by Rober Hagar, Prisoner of War in America
I firmly believe in the power of the press; and if there is to be any relief, or prison reform, in the foreseeable future, it will have to start with the press and their readers, or persons touched by the media.
Persons in prison have very few contacts, or champions, or anyone else who can lobby for any relief from their situation. This letter, and the thoughts therein, are directed towards that end. Most likely, none of the ideas are original. But they still need airing, and would go a long way towards prison reform and cost reduction in terms of lives, dollars and grief if adopted.
I do not personally know anyone who has a Mandatory Minimum Sentence, and a judge who is sad because he was not able to give the person less time. I believe when a Federal Judge has the power to sentence a person to death for a marijuana crime, or to take a person charged with possession of one gram of cocaine, which calls for two years, and gives the person another 20 years for "Relative Conduct", knowing that the conduct doesn't have to be proven, only alleged by someone, so that the person ends up with 22 years in federal prison; this is no exception to the rule, but the rule.
These judges have the power to do whatever they wish to do to a person being sentenced. But I don't profess to know the mind of every judge; only the sad results that I look at everyday in the faces of the men around me. And for these reasons, I believe the federal judges have sufficient power already without lobbying for more power for them.
We, in the United States, have more people in prison, for longer time, on less criminal activity than any country in the world. We have people in federal prisons doing 20, 30, 50 years, and longer for small drug offenses, possession of a firearm, money laundering, conspiracy to do whatever, and so much more that I could write a book on crime and punishment here in the United States; but who would believe it, unless they could see it for themselves?
The people in prison, especially those in federal prison, have no parole, no good time, no time off for working or good behavior, and very little hope for any relief from the long, long sentences they are serving. They certainly do need the power that your magazine, or the press in general, can offer. They need a champion, or spokesperson, in the press who can lobby for some relief from this waste.
One area that needs to be addressed is the possibility of re-instating paroles for federal prisoners. This would certainly be less costly in dollars. Another area that could effect us all would be good time awarded for employment, good conduct, drug free, blood donation, etc. This would be another win situation for everyone involved in dollars and productivity for the government, as well as the inmates and their families.
Another suggestion, and perhaps the most important of all, is that all United States citizens be allowed to vote; whether in prison or out. Most all of us have paid taxes, have property and family, as well as an interest in this country. We should have some representation in our government. This may seem a radical thought for a person in a United States prison; but not so in many lesser countries who don't tout "Free Country" nearly as loud as we do.
No wonder we have so many laws and sentences so far out of line, a system that is so overburdened and so sick. You have politicians making laws to "sound tough", anxious to kick someone who can't kick back, or even express their opinions in most cases by even such a basic motion as a vote. They have no lobby, no champion, no government representative, and in most cases no access to the press, or at least a press who will hear or print their side. And again, no one making the laws know anything at all about prison, what they are like, why they are growing so fast; and especially, how to fix them. Which should be of interest to every person in America. We need to vote.
Another need is the restoration of a person's rights after they have served their sentences. As it stands now, there is no way a person can ever achieve equality in this society. No matter if they serve their sentences fully, no matter how successful they may become, no matter how good of a citizen they become' they will be a second class citizen because they were once in prison. And this feeling is another factor in the recidivism rates going off the scale.
I know these may be lofty ambitions for persons in prison, but they could pay big dividends for everyone, not just prisoners and their families.
I have served six years of a 188 month sentence for a first time drug possession conviction. I stood trial and the most damning evidence was that I am a Commercial Pilot who chose to live in Central America. But with our slogans depicting a war on drugs, this was quite enough.
I hope that you will agree with my thoughts, and help all of us gain some relief from this insanity.