"Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."
In Texas, for instance, one in every seven people are either in jail or prison or on probation or parole. So, almost everyone here knows someone who's had a run-in with the law. I'm sure it's the same in many other states. And then there are the countless people nationwide who work within "the System" and rely upon other people being arrested on a regular basis for their paychecks each month. One could think that being "tough on crime" was really more like job security.
In his Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote about Russia's invisible chain of islands; prisons that resided on a different dimension, out of sight, out of mind. Comrades would just disappear in the night or be plucked out of a crowd never to be seen again are only to resurface later as mere shadows of their former selves. Society did their best to ignore this phenomenon, each person in fear that they could be next. Are we different? The reason such a huge number of people in the United States are being incarcerated today (by far the largest percentage of its citizens than any other country in the world) is because we allow it to happen. We turned a blind eye to the gross injustices being perpetrated against our fellow Americans because our more concerned for our own skins, and, when it comes right down to it, were afraid of our government, the very people we supposedly elect to office. But rather than admit this fear and impotency to change anything, we pretend to condone our government's behavior and even convince ourselves that they're actually doing us a service, protecting us from drugs, terrorism, and the crimes of violence that we gorge ourselves on each day on television.
Our society as a whole is sick and weak with little integrity. We preach peace, justice, and moral superiority, but we're fascinated with crime, violence and pornography and obsessed with money and property. As a general rule – individually and collectively – we do nothing unless it's in our best interest. We anesthetize our consciences with Big Pharma drugs and assuage our guilt with donations to charity. But what do we ever do ourselves personally to change the status quo? Apparently, we think our votes election time or enough: let someone else take care of it – although we know we are only perpetuating the system.
So, who's really at fault? The pothead for growing marijuana (like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and practically every one of our founding fathers) and then taking up a prison cell for the next 20 years? The police who are focusing on him rather than serious crime? The elected representatives for criminalizing marijuana in the first place? The media who portray it as an evil weed? The DEA who confiscate his land, house and everything he owned then sell it at auction for profit? Big industry for preventing hemp fiber from competing with their products in the marketplace? Or the average citizen who knows that pot is much less detrimental to society than alcohol but refuse to speak out when their friends and neighbors get put away? Take a guess. What's the difference between " apathetic" and "pathetic" not much. Who ultimately is to blame for many unjust laws on the books and the overwhelming number of Americans in prison today? We are.
will rise to meet thine own."
But, again, why should you or anyone else care about us in prison? Because being locked up in a cement and steel cage for years on end, is a horrible way to live. And, because the courts and prison systems are so overwhelmed and underfunded, the vast majority of prisoners and their cases don't receive the proper attention; they're forgotten and ignored; and their only chance at fair treatment is if enough people in the free world change the system and its laws. Despite what many lawbooks might say, prisoners have virtually no rights – were really nothing more than slaves or property of the state – and we certainly have no say in matters, so we must rely on all of you out there to be our advocates.
One group who is doing a lot of good for us is the Texas Inmate Families Association (tifa.org). No doubt each state has its own similar organization run by and for the family members of prisoners. They petition the government for changes in sentencing laws and pressure the prison system and the parole board for changes in their policies and practices. Anyone anywhere can participate and your help would be greatly appreciated.
Currently, an effort is being made to change Texas sentencing guidelines of "Five to Life" for any first-degree felony, even if it's for first offense or if no one was hurt. Also in Texas during the sentencing phase of the trial, a defendant can be accused of any additional extraneous offenses – without the need for any evidence. This practice must be stopped as it denies people their constitutional right to due process of law. Texas' current sentencing practices are unjust and do more harm than good. Too many people are being sentenced to way too much time in prison.
In addition, anyone in Texas convicted of an aggravated crime i.e. one involving a weapon even if not used) is not entitled to good conduct time while in prison. This would be time ordinarily credited to their parole eligibility. So these inmates don't have the same incentive as other prisoners to rehabilitate themselves while incarcerated; they feel their efforts aren't acknowledged and that they'll never qualify for parole anyway, so why even try? The same aggravated offenders must serve at least half their sentence before ever being considered for parole, and their sentences are already usually pretty lengthy and often excessive. Granting "good time" to all prisoners makes sense, it's only right, and is a necessary first step in solving the overcrowding and budget issues.
The Parole Board in Texas is also overwhelmed and in need of reform. According to a recent report, they currently spend an average of only 4 min. reviewing a prisoner's file to decide if the person is eligible for parole. And files often contain erroneous information – even other inmates records. There simply aren't enough people working within the Parole Board to do a proper job, and too many good people are suffering needlessly behind bars because of it. Too many prisoners with excellent disciplinary records and who more than qualify for parole are being denied over and over again. Judges and juries sentence prisoners with the consideration of parole; however, great many inmates are serving their entire sentences, which are often lengthy or excessive to begin with. So, in effect, the parole board is increasing their punishment beyond the court's decision. A little known fact is that many of the more troublesome inmates with the worst disciplinary histories are the ones being released on parole because they're just too much trouble to deal with, while the more well behaved, docile prisoners are incarcerated longer. Eventually making parole is what every person in prison looks forward to: a chance to prove themselves in a free world and another chance at life. To deny the most deserving because of a personnel shortage or screwed up paperwork is inexcusable. However, the general view is that parole board members simply don't care about people and feel they have a right to extend someone's suffering in prison indefinitely, regardless. They literally hold the keys to our freedom and essentially wield the power of life and death. Second to passing "good time" legislation, reforms and parole board practices are essential.
We need your help. The only way things will change for the better is if concerned citizens like yourself pressure the powers that be to fix the system. It must be acknowledged that the that way too many people are being incarcerated in this country and for way too long. Please contact your local, state and national representatives on our behalf. Thank you!
Thanks, as always for listening and caring. Bye for now – Eric