In the rare moments when I really reflect back on my childhood, sometimes it is too painful to think about, the reality of what my world was like, along with the world of many others who share my pain, will not allow me to sleep at night. It is hard to get rid of that feeling in the pit my stomach when I think about life during those times.

The faces of fallen friends who died very young, some as young as 12 and 13, stare back at me, illuminated by the prison lights and silhouettes. Those moments make me think back when I attended the wakes and funerals, fighting back the tears and avoiding the looks and stares of mothers. Mothers who often shout out in pain why was her son or daughter taken, and not the son or daughter of some other mother. These nights make me think about the times when I cried out why him and not me as the alcohol fueled the rage and anger boiling inside of me. I think back to the times when, and how many times, I was close to being the one shot dead, stabbed or beaten to death. Not really caring, actually preparing myself for an early death, if I lived or died.

They talk about a way out. The only way out, for most, comes by way of drugs, a good get high, alcohol, pills, heroin, weed and anything else that will take the pain away. The pain of what one witnesses every day in the “hood”. The death, violence and poverty that exist in the hood. It is a battle to stay sane and not go crazy.

Growing up in a world eating free cheese, eggs, peanut and drinking free powdered milk from welfare. Living in places that resemble prison complex’s. It seems the bars around the projects and on the windows were designed to keep us in. I swear when I think back to every apartment or project I lived in we were barred in. The hood was protected and patrolled by drug dealers and gangbangers. The were the ones that defended the hood from the other hoods. Or others lurking for prey to survive off. The hood policed the hood, as crazy as that sounds. How could one not be attracted to the respect of these young men who defended the “hood”. They projected the sense of fearlessness that one needs to survive the “hood.” Fear will kill you if you don’t know how to make it work for you. All it takes is to witness the death of a close friend to decide what side of fear you want to be on.

In the hood school is not an option, especially if you were poor and could not afford nice clothes and shoes. I remember wearing shoes from Payless or any one of the other cheap outlet stores, or the Compton swap meet. I remember not being able to buy the required gym shorts and tee-shirts required for gym class. I remember trying out for the football team and being laughed at because I did not have a helmet. That would be the last time I would be ridiculed and laughed at. I simply stopped going to school.

Nights like these, when I reflect back, I applaud my mother. Who was a single black woman raising 6 kids, 4 boys and 2 girls, on her own. We lived in one of the most dangerous cities at that time, Compton California, (South Central LA). I applaud how she held it together as we moved from house to house, shelter to shelter, project to project. She always found a way to overcome these hard times and give us a little bit more than we had.

It is no surprise that I sit in prison now. It is no surprise that all, expect one, of my brothers, and almost all my cousins, have been to prison. Or have been caught in the web of drug addiction. Who would be surprised by that? Who would be surprised to know that many of us turned to substances to numb the pain, even at young ages. A way to escape the hood, even if only for a moment.

They talk about the causalities of the Iraq/Afghanistan war. What about the war of drugs that claimed many lives. The nameless and faceless youth caught up in a struggle they did not create. During my youth the murder rate topped 300 most years between 1986 and 1991 (the year I came to prison), drug and crime related killing in DC. It was much higher in LA during those days. All young men and women. It is a shame to consider a 20 to life sentence was my way out the hood alive.

Stats show that:

*During the time between 1982 and 1991 homicide was the most common cause of death for y young African American. make and female. The probability of a young African American female dying by homicide was for time that of a non African American. Young African American males were 11 times more likely to die of homicide than that of non African American males

*Guns were involved in more that 75% of adolescent killings

*Children were becoming involved in violence at youngest ages. In a study of first and second graders in Washington DC 45 % said they had witness shootings. 39 % said they had seen dead bodies.
(American Psychology Association Commission on Youth and Violence, 1993)

*Between 1987 and 1991, the number for violent crimes index for juveniles increased by 80% twice the number for person 18 years of age or older

*Juvenile arrested for murder increase by 88% compared to 21% for those 18 and older

*The estimate 122,900 violent crimes index arrest of juveniles in 1991 was the highest in history, with 3,400 being for murder

*Juveniles accounted for 17% of all violent crime arrest in 1991

*Three of every 10 juveniles murder arrest involved a victim under the age of 18

*Juvenile arrest rates for heroin and cocaine increased dramatically, more than 700% between 1980 and 1990 for black youth the rate increased more that 2000%, compared with 250% increase by white youth.

*900,000 youth between ages 12 and 19 were the victims of 1.9 million violent crimes, rape, robbery and assault each year between 1985 and 1988

*67 out of every 1,000 teenagers were victim of violent crimes each year, compared with 26 per 1000 persons age 20 or older between 1985 and 1988

*Teen victimization were most likely to occur in or around schools -37% of the violent crimes victimizations of youth between 12 and 15 years of age old occurred at school

*FBI data shows that in 1991 more than 2,200 youth under 18 were involved in the US and average to more than 6 youth homicide each year
(Juvenile and Violence: Juvenile Offending and victimization, July 1993)

Considering these staggering stats it is chilling to think that these were the odds myself and others like me were up against during those times. These are the numbers that the powers to be, courts, judges, probation and parole officials don’t ponder when a young black man stands before them, as they enter the prison system, or come before them to be let out. They see and hear the crimes committed but they often respond by saying, “I have heard this before and I am tired of hearing the same story.”

Well it is the same story for a reason. More times than not it is the same story. The story of survival. The story of abuse, lack of education, poverty, and other social factors that deprive many of an equal start at life, as one starts his life’s journey in the “hood”. As George Jackson said, “Born to a premature death, a menial, subservient wage worker, odd job man, the cleaner, the caught, the man under the hatches, without bail – that’s me, the colonial victim.”

Yeah this is the story, they get to so tired of hearing, of the one born into a world where the deck is stacked against them from birth. Many are offspring’s of drug abusers, were neglected, under-educated and who came from broken and violent homes and communities. Born into a household as a second and third generation drug dealers, pimps, robbers, crooks and prostitutes born to fathers without names and faces. Talk about the causalities of war.

How can one stand up and explain to a judge the realties of his life. How can he be truthful, when the truth is going to get him sent to prison for many years of his life, that he grew up in a place where he had to rob, steal and maybe kill to survive. To those people it makes no sense. It is not possible that one can come from a background like this. It seems like a lie and excuse. They lack of understand often cause me to ask myself how did the rich and privilege get the right to rule and judge the poor and under-privilege. A class of people who could never, and often times never try to understand the young men that stand before them. They will never understand the journey of one who is conditioned to be institutionalized before understanding what those words mean.
As a side note I want to say that the hood is a place of extreme victimization but there is a cure for that. Just the name “the hood” in itself denotes a certain sort of defect. When you take out the mother (motherhood) and the father (fatherhood) and the child (childhood) and the neighbor out the neighborhood all you are left with is ” the hood”. If you take out these key components of the neighborhood out all you are left with is a community of victims.
These are the thoughts that cause me to toss and turn at night in my prison cot. To know I am here yet invisible at the same time. As Howard Zinn so eloquently put it, ” In one year 375,000 people will be in jail or in prison and 54,000 in juvenile detention, there will be 900,000 under probation and 300,000 on parole in total 16,000,000 people affected by the criminal justice system. Considering turnover in any one year, several million people will come in and out of this system. It is a population largely invisible to middle-class Americans, but if 20 million blacks could be invisible for so long, why not 4 or 5 million “criminals.” (A People’s History of the United States, Zinn 2003, p 517)

I guess this explains why I can’t make parole. Regardless of the struggle, pain, hardships and accomplishments, to many I am visible. A night the cell I reside in is very real. The experience of my incarceration, one I have felt every single day since the age of 17, the age I was when I entered prison, up until now 23 years later, is very real. But to others I am others like me no longer exist. Our efforts to contribute to society no longer matter. There seems to be no room for redemption. But the struggle continues and will not stop. If there was one thing about growing up in the hood taught me it would be that no matter what I can survive.

