enough!

Matthew Davis, written by Krista Davis

Matthew Davis was 24 when he took a life due to drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, he had been addicted to drugs and spiraled out of control.  He did not commit his crime out of malice or vengeance. Hallucinatory drugs and a lot of them changed him for one night of his life that he can never get back.
However, the man who was high on a plethora of drugs the night he took a life is not the same man I know today. Neither is he the same man he was when he was first incarcerated.
Matthew was confined naked in a cell for a year while awaiting trial.  Imagine being told by a warden that the only way he was leaving that situation of naked solitary confinement was in a body bag or prison cuffs.  This led him to plead guilty instead of fighting for himself.
Matthew was very young when convicted to life without parole.  Matthew should have a second chance to prove to the world who he really is.  Anyone who meets him loves him.  He is an amazing husband, father, and son. He is kind-hearted and a lover of art and family.

Krysta Lenae Donoho, written by Cynthia Christian-Donoho

Krysta Lenae Donoho was born on July 14,1985. She was born to Perry and Karlayn Donoho. She was the oldest of their 2 daughters. Next came Cynthia, Krysta grew up as her little sisters keeper and protector. She was and always will be my best friend. Krysta took care us us kids like she was our mother. And if you knew our background and what we came from, you would understand the significance to this. Anywhere we would go or move too, Krysta could adapt. She was always the life of the show. Always had a smile on her face and everyone loved her. She could make the meanest person in the room laugh until they had a belly ache. She could make the sourest person in the room smile the biggest smile they have ever had. Krysta was and still is a joy to be around.

Unfortunately, Krysta got mixed up with the wrong people and for that everyone is paying. She believed and fell in love with a master manipulator. Her only fault is falling in love with someone who didn’t love her. Had she never met him, you would not be hearing from me and the abundance of other people who love her so very much.

Krysta continues to stay positive about the situation she is in. She has her family backing her every step of the way and we are fighting hard. She has 5 nieces and 3 nephews that she gets to watch grow up through pictures and visits. That is 8 children that get to cry when they have to leave their Aunt Krysta behind. Or hang up the phone.

All we ask is for Krysta to have a second chance to prove that she can and will contribute to society!   Please give our family a chance, please give MY older sister the second chance she so much deserves.