Sunday, July 17, 2011

" Free Eric " Campaign

A friend of mine died in here the other day. Heatstroke, they say, after exercising in the yard. He was in his 40s, in great shape. As a recovered alcoholic and addict, like myself, he dreamed of of of getting out and helping others recover as well. It's all he wanted to do.He Had a lot of spirit and was a good speaker; there's no doubt he could've helped many people out there. We talked a lot about the kind of people we were before coming to prison and the ways we have changed since – – the lessons we've learned. We had much in common. It's a shame he'll never realize his dreams of being free again, but I know he did help some fellow inmates while he was locked up. I hope he realizes this and is at peace; no regrets.

There are great many people in prison today who want nothing more than to help others avoid the same fate, the same mistakes. They have a lot to offer. Because they personally experienced such things as alcoholism, addiction, depression, abuse, gang membership, and crime, they are the ones best suited to counsel those struggling with these issues. However, most won't get the chance. They been shut in a cage for the rest of their lives. Although they have changed profoundly and have more than suffered enough for their crimes, they are kept locked away from the world and the people they can best help. Although they may have hurt no one but themselves, they are deemed a threat to society. Their recovery and accomplishments and change in character while in prison go unnoticed and unappreciated. Their life experiences are apparently worthless.

I believe prisoners and parolees have an obligation to repay society by doing some kind of community service work. And many want to do just that. Like my friend who recently passed away, many inmates feel obligated to share their experiences in order to help others – – before they also come to prison. Those prisoners who have truly turned their lives around are the best people to counsel troubled youth, addicts, and anyone else in danger of going to prison someday. I'm certain that both current and former inmates can be utilized to drastically reduce the large number of people being sent to prison these days.

Instead, all prisoners are being written off off, often lumped together in the same category ("dangerous" he) without ever being re-examined on an individual basis after some time. If the focus of our prisons was on rehabilitation, as it should be, we would more easily be able to identify those inmates ready and able to contribute back to society. Finding enough who are willing isn't the problem; you'd be amazed, I think, to see just how many people in prison want to make amends for their past behavior, given the opportunity. A substantial number of current inmates and parolees are eager to be put to work in an effort to help others avoid coming to prison themselves. And there are plenty of existing community service organizations who would be happy for their assistance.

Unfortunately, prisons are run like warehouses, and the prison systems are reluctant to relinquish their "property". The most deserving inmates are continually being denied parole for no good reasons. And way too many people today are being sentenced him him him him excessively, guaranteeing the future of crowded prisons and job security for the prison industry, not to mention the courts and countless lawyers involved. A huge number of genuinely good, decent people who have more than atoned for their sins are being imprisoned unjustly, abandoned and forgotten, left to rot away – – out of sight, out of mind.

But no one seems to care. Perhaps those of you reading this blog do, but not many more. Even so what can be done about it? We can pressure the parole board to parole all those prisoners who qualify and who are deserving of it. However the parole system is already overworked and understaffed and underfunded, usually spending only 2 min. to review someone's file (often containing errors and misinformation). Besides, they'll tell you that society is not prepared to absorb the many thousands more parolees and job seekers (and they may be right). We can pressure state representatives to legislate funding and policy for probation and parole rather than prisons, and to establish fair and reasonable sentencing guidelines. . We can pressure local prosecutors, judges, and district attorneys to seek only punishments that fit the crime, but don't break the tax payers backs, and that don't needlessly destroy people's lives. Unfortunately, politicians generally only do what's "safe" and ultimately in their best interests

So what actually is to be done about the many thousands of good decent people being imprisoned for far too long in this country? I think it will require a major shift in public awareness. It will require a whole new perception of crime and punishment, i.e. being Smart rather than Tough on crime. It would require the cooperation of and an entirely new approach by the media, the news outlets, where, instead of playing to the public's fears and caring only for ratings and "entertainment" value, they educate and inform and work for the betterment of society. In short, it will require a miracle.

Hopefully, as more and more people care about the lives of fellow Americans suffering in prison unjustly and about the unwise and unsustainable rate of incarceration in this country, a solution will be found. Please, make your views known and your voice heard. Contact your local and state representatives and your state's parole board. Contact news organizations about reporting on this country's " prison problem": needless arrests, excessive sentencing, and the broken parole system. Most of all, be persistent. The Powers That Be want only to avoid problems and put off any kind of drastic action; they're content with the status quo so long as they remain in power. To effect any kind of real change, we must remind them every day of what their job is – service and who they work for – the people.

As difficult as it is to change the system, it can be done. It's been done before. Or perhaps your efforts will help free one person. Both are tremendous accomplishments, of course. If you know someone in prison worthy of parole or reduce sentence, start there.

"To suffer and learn the lesson, one pays a high price, but
a fool can't learn any other way."

Last month marked my 10th year behind bars. A milestone of sorts. As it stands now, it'll be another 15 years until I can be considered for parole – – half of my 50 year sentence. However, I'm hoping to obtain a commutation that is a reduction of sentence. The likelihood of that happening is very rare, but miracles do happen. With enough support, I think it may be possible.

So I'd like to take this opportunity, at my 10 year "anniversary", to ask for your help. If you believe that my sentence is excessive, please follow the below link and tell them so. Your letters and phone calls will make all the difference.

If you don't yet have an opinion, please read "My (too long) Story" posted previously. Hopefully, you'll agree that, although I certainly needed to be put away for a while, I was sentenced unjustly and for too long.

I'm no saint, but I'm clearly a changed man. I no longer even remotely resemble the sorry, screwed up, insane alcoholic I once was 10 years ago. I worked hard to better myself. Redemption is real. The person who deserved to be punished doesn't exist anymore. In his place is someone who wants nothing more than to make the best of the life he has remaining, being of service to others somehow.

I will never commit another crime; it's simply not possible. I'm ashamed and disgusted with myself for ever having done such a thing. Although I now understand that alcoholism and drug addiction destroy a person's senses of reason and morality, there can be no excuse for committing a robbery, I know. It took me years to finally forgive myself. Now I can only hope and pray for the forgiveness of others. With your help I may be given a second chance at life. Please send a letter requesting a commutation of sentence to the people listed on the link page. Change it as you wish. Be sure to add your name and contact information at the end.

Thank you!