Disclaimer: Some of the graphics represented in this infographic may be difficult to witness.  They represent the realities of prisons, past and present, and therefore we decided to include them.

<a href=”http://www.criminaljusticedegreehub.com/modern-prisons-predecessors/”><img src=”http://i2.wp.com/www.criminaljusticedegreehub.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/History-of-Prisons.jpg?w=500&#8243; alt=”History of Prisons”  border=”0″ data-recalc-dims=”1″ /></a><br />Source: <a href=”http://www.criminaljusticedegreehub.com/”>CriminalJusticeDegreeHub.com</a&gt;

Some Hard Facts and Truths

Posted: April 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

There are some hard facts and truths about the humanity that many of us choose to overlook. Many of these truths and facts are exposed through the way we view corrections. We are a society that call for human rights in other countries. Countries that have been stricken by war and poverty. We call on world leaders to address the needs for educational rights, rights for women and other marginalized members of their society. We call for the release of prisoners of war in other countries. Or The release of bloggers in other countries who blog about the injustices of their governments against their people. We are quick to call for the freedom of speech, the freedom of press, the freedom to practice religion, the freedom to choose and do what one wants with their body, the freedom to have rights for gays, the freedom to smoke marijuana. All this while 2.3 million people are locked away in our own backyards.

We have become robotic in the way we look at those incarcerated that we know longer see humans. They are not long treated as humans. They have become numbers. They have prison numbers, they are statistical numbers, they are numbers waiting for numbers to get out, they are numbers on the waiting list for halfway house, or any one of the other programs that are offered out in society, they are numbers waiting to come back. They are treated as less that civil when they are returned as if they have been infected with a disease that is contagious. At some point we cannot continue to treat those incarcerated as lower that lower class citizens.

When we think of justice we think, primarily of criminal justice. Crime and punishment is what usually comes to mind. We have to catch the criminal and make him pay for his crimes. This is retributive justice, getting even. This is the idea we have of justice. Retribution is one of the goals of incarceration. This concept stems from ancient tradition, eye for and eye, tooth for a tooth. If one were to suggest this as form of retribution he would be deemed barbaric, brutal and less civilized. But have we given up these traditions, in totality?

Let’s ask ourselves these questions. Do we punish criminals, demand retribution, or do we reform them? Is the purpose or prison simply a tool used to keep them off the streets? Are we punishing people for committing crimes or are were protecting ourselves? If a man commits a crime, may one such as murder, is it enough that we are guaranteed that he will commit another one? Or does he deserve to be punished even if we know that he will not commit another one.

To do time is easy. What is hard is facing a society that really does not want you when you are released. As I sit in prison writing this I am reminded of hearing stories of white woman, upon seeing a group of black men crossing the street, locking the car doors and rolling up the windows. I use to find these stories far-fetched. I could not believe that people did this. Until it happened to me. As I hear the stories of men that return to prison, for whatever reasons, there is always a story of rejection. Should this rejection be enough to drive one back to crime? Who knows the answer. What is known is that it paints a clear picture of who is wanted, trusted and deemed deserving, from those that are not.

I once read a story, that I found ludicrous at the time. It was the story of flea circus and how the trainers trained the fleas. The nature the flea is to jump. They would put the fleas in a box with a lid over it. The fleas would jump and jump and jump. As the jumped they would bounce off the lid of the box. After some time the trainers had to see if the fleas were trained. They would take the lid off of the box and lo and behold the fleas would jump no higher than where the lid was placed on the box. The made these fleas change their very nature, which is to jump, and conditioned them to behave in the way they wanted them.

When I read this I think of the conditioning of people when it comes to the criminal justice system. They have become so conditioned to think and act a certain way against these people that they have themselves become like the fleas. Trained to respond the way they have been programmed.

There are some hard facts that I want to present to prove this point. What is, and how do you consider one to be a violent offender. The laws that are being passed today are more or less geared towards first time drug offenders, most do not have a lengthy sentences. The facts. The recidivism rates are higher among drug offenders, the rate of recidivism is higher for those that serve shorter sentences. Those that serve drug offenses are deemed to more likely to continue criminal behavior. As the crime of drug dealing requires plotting, planning and negotiation.

Those that are incarcerated for homicide have the lowest rate of recidivism. Social scientist have declared that those serving time for murder are less likely to commit future crimes; as the crime of homicide is often spontaneous and done out of on the spot emotional response. Not to minimize the offense. I only mean to show the contradiction in what we are lead to believe. To prove this point. The crime rate went up during the last recession. Why? Did we all of a sudden have an increase in “criminals” or was it due to the dire and desperate need for people to survive and support themselves that drove them to crime. Due to these conditions, if and when these new breed of offenders are caught, do we classify them as violent offenders? Or do we see them as unfortunate. Do we see those incarcerated for border violations, illegal crossing, as violent offender and deem they need to stay in prison longer (to learn their lesson at the expense of tax-payers dollars). Well both of these new breed of “criminals” occupy space in the federal system. I personally know men that hold the status of both of these example given. There are men here who, in a desperate need to provide for their family, after some losing their homes to greedy banks and mortgage companies now have housing courtesy of the BOP for the next 10, 15, 20 years.

As these talks continue, penal reform, lets open our eyes to the big picture. It is next to impossible to focus our attention on “one” certain type of prison. These are individual lives that need to be looked for a humanistic point of view. Not as numbers or as the others. But as people that can potentially return to society and contribute. It is impossible to have a one-side conversation. They must be included, at the very least.
“Let each man first direct himself to what is proper, then let him teach others; thus a wise man will not suffer. Let man makes himself as he teaches others to be. Let no one forget his own duty for the sake of another’s, however great; let a man after he has discerned his own duty, be faithful to his duty.”

I first want to apologize to my followers for being negligent in posting. The last couple of years has taken time for adjustment. I am back now and more focused than ever. Despite the struggles and hardships I am still here. Although I have not posted anything for a while I have been keeping up to date with the latest prison reform issues. I ran across an article the other day and I thought it would be interesting to blog about it. I would like for others to pass this on, post it on your sites, face book pages, or anywhere else that may attract the attention of others.

