(Editor: We spoke with Garry L. Jones by telephone after learning of his self-designed public advocacy for new federal parole legislation. Here's what he said to our questions.)
RW: Introduce yourself to Razor Wire readers, please, and tell us what you've been doing as a retired person.
Jones: To those who know me, I humbly present myself and extend warm greetings. To those who do not know me, I am Garry L. Jones, retired Federal Bureau of Prison's Lieutenant, and I hereby extend the same warm greetings to you.
After retirement from the Bureau, I've had the pleasure and honor of speaking out from the front lines, as a concerned citizen. In particular, I have been teaching about the injustice of the MIS/DISinformation of the mandatory minimum laws for crack/powder cocaine possession. I have been serving in retirement, unofficially for sure, as an advocate for just laws in re-invigorating or re-inventing an effective parole system - and making it retroactive.
RW: Should we be surprised or wary that a retired BoP Lieutenant would want to help prisoners out?
Jones: I should say right away that I do not have any friends or relatives who are incarcerated under the mandatory minimum guidelines. Therefore, I do not have a personal or hidden agenda. I just want to help fight for what is right.
RW: What happened in your career that stimulated new thinking about your job?
Jones: As you might assume, many events led me to think differently, but one stands out. I recall in October of 1995 when I was the S.O.R.T. Lieutenant at FCI Tallahassee when Congress refused to revise mandatory minimum laws and reinstate parole in the federal system. In my heart I knew it was not right what Congress had failed to do. That said, I have nothing against front-line Bureau employees because they don't make federal laws, but as a retired employee I am free to advocate for humane changes in those laws.
RW: What federal laws, in particular, do you want to see changed?
Jones: Number one on my list is the need for new parole legislation. You may recall that before Congresswoman Pasty Mink passed away some two years ago, she introduced H.R. 5296, a bill that would have revived federal parole. Sad to say, this proposal died with her unexpected death shortly thereafter. However, Congressman Danny Davis of Chicago has introduced a very similar bill, H.R. 4036.
RW: But aren't there problems with Davis' bill?
Jones: He introduced H.R.4036 late into the 108th session of Congress. It has some flaws in it, but I assure you that I and others are working hard to delete those flaws. When I say 'flaws,' I mean some of the language in the bill will not allow certain people to be eligible for parole. The bill also doesn't say anything about retroactivity for current prisoners, but what sense would there be to revive parole - but only for future prisoners?
RW: Have you been contacting others who may be willing to support legislation bringing back federal parole?
Jones: Yes I have. On October 16, 2004 I met with Congressman John Lewis in his Atlanta office, and requested support for H.R. 4036 by becoming a co-sponsor. He assured me that he would! At present we have two co-sponsors of this legislation: Congressman Charles Rangel, NY, and Congressman Bennie Thompson, MS.
Also, I received a letter from Dr. Mfume, President of NAACP, urging me to ask the organization to help underwrite this bill. In the next few months, I plan to set up a meeting with their leadership to argue for including H.R. 4036 in its National Platform.
RW: What do you say to loved ones of prisoners, particularly those disappointed in the outcome of the November election?
Jones: I'm pledging to stay on the front lines in the continuing campaign for a return to parole for federal prisoners. I know some folks are disappointed about how the election turned out, but let me remind everyone that there are Republicans who support reinstating federal parole, and there are Democrats against reinstatement. The goal is to get both parties to agree on the need for an effective, humane, earned, early release system for the majority of federal prisoners.
As a voter, get to know the Member of Congress representing your area, and lobby him or her to co-sponsor H.R. 4036. You must convince your family and friends to make direct contact with the elected person representing you because he, she or a staff aide will listen to your concerns. Remember - they're just people like you.
RW: As a former prison employee, many readers will admire and welcome your sincere mission. How may people reach you and perhaps arrange for a visit with someone 'who's been there' and can speak from unique experience about prison, parole and reentry?
Jones: Thanks to November Coalition staff for this public exposure of my volunteer commitment as a retiree. I live on a fixed income and am using my own money for expenses of printing, phone, travel, lodging and other costs of running a small home-office, including an adequate computer.
I'd like to hear from anyone who wants to hear, or ask questions, about what I'm doing. You can reach me by telephone at (678) 358-6587, by mail at PO Box 366064, Atlanta, GA 30336, or via e-mail: advocate4justice2004©yahoo.com