Hello there readers. How many have you been paying attention to the news lately concerning President Obama? I saw that he took a tour of a federal prison. You know that is he the only sitting president to ever do that? How cool is that? He wants criminal justice reform. What shocked me was when Speaker of the House John Boehner said he was on board with this. What? A Republican willing to work with the President?
I say that it's about time that something is done about all of these people being incarcerated. Not just non-violent drug offenders, but also on a case-by-case basis. Example: My being HIV positive and having consensual unprotected sexual intercourse. I was charged with attempted murder, which on paper is a violent crime. But in reality it is non-violent. After more than 20 years of incarceration, how long should I be in prison?
My hat is off to you Mr. President for bringing this to the attention of the American people! I can only speak on the Oregon prison system. When I first landed in prison in 1994, there were all kinds of educational opportunities. Through Chemeketa Community College we could get a degree in most anything and then apply it to a profession upon release to be a productive member of society. They had vocational training (VT) programs like the one I took in cosmetology. I took a computer class to give me the skills using programs such as Word and Excel should I ever get a clerical job. There was a janitor program, a cabinet/furniture class etc. There were opportunities to rehabilitate people.
Guess what? Thanks again to President Bill Clinton: he signed another law saying that inmates are not allowed Pell Grants so we can improve our lives. Our college programs were taken, then it was our VT programs. The only VT left at the penitentiary is the automotive shop. Inmates can still get their professional ASE certification, and it benefits prison employees and their personal vehicles.
When I was at an institution in Ontario, it had only one VT program I was aware of called "Building Construction Training" (BCT). This was a program that took inmates through all aspects of building houses and then gave them a certificate of completion. At the institution I'm at now there are no VT programs. These are people who will likely get out of prison one day. Would you have them go back to their criminal behaviors or jump into the work force and be productive members?
I saw President Clinton talking about his regrets about signing things into law when he was in office that contributed to the mass incarceration of the people. I heard a news contributor say that if he has such regrets, then why isn't he the most outspoken about make changes? That was a great point! He hasn't been shy in the past about doing the right thing, so why not now?
President Obama granting clemency will benefit only federal prisoners. In order for state prisoners to get clemency, the governors have to step up and make the choice to do something to reduce the prison population. In Oregon, if you were convicted of a crime after November 1989, you will not see a parole board unless you are convicted of murder. We still have mandatory minimums called Measure 11 thanks to Kevin Mannix. We also have sentencing guidelines that are pre-Measure 11 and mean that you have to serve 80% of your sentence. No wonder the prison population has exploded since the early 1990s.
The prison debate affects me personally, and I could one day walk out of here if the governor does something drastic and applies changes retroactively. But it is my experience that things will change for future generations coming to prison and I'll be here till I am almost 80 years old. I'll hold on to the hope that I'll get out one day. In the meantime, I will be an activist on the inside.
If you have questions or comments, you know how to find me!
Stay healthy and stay safe.
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