Within the last year, there has been much talk about penal reform, reduced sentence, and changes in sentencing guidelines. Most recently Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Republican Tony Goudy (R- SC) and Democrats Cedric Richmond (D-LA) and Hakeem Jefferies (D-NY) introduce two legislative proposals related to the federal system. The H.R 759 Recidivism Risk Reduction Act; a bipartisan legislation that uses risk assessment tools to reduce recidivism, lower crime, and reduce the amount of money spent on the federal prison system. According to the Washington Post. Chaffetz goes on to say, “It’s no longer enough to be tough on crime. We have to be smart on crime as well. States have successfully implemented those strategies. As a result, they’ve seen a recidivism drop.” Congressman Richmond chimed in on the conversation by saying, “Our criminal justice system is in serious need of reform in many areas… One of these areas is our prison and post release supervising system. We need a better approach to incarceration that use effective strategies to reduce recidivism. Ensuring that people get the right programs and activates while in prison is used to ensure they are prepared for success after their release. I am pleased to join my colleagues in this bipartisan effort to move us closer to that goal.”

The H.R. 759 bill would allow for inmates to participate in programs that will allow them to earn good time points, while in custody. These points will be allotted based upon an inmates risk level. There will be level ranges from low to high. Low risk inmates will be allow to earn 30 days credit per month, moderate risk inmates 15 days and high-risk inmates 8 days. These credits will make them eligible for alternative custody, halfway houses, home confinement, ankle monitoring, etc. The portion of the adjusted sentence would be the remaining 15% of the overall sentence. The current federal sentencing guidelines, Truth in Sentencing, require for federal inmates to serve 85% of a sentence prior to being released. This program does not extend to certain offenders such as sex offenders, terror offenders and violent offenders. In short the federal government is looking for ways to make their more prison system more incentive based. They cut prison costs and reduce recidivism. In theory this plan is a good, at best. The question is will it work? Will it achieve the stated goals?

As we talk about federal housing it is important to talk about another type of prisoner being held in federal prisons, DC billable inmates who need to be accounted for, as talk of prison costs continues.

DC billable inmates are Washington DC’s prisoners that have cases out of Superior Court, (similar to state court). Federal prisoners have cases out of District Court (federal courts). DC’s Lorton Reformatory began closing in the mid 90’s. The last prisoner left in 200; when they closed the prison for good. DC inmates make up a large population of inmates hosed within the federal system. They are a mixture of prisoners serving sentences under different sentencing guidelines. One such guideline is incentive based, similar to the H.R. 759 bill. The main difference between the two is this particular DC sentencing guideline does not exclude inmates and two the DC guideline is a parole-able guideline. The federal system abolished parole many years ago. Although their are DC inmates sentenced under incentive based guidelines, where they would be rewarded for good behavior and program participation, those guidelines are not being honored nor applied when they have their parole hearings. These parole hearings are conducted by the United States Parole Commissions, which it the entity that handles the remaining federal parole cases. The USPC seems to be having a hard time applying these DC guidelines in many that is non punitive. There are DC inmates that have the privilege of seeing a parole board, they have meet many of the incentive requirements of the 1987 Good time Credit Act yet the USPC refuses to parole them, relying on punitive measures to justify giving them lengthy set off. How can Congress expect the H.R. 759 to be different than the DC guidelines, that are not being applied.

There is a large gap in theoretical planning and actual application of these bills that are being introduced. When they are passed they often take years before actually implementation. At that time someone is thinking of another strategy to use. DC inmates, who have the right to parole and early release are not being paroled, yet other bill are being proposed that will allow for other inmates to be released earlier, based on incentive approaches. Both, federal and DC, inmates contribute to the large amount of money spent for federal inmates. In some cases DC inmates cost more to house, up to $40,000 a year is paid to the federal government to simply house each DC inmate.

Will this new bill work? Will it achieve its goal?
Currently the recidivism rate is 70%. Meaning 7 out of 10 inmates return to crime. Recidivism is not bases solely on the return of inmates to prison but to crime and criminal behavior that leads to incarceration, subsequently re-arrest. Social scientists and others who monitor these stats have determined that crime and incarceration are not parallel. There is no direct relationship between the two. In fact according to Dr. James Austin of the JFA Institute, as it concerns DC inmates who are overseen by the USPC, in his findings, when asked to conduct a study at the request of the USPC to determine if the criteria it is using to parole DC inmates were valid. He concluded these criteria’s are significant as they serve to significantly lengthen a prisoner’s period of imprisonment by many years.

The study also looked at the extent to which DC prisoners who are housed in the BOP system were receiving programs and what impact these programs were having on recidivism rates, for DC inmates. The major findings were:
(1) DC prisoners released in 2002 who had been sentenced under the DC code (1987 Good Time Credit Act) as compared to other state prisoners had much longer sentences and served longer sentences.
(2) Consistent with other studies, the amount of time imprisoned (length of stay) is “not” associated with rates of recidivism.
(3) Most of the risk factors being used by the Commissions to assess risk are “not” good predictors of “recidivism”.
(4) An alternative risk instrument that relies on the conduct of the prisoner and programs he of she has completed while in the BOP does a better job of assessing the prisoners risk level.
(5) The Commission is also using factors (crime severity and prior records) that are not related to recidivism that are being used to significantly extend the period of imprisonment

Dr. Austin concluded his testimony to Congress by making recommendations, based on his findings. Recommendations that have not been fully applied. Some of these recommendations include:
(1) Changing the guidelines and implement a new risk instrument that takes into account the prisoner’s conduct while incarcerated (dynamic factors)
(2) Alter the current practice of extending parole eligibility dates based solely on the offense severity and history of violence; especially given the long period of incarceration for DC prisoners and the lack of relationship between length of time served and recidivism.
There should be a concerted effort to reduce the length of imprisonment and parole supervision based on good conduct and completion of programs while incarcerated within the BOP. Such efforts would include allowing release at and earlier stage of the sentence, awarding of good-time credits for prisoners who complete rehabilitative programs and allow for the period of the parole supervision to be reduced based on good conduct. Given that dynamic factors related to prisoners completions of rehabilitative programs are associated to lower recidivism rates, a study should be conducted by the Commission and the Bureau of Prisons to determine if DC sentenced prisoners are receiving the same level of services as other BOP prisoners.

He concluded his testimony by stating that the USPC Commissioner, BOP, DC sentencing Commissions, DC Criminal Justice Council and the US Attorney and the Community Supervisor of Offenders Agency would take part in the changing and implementing his findings. Unfortunately, many DC prisoners are still waiting for this study conducted circa 2007 to be implemented.

In order to determine if a new, improved, method of addressing recidivism, and offenders need, there needs to be a comparison and critique of what is currently in place, or by what came before it. If we were to change the name of the H.R 759 and read it to a group of DC inmates they would think that the DC regulations are what’s being referred to. They both share the same goal and purpose.

The H.R 759 bill is aimed at reducing recidivism (possibly so), lower the crime rate (never going to happen; as there are no concrete findings that support the claim that incarceration reduces crime), and reduce to amount of money being spent on federal prisons/prisoners (will happen without doubt). The question now is how will oversee DC’s inmates that have are allowed the same benefits and who, if applied, will effect the same same end results. Most importantly, reduce the amount of money spent on federal prisons/prisoners.

DC’s 1987 regulations are already enacted, and don’t need to be voted on. It merely needs to be implemented for those whom benefit from its application. An example would be my case.

As a young man I had my run-ins with the law. At 17 I was charged and tried, as an adult, for second degree murder. I was ultimately sentenced to 20 years to life. During the early years of my incarceration I served time with adult offenders, although I was a juvenile. Despite these obstacles I got my GED the first year of being in Lorton. Afterwards I began attending the Lorton Prison College Program, through UDC. I majored in Urban Studies. I attended UDC until I was one day selected to be shipped to a DC contract prison, Sussex II State Prison in Waverly Va.

Sussex II was a 23 and 1 prison. Meaning the entire prison was segregation. I was medium custody and due to the length of time I was serving I was automatically selected to be house in a maximum security prison. There were many DC inmates there, who had not committed any disciplinary infractions, house in segregation, as the entire prison operated as such. While there I began to teach myself Spanish. After suffering like this for a year, with no end in sight, I was told to pack up. I was next sent to Florence AZ, a CCA prison.

While at this institution I did not let the distance and unique housing situation deter me from programming. I got my barbering license along with a host of other programs. I facilitated a group call Concern Offenders for Youth Awareness (COYA). This program was similar to the scared straight programs that were popular in those days. My ability to relate to the youth earned me high accolades from the Maricopa County Superior Court Youth Probation Division. From were I received high praises and much gratitude. I had also began to learn Arabic, as I had become fluent in Spanish by that time. One night I was woken up and put on a bus with 40 other DC inmates. Off to another prison. This time it would be a federal prison, Edgefield SC.

While in Edgefield I participated in the programs offered there. I also, for two years, facilitated a class called The Quality of Life, a class endorsed by the Warden of the prison. It eventually became a pre-release requirement for the inmate population. After two years I was sent to open another prison. USP Lee County.

At Lee County I got my certification in small home improvement and carpentry. My points lowered, after 5 years, and I was sent to FCI Petersburg. While in Petersburg I got my certification in electrical wiring, and worked as a barber. After spending two years here I signed up for the Life Connection Program, a faith based program introduced to the federal system by then President, George W Bush.

The LCP, an 18 month,over 4500 contact hours of programming, focused on re-entry needs. I graduated valedictorian. After graduation I transferred, to be closer to home, as my initial parole hearing was coming up.

I arrived at FCI McKean and had my first hearing. At this hearing I was denied and given a 3 year set off. One of the reasons, needs more time to program. Unbelievable! I had spent 17 years programming and excelling yet I was told I needed to do more programming. I had taken victim impact classes, anger management classes, and other cognitive behavior courses. Courses needed to address the bad choices I had made as a juvenile.

In light of the 3 year set off, I stayed the course and continued programming. I designed a non profit program called The Reconstruction Program. A program targeting high-risk and at-risk youth and youthful offenders. I also began co-facilitating the Victim Impact class with Dr. Tony Gaskew, Criminal Justice Professor at the University of Pittsburgh. I also lead a class called Thinking for a Change. All done while teaching and tutoring Spanish GED, ESL and Spanish as a Second Language.

I was part of the re-entry team. Through this team we formulated a mentoring program targeting younger offenders who had needed extra help in the area of education. We also started a Life Coaching group and through that group I was able to help bring in outside support. An official Life Coaching course through the Institute for Life Coach Training was instituted in the prison. The founder, Dr. Patrick Williams, would become not only my mentor but a good friend. I also applied to an outside school to become a certified Substance Abuse and Alcohol Technician. I also got my Certified Personal Training certification. These two achievements were paid for out of my own money.

Three year later, 2013, I had a second hearing. I went to this hearing with the Associate Warden of Programs as my staff representative. She spoke on my behalf and supported my release. My unit team also spoke on my behalf. My family, friends, and outside supports all sent letters of support. I had a release plan, money saved, two jobs lined up and higher education opportunities. The hearing examiner recommended parole. Everyone thought it was a sure shot. The final decision was a set-off of five (5) more years. The reason. I was not deemed fit for release and my release would endanger the community. The once again claimed I had on-going criminal behavior. I have not had a write up in over 20 years.

What an incredible story. This is my story. The story of a guy that entered prison a 17 years old, who fought against the odds to not become a prison statistic, yet unable to make parole. The people who this new bill, H.R. 759, will apply to may not have half of what I have, in terms of programs and skills. One the system no longer offer the classes that I was able to take many years ago; before the system became all punitive. Yet, they will be released sooner.

My story is not the story of why we need to be tougher with sentencing. Or why we should not let guys out of prison early, violent or non-violent. This is not the story of why there needs to be a tougher enforcement of mandatory minimum sentences. It is the story of a man who has done his time, in fact more than the time of the sentencing courts. 20 years to Life with the possibility of parole if these conditions are meet; you obey the rules and remain incident free, you have proven to have made steps to turn your life around, make better decisions, and remain crime free. That is what the assumption is when dealing with sentences such as mine. Although I have fulfilled more than what would be normally required I was given more time to spend in prison. In a system that is looking for ways to kick people out in order to cut cost. What is the irony in that?

Why is this story important and significant? As the federal government look for way to cut costs, reduce crime and recidivism there are a lot of guys, such as myself, who have served their sentences, participated in programs, and are eligible for release yet the USPC Commissioner will not grant them parole. Citing non-factual reason to justify doing so.

Tax-payers are paying $320,000 for me to stay in prison longer. I am sure most members of society would say that I would be a good candidate for release. There is no telling what will happen at the next hearing. I don’t think I can top what I have done thus far. So who knows when I will be deemed suitable by the USPC Commissioner. What a waste of money. I am steady fighting, to no avail but I am fighting. Would someone make sense of it.

It is important that as lawmakers propose new bills that they ensure the ones that are in effect are being applied. It makes sense to put to use that which is already on the books. It also helps set the foundation of success for newly proposed prison reform bills. It is easier to measure success and failures along the way, too.

By all means this newly proposed bill along with the other sentencing reform polices going into effect is a good thing. There are going to be a lot of people who will appreciate the changes. I do believe that the penal system, often referred to as draconian, needs reform. I just hope that along the way DC and federal inmates get what they each have coming to them, in terms of these reforms; what the law grants them is what needs to be adhered to by policy makers. The law provides hope for many and has to be practical on all levels. Not just as a means for behavior modification.

Hopefully things will change for the better for guys such as myself and others. It has been a long time coming but change seems to be on the horizon. Let’s hope that as the pendulum seems to have, once again, swung to the side or rehabilitation that the powers to be make the right proposals so that when the pendulum swings back to punishment, as it always does, the penal reforms that are in place now will not be cut or overlooked. As it seems to be the case with DC’ prisoners.

Note: This article was taken of the blog site of Talib Shakir, avoicefromtheinside.wordpress.com. (with permission)

About Talib

Talib Shakir is a DC prisoner that has been incarcerated 23 years now. Although his sentence was 20 years to life he will have served 8 additional years before his next hearing, 2018. That is if he does not get that parole set off overturned. He is working on that now. He maintains a blog site, through his family, called A Voice From the Inside
(avoicefromtheinside.wordpress.com) You can visit him there to learn more about what him. You can also visit the site.

Talib also has specialize training as a Life Coach with a focus in relationship coaching. He has used his skills to set up programs within the institution to help other offenders. Some who are soon to be released, and others as they adjust to spending the rest of their lives in prison, lifers.

To learn more about his affiliation with the coaching world you can look up Coaching the Global Village, Founded by Dr. Patrick Williams MCC, BCC. Dr. Williams also is the founder, who now serves as the dean of training, for the Institute of Life Coach Training. Now owned by Dr. Ellen Ritter. Click on Reconstruction Program to learn more about the program he designed.

Along with coaching he facilitates other pre-release class, victim impact classes, and teaches GED Spanish (a language he taught himself, along with Arabic and now Portuguese), English as a Second Language (ESL) and Spanish as a second language. He also serves as a motivational speaker and speaks often at different institutional events.

He story is one that needs to be shared with others as when the discussion of penal reform arise. There is more to the story than we may commonly hear. Sometimes it is best to hear it from those that are on the inside. There view is just as relevant as the view of others.

Due to the recent events that have taken place with the Muslim and non-Muslims through the world I have been asked many questions about these events. One of the questions that comes up all the time is, “Why are the Muslim leaders not speaking out about these issues?” Maybe one is looking for a CNN report of Muslim Leaders speak out against terrorist acts. This may not happen in the manner which some may deem to be the right approach. What I can say is these acts are being spoken out against.

As a Muslim, who tries to protect himself from the misguidance of these various groups, I can say that the senior and reputable scholars from across the Muslim lands have been speaking about, and warning about these groups, the likes of these groups, their origins and misguidance for many years. Long before what we have been witnessing today. Unfortunately, these scholars have come under attack because some of them happen to come from the land of Saudi Arabia. May westerns like to paint Saudi Arabia and its citizens with a broad negative brush. In doing so they sometimes overlook the role these scholars play in speaking out against these act.

I want to provide people with accurate statements from some senior Muslim Scholars. Some of these statements are back dated. To show that this refutation of the Muslim leaders is nothing new. But that they have been speaking up, out and condemning these acts. Some of them have even encouraged the Muslim in the non Muslim lands to work with the authorities in apprehending those responsible for these acts. I want to say, that as a Muslim who follow the sunnah, that there is no place in the true religion of Islam that promotes, commends or encourages the taking the lives of innocent people. Even when those people are provocative.

The first statement is from an Algerian Scholar by the name of Sheikh Abdul Malik ar Ramadani al Jaza’ri, and his statements with regards to the group called ‘Salafi Group for Daw’ah and Combat’, an Algerian group.

“How can, with all of this, making permissible the blood of the police and killing them, be permitted? Then they live on the stolen money which have been ransacked from the people by force! They destroy the souls of the Muslim soldiers…We absolve ourselves for Allah from the group ‘Salafist Group for Dawah and Combat’ and from all those who grasp weapons today in our country against the system or the people.

This is the statement from the Grand Mufti and others denouncing the 2005 London bombing. This article appeared in the Arab News

The Kingdom’s grand mufti yesterday strongly denounced the deadly blast that rocked London, saying Islam strictly prohibits the killing of innocent people. He also censured the terrorists for tarnishing the image of Islam by attaching their heinous crimes to the religion. The explosions that ripped through central London’s transport system on Thursday, “targeting peaceful people, are not condoned by Islam, and are indeed prohibited by our religion.” Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency. “Attributing to Islam acts of individual or collective killings, bombings, destruction of properties and the terrorizing of peaceful people is unfair, because they are alien to the divine religion,” said the mufti, who is also head of the Council of Senior Scholars, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority. “Islam is a religion of reforms and righteousness. It envisages the progress of humanity and takes it from darkness into light. It also calls for respecting agreements and prohibits their violations,” the mufti said referring to accords binding governments. “Causing corruption on earth is one of the biggest crimes in Islam.” he explained.

Sheikh Abdul Mushin Al Obaikan, a senior Saudi scholar and a Shoura member, said there was no justification, whatsoever, for the killing of innocent people. Speaking to MBC television, he urged all members of the Muslim community in Britain to cooperate with British authorities in tracking down the criminals behind the attack.

Imam Muhammad ibn Salih Al-Uthaymeen of Saudi Arabia, who is now deceased, gave a talk right before his death and said, with regards to the Muslim living abroad in non Muslim lands. This talk was given during a Tele-Link July 2000 in Birmingham UK. He was a leading scholar and has been addressing this issue for many years.

“Likewise I invite you to have respect for those people who have the right that they should be respected, from those between you and who there is an agreement . For the land which you are living in is such that there is an agreement between you and them. If this were not the case. they cold have killed you or expelled you. So preserve this agreement, and do not prove treacherous to it, since treachery is a sign of the hypocrites, and it s not from the way of the Believers. And know that it is authentically reported from the Prophet that he said. “Whoever kills one who is under an agreement of protection will not smell the fragrance of Paradise.” Do not be deceived by the saying of foolish people who say, Those people are not Muslim. so their wealth is lawful for us.” For I swear by Allah-this is a lie; a lie about Allah’s religion, and a lie that Islamic societies (hold to be true). So we may not say that it is lawful to be treacherous towards people whom we have an agreement with. O my brothers. O youth. O Muslims. Be truthful in your buying and selling, and renting, and leasing, and in all mutual transactions, Because truthfulness is from the characteristics of the Believes, and Allah, the Most High, has commanded truthfulness, “O you who believe-keep your duty to Allah, and be truthful” (9:119) And the Prophet encouraged truthfulness and said, ” Adhere to truthfulness, because truthfulness leads to goodness and goodness leads to Paradise; and a person will continue to be truthful, and strive to be truthful until he is written down with Allah as a truthful person.” And he warned against falsehood, and said, “Beware of falsehood because falsehood lead to wickedness and wickedness leads to the Fire. And a person will continue lying and striving to lie until he is written down with Allah as a great liar.” O my brother Muslims. O youth. Be true to your saying with your brothers, and with those non Muslims whom you live along with – so that by your actions, you will be inviters to the religion of Islam- in reality. And indeed, how many people first entered into Islam because of the behavior and manners of the Muslims, and their truthfulness, and their being true in their dealings.

This is the specific advice to all the Muslims living in non Muslim societies. The call for peace and respect for the laws in those lands.

Where did this modern idea of Islamic Revolution come from? Many people do not know the origins and history of those that spurned these movements. This is just a little education background information for the reader.

The idea of this Modern Islamic revolution began in 1928, in Egypt. This ideology was started by Hassan Al-Banna, who was influenced by a man name Rashid Rida, and was popularized through the writing of Sayyid Qutb. Both of them were killed by the Egyptian government, Al-Banna in 1948 and Qutb in 1966, but the ideology had spread far and wide. The name of this group is the Muslim Brotherhood.

Due to their desire to create an Islamic State they held the belief that all Muslims who had the same goal could join with them. That they should unite upon what they agree on and forgive each other were they disagree. The statement is one that has caused a lot of murkiness, in terms of identifying these various groups.

The main objective of this group is to establish an Islamic State by any means necessary, even by massive bloodshed. The methodology continues today, through groups that attach Jihad to their slogans. They call for the bloodshed of the Muslim rulers, leaders, and innocent people.

What is important to know is that many Muslim leaders have been speaking out against and fighting against these acts for many years now. When a child begins to show problems at home it is a clear sign the child will be problematic outside the home. These Muslim leaders are the first to speak out against this problematic child, as the problem starts in their home, on their land. When the problem reaches our land and citizens it is almost too late.

It is understandable that others show their anger towards Muslims and what they think is Islam but is this the right approach to take. To demonstrate anger with angry acts leads to more anger-led acts. The goal is to remove the anger and hate in order to come to a peaceful medium.

It is not fair to the Muslims when guys such as Anjem Choudhary are given air time on major news networks, such as CNN, to explain the rational, to defend or deny terrorist acts. His ignorant speech provokes more anger and misunderstanding. He is not a representative to the truth and should not be listened to. Let alone taken as a source of Islamic reasoning, whether it be good or bad. It is incumbent for people to resort to those that have the correct knowledge of these affairs for explanations.

In closing, I say and with firm convictions, that these acts are un-Islamic and heinous. These acts have created a hatred for a religion that is peaceful. These acts are to be shunned wherever they are perpetrated, by whomever. I also say that as I write this those Muslim leaders, who many would consider to be hard-line, are speaking against these anti-Islamic acts. They have condemned this acts and have advised the Muslims in this land, and others, to condemn and speak out against these acts.

When President Obama was elected President of the United States he promised to have a transparent administration. This would ensure those whom he elected as Government officials would be transparent in their job functions.

I want to discuss what happens when there is no transparency, and little or no oversight, with some of these elected officials.

What I have here is the summary testimony of Dr. James Austin, of the JFA Institute, before the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight, and Governmental Reform Subcommittee of Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia.

He States:

My testimony today is based on a study I recently completed for the US Parole Commission. The Commission wanted to know if the criteria it is using to parole prisoners sentenced prior to 2000 under the old DC sentencing code or to revoke parole criteria are significant as they can serve to significantly lengthen a prisoner’s period of imprisonment by many years.

The Study also looked at the extent to which DC prisoners who are housed in the BOP system were receiving programs and what impact those programs were having on recidivism rates. The detailed results of the study and the full report have been forwarded to the Committee.

The major findings of the study were as follows:

1. DC prisoners released in 2002 who had been sentenced under the DC code prior to August 2002 as compared to other state prisoners had much longer sentences and served longer prison terms.

2. About two thirds (67%) of the prisoners released in 2002 were re-arrested at least one time, 52% were re-convicted and 37% were returned to the custody if the BOP within three years of being released from prison. These rates are comparable to other states.

3. The average number of arrests (1.9) during this three year post release period is much lower than the rate of arrests three years for the same prisoners prior to their incarcerated (5.9). In effect the rate of arrests dropped by over 60% (from 5.9 to 1.9 arrest per prisoners).

4. The types of crimes being committed by the released DC prisoners are similar to other states in that they vast majorities are non-violent in nature.

5. Consistent with other studies, the amount of time imprisoned (length of stay) is not associated with rates of recidivism.

6. Most of the factors being used by the Commission to assess risk are not good predictors of recidivism.

7. An alternative risk instrument that relies on the conduct of the prisoner and programs he or she has completed while in the BOP does a better job of assessing the prisoner risk level.

8. The Commission is also using factors (crime severity and prior record )that are not related to recidivism that are being used to significantly extend the period of imprisonment.

9. For parole violators the amount of time served for a technical violation can exceed the original sentence.

10. This practice is placing too much emphasis on the SFS as criteria for revocations – especially given the lack of prediction in the instrument as shown earlier.

Based on these findings the following recommendations have been made to the Commission and the BOP.

1. Change the guidelines and implement a new risk instrument that takes into account the prisoners conduct while incarcerated (dynamic factors).

2. Discontinue the use of factors being used to enhanced presumptive release dates and replace them with a simple offense/risk level matrix.

3. Alter the current practice of extending parole eligibility dates solely on offense severity and history of violence; especially given the long period of incarceration for DC prisoners and the lack of relationship between length of time served and recidivism.

4. Review its parole revocation grid and allow for much shorter periods of incarceration with the assumption that low risk parolees shall not be re-incarcerated for low severity violations.

5. There should be a concerted effort to reduce the length of imprisonment and parole supervision based on good conduct and completion of programs while incarcerated within the BOP. Such efforts would include allowing release at the earlier stage of sentence, awarding of good-time credits for prisoners who complete rehabilitative programs and allowing for the period of the parole supervision to be reduced based on good conduct.

6. Given the dynamic factors related to prisoner completion of rehabilitative programs are associated to lower recidivism rates, a study should be conducted by the Commission and the Bureau of Prisons to determine if DC sentenced prisoners are receiving the same level of services as other BOP prisoners.

I have briefed the Commission, the BOP and the US Department of Justice on this study and its policy implication. Based on that meeting the Commission has agreed to initiate a project that will result in a revised risk instrument and new guidelines for 1) the release of DC prisoners sentenced under the “old” indeterminate sentencing guidelines, 2) the imposition of conditions of parole supervision (both old and new law sentenced prisoners and 3) the revocation of community/parole supervision.

The project will also include the Bureau of Prisons, the DC Sentencing Commission, the DC Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, the US Attorney, and the Community Supervision of Offenders Agency (CSOSA).

It is expected that these new guidelines will increase the rate of parole for “old” sentenced prisoners and reduce the number of prisoners being revoked and returned to prison – especially the length of time of the imprisonment for a revocation. I expect these new guidelines to be completed by this summer.

First I want to say that I received this memo in the year of 2009. It has been 6 years since this testimony has taken place. I have seen the parole board twice in that time.

I want to given a brief account of my experiences with the Parole Board and you can judge if 1. what the Commission agreed to is being upheld, as mention in Dr. Austin’s testimony and 2. if I fit the criteria’s of what would be ideal for release on parole. After hearing of these accounts the next question is who is willing to hold the Commission accountable when they do not abide by the transparency that the President has required for all of his cabinet members.

What happened to me is what happens when there is no oversight and nor transparency, as the Commissions refuse to respond to letters written from many supporters, as to why I am being dealt with harshly, when seen by the parole board. They want to know how is it a person who fits all the criteria, and more, is made to do more prison time; especially in light of the Commissions agreeing, in front of the House of Representatives, to changing the practice they used in the past.

In the year 2010 I had my first parole hearing. I was scored as a 2, which meant that I was eligible for parole. Due to the nature of the offense, second degree murder, it was recommended that I receive a 1 year set off for a rehearing. Due to the seriousness of the offense I understood his reasoning.

At the time of the 2010 hearing I had completed all of the required programs, and other programs. I had strong outside support and employment upon release. I had served the time I was sentenced to, I was sentenced to 20 years to life and my initial parole date was set at the 85% mark of that sentence. When I saw the parole board I had completed 17 years, 85%. When the hearing examiner made the recommendations he made it based on a prior juvenile conviction. I was a juvenile, 17, at the time of committing this offense; I was charged, convicted and sentenced as an adult.

The recommendation the hearing examiner made was consistent with the DC 1987 sentencing and parole guidelines. When the Commissioners reviewed it they set me off 3 years. They disregarded the recommendation of a 1 year set off, took me outside the guidelines and gave me 3 years.

In 2013 I had my re-hearing. I continued to program and abide by the rule of the prison. I had sought other certifications outside of prison and earned, paid for by my money, other skills that could be used upon release. I began to teach “Victim Impact” classes and other cognitive behavior programs that were popular through the prison, as a result I worked, through these program, with the Associate Warden of Programs of the institution. She was in fact my staff representative at my parole hearing.

At that hearing it was noted by the hearing examiner that I was a better candidate for parole the second time than I was the first time. She was impressed that I had maintained clear conduct, considering the length of the first set off of 3 years. She was equally impressed that my staff representative was the Associate Warden, it gets no higher than this as far as recommendations within the prison. As a result the hearing examiner recommended parole.

The Commissioners made a decision to set me off 5 years to a rehearing. FIVE YEARS!! For what! For being a good inmate, for having the skills needed to be a responsible citizen upon release, for having family ties and support in the community, for having a job awaiting me upon release, for not getting into trouble while doing the set off of 3 years, for having someone who runs the prison, one who is hired and entrusted to oversee the day to day activities of inmates, speak well on my behalf! Unbelievable!

What is going to happen and change in 5 more years? The role of the Parole board is to release prisoners at a time when they have serve an appropriate amount of the sentence, that which is compatible to the sentence handed down by the courts.

They also are to make decisions based on the conduct of the prisoner. It is not the function of the parole board to act in a manner where they decide, based on personal opinions and feelings, as to when a person is ready to return back to society, if they have satisfied the sentence of the courts and maintained clear conduct during their incarceration.

The United States Parole Commission is, and will always act in an unfair and biased manner. All of the Commissioners have backgrounds in law enforcement. The head Commission was the Chief of Police of DC, and responsible for the arrest of many DC prisoners, he also lost a close relative to homicide. How can he or any of the other Commissioners act in a unbiased manner when they have spent their whole lives and careers chasing down the “bad guy” to lock him up. Or have suffered the lost of love ones due to crime. They now find themselves in a position to let go the same guys they locked up! Really!

The mindset is punitive and often unforgiving. They are acting in a manner that shows biasness and unfairness, due to the nature of a persons offense, although a person has 1. been incarcerated many years and demonstrate behavior in that shows remorse for their crimes. They have acquired programs that will make them less likely to commit crimes and victimize in the future. Doing time does not determine not persuade one to not commit crime. It is what they do with the time spent incarcerated that determines that.

I have spent my time in a productive manner and the reward for doing good is to do more time! Although I have done over the 20 years the courts sentenced me to.

It is time the Parole Commissioners begin to offer legitimate reasons for their actions. No one is asking that crime and punishment be taken lightly, but that freedom is given to those that deserve it; those who have, show remorse by acting in a manner that show change, in behavior and actions.

It is time the public begin to ask questions and demand answers. As long as the public is silent about the Commissioners actions they will continue to act in a punitive manner, abusing the power they have.

The old policies do not work; in fact the Justice Dept is looking for ways to right the wrongs of an unjust sentencing guideline. The government is looking for ways to climb out of deficit, which includes minimizing the cost of incarceration.

The US is slowly turning the ship around they are looking at more productive, fairer and progressive ways to deal with incarceration in America. Why is the US Parole Commission still acting in a manner contrary to the rest of the Criminal Justice System? Is this the type of administration Obama wanted. I know he is not the most popular President, at time time. But, what does it say about a system that will have members of Government testify in front of Congress, yet not hold them to their testimony. What does it say about its citizens who, now, know the truth yet refuse to make it binding on those who made the testimony. It is a disrespect to the moral standard set by the Constitution, to allow this to
continue.

Join us and lets work together and right the wrong. Pass this along to as many people you can, contact us and chime in, contact the media if you have the resources to do so. Ask question to those that work within Government, DC, federal or other to find out the best recourse in holding our government officials liable and responsible when they are wrong.

It as much of a crime to testify in front of Congress and lie as it is to commit a street crime. It is another means deception, lack of accountability, and oversight. It is a crime to keep the acts of those in charge out of the public sight, when they are wrong. There has to be oversight and accountability; or transparency as President Obama promised the American people.

Now it is out in the open and I hope and pray that there people out there willing to help right this wrong. I know it is a chance but this chance is one worth taking.

old lorton (2)

As the race for DC’s Mayoral elections draw near the end things are getting tense. The candidates are out highlighting their points, and making their promises. There is talk of education reform, which is great, the legalization of marijuana, the promise of cleaning up, and addressing issues of abuse within the police force, addressing the need to deal with the poverty and housing issue in DC, gay marriages, and gun laws that will allow DC residents to carry concealed weapons. All hot and controversial topics.

As I try to keep track of the events happening in DC there is an issue that I don’t “ever” hear mentioned. That would be the issue of DC’s prisoners, who are DC’s “forgotten residents”, caught up in the web of Federal Prisons. Those men and women held in prisons far way from home, who do not receive any of the benefits of the new sentencing reforms, imposed by the federal government, who do not get extra halfway house time for completion of the drug program, while federal prisoners get a year off their sentences and extra half-way house time, and most importantly those who are dealt with harshly by The United States Parole Commissioner, who acts on behalf of The DC Parole Board.

What many of the new DC residents may not know, and some of the candidates running for mayor have forgotten, is the DC they have come to know and love has not always been this way. It has not always been a diverse and progressive city, where outsiders are welcomed. In fact many outsiders used to fear coming to DC for fear of being affected by the crime and violence taking place in DC during those times.

During the years between the mid 1980’s to the mid 1990’s DC suffered greatly, and was a city in turmoil. There was a time when crack and sex was sold in McArthur Park, right across the street from the White House. DC was the murder capital of the United States, averaging over 300 murders a year, for consecutive years. The now Head Commissioner of the United States Parole Commission, Isaac Fulwood, was the then Chief of Police. How ironic is that. That the very person that was responsible for the arrest of many DC residents, currently locked up, happens to be the very same person who oversees their release, something he is not willing to do, easily. Talk about a conflict of interest.

There was a time, in DC, where groups of neighborhood residents, The Orange Hats, took to the streets, as neighborhood vigilantes, with walkie-talkies, trying to make citizens arrest in order to take back the streets of DC. Curfews were imposed and DC, once know as The Chocolate City (DC’s unofficial nickname) became known as “The City Under Siege.” Many DC residents were sent to the infamous Lorton Reformatory to serve long sentences for crimes committed during this era of DC’s history.

I was sent to Lorton at the age of 17 in the year 1993 for a term of 20 years to life, and I now sit in federal prison (never having been released from prison) at the age of 39 because the parole board refuse to grant parole. A parole board that imposes a federal standard to prisoners that are not federal prisoners. The courts have ruled against such act, but the Parole Commissioners continue to make parole decisions, for DC prisoners that are eligible for parole, using the same standards they hold federal prisoners to. News flash!!! We are not federal prisoners!! We are DC inmates!

Despite all the events happening in DC, during this time, the Mayor of that time, who many can find fault in, made it his business to come to the facilities and inquire about the conditions of the prison, and the prisoners. He made it easy for guys, who were released, to find jobs in DC. He made us feel as if, despite the fact of being locked up, we were still DC residents, and part of DC’s infrastructure. Unfortunately, that cannot be said of today’s candidates. Whether they be those that run for Mayor or other DC council seats. DC prisoners have truly become DC’s “forgotten residents.”

The implementation of the “Revitalization Act” changed DC forever, for the better and the worse. It made it so DC residents could enjoy the now popular places DC is currently known for. The new China-Town, H Street, U Street, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, Petworth, Shaw, and all the other places people move to, or visit, DC to be part of.

I recall seeing a picture of Ben’s Chili Bowl in the Washington Post, when Obama was elected President, and thought I was looking at a picture of “Hard Rock Cafe.” Ben’s Chili Bowl, although always a decent place to eat, was a greasy spoon joint. One of the places that did not burn during the 1968 riots. A place many would go to escape the cold winter night, and warm up with a bowl of chili. Ben’s Chili Bowl is, and will forever be a part of DC. Just not the same way I, and others, remember it to be.

The “Revitalization Act” made it so whites and other nationalities could move into the DC and feel safe. DC was a city no one wanted any association with; a city that sent the Mayor to prison for sex and drug crimes. A city that was the laughingstock and butt to many late night pundit jokes. DC has now become the city where many of those same people can walk their dogs throughout Northeast, late at night without fear, and who now enjoy an expanded Capital Hill.

The “Revitalization Act” opened up the doors for outside investors to come and build, which offered more jobs to DC residents, new hospitals, condos and town houses were built, albeit at the expense of the poor. The poor who no longer could go to DC General, and get free medical attention when they fell ill. Who could not afford the prices of rent for the new condos that replaced the projects they once lived in. Charter Schools were introduced and school zones were redrawn. All in all, even at the cost of some of DC’s poorer residents, things began to look better for DC. Everything is new and improved, but no one has yet talked about or fixed the other problem… DC’s “forgotten residents”, those incarcerated in federal prisons.

Where Lorton Reformatory was located 35 minutes from DC, now the closest federal prison is 2 hours and 45 minutes from DC. There are DC prisoners housed in places as far as Atwater, California. There are a few hundred DC inmates housed on the other side of the United States.

At least while housed in Lorton DC, a place close to home, prisoners were made to feel as if they still belonged to DC. The price of communication was 6 cent a minute for a 15 minute phone call. That price is now $2.75 in federal prison. Most guys don’t make enough to pay for those calls, let alone try to help schedule a visit to a place far from home.

DC prisoners also do not receive any benefits federal prisoners receive for the completion of programs. We do not get the 1 year off for the completion of the drug program, we do not get extra half-way house time, we do not benefit from the Second Chance Act. What is the purpose of DC residents being held in federal prisons? What is to gain and who benefits? Surely, DC prisoners don’t.

There was a time when a DC prisoner housed in Lorton could drop his custody level and join a work release program, where they would go to work in DC in the morning and return to the prison at night. There was a time when the incentive based sentencing guidelines would allow for up to 75 extra good days for the completion of programs. There was a time where UDC had a satellite campus in the prison, and DC inmates would attend college and earn degrees. Degrees they would return to DC with, and use to help rebuild the DC communities. The DC Parole Board was lenient and fair, when following the guidelines for release, now it has become a weapon of enforcing punishment where punishment is not needed.

DC prisoners, the “forgotten residents” of DC, are treated harsher than any other prisoners, across the board. They are sentenced to longer terms of incarceration, for the same offenses committed in other states. They are violated for technical parole violations more than other parole violators, in other states. They are sent back to prison for these same violations, more than any other parole violators, in other states. The question must be asked, and answered, what has and what will become of DC prisoners? Those “forgotten DC residents.”

When it comes to DC prisoners no one speaks up, or out. Are we not residents of DC that deserve a voice? Do the concerns of our loved ones become obsolete and dismissed due to our incarceration?

There is a term used in DC, “Returning Citizens”, I assume is supposed to make things better for DC prisoners coming home, to help de-stigmatize “ex-offender.” That is fine and dandy, but did I lose my DC citizenship when I was incarcerated? I had it while in Lorton, but it seems I have now lost it.

No one campaigns for those “forgotten residents” of DC, therefore, many of these prisoners are lost in a system that does not care what happens to them. As far as it is concerned “we” are not “their” problem. If that is the case we become “your” problem. It has been said the feds only job is to house us.

We are long time residents of DC and have as much right to DC and what it offers as a person coming in from another city, to set up shop and begin a new life. I don’t fault those coming in from other cities to relocate but they should know of the plight of DC and what others endured, and continue to endure, throughout the years. They need to hear the stories of those long time residents who have sons and daughters behind bars, who are raising the children of their children. To hear the stories of what took place for DC to become the city they call home.

When they enacted the “Revitalization Act” DC prisoners were sold to the lowest bidder, those agencies who could house for the cheapest price. These “forgotten residents” were not part of the bigger plan to make the city a better place. That has to change. DC’s “forgotten residents” need to have a voice, and their needs have to be heard and attended to, in order to become “Returning Citizens” upon release. It has to be understood that we do in fact matter, and play a critical role in DC politics.

Whatever new plan the new Mayor has for DC, it has to include a plan for those forgotten residents. Someone has to speak for us, or at the very least hear our concerns, and the concerns of our loved ones. Not just hear these concerns but respond to them as well. It would best serve the interest of those who look forward to a future in DC politics. Why?

DC is one of the few places where ex-offenders can obtain and have their voter’s rights re-instated. Mayor Barry knew this and played it well. These “forgotten residents” have the same voter’s rights as any other DC resident. They can gather the support and votes from family members, to support the candidate, who will support the cause of the incarcerated. Someone that will help draw their families closer.

As Returned Citizens these “forgotten residents” may be what stands in the way of one becoming Mayor, or not, of DC, or City Council. Whether they go, or not, to vote, or whether they encourage, or not, others to vote could make a big difference in DC’s Mayoral elections.

I hope that, in the near future, someone begins to notice that there are DC residents who are forgotten about. That they realize that we are part of DC’s infrastructure, and need as much support and assistance as other DC residents.

I hope to shed light on a serious and overlooked issue. I hope to catch the attention of those, who claim to be concerned in the future of DC. We, the “forgotten DC residents” are part of that future, our family and love ones are part of that future.

As you attend these town hall meetings and pose questions to candidates ask them what is their plan to address the needs of those “other” DC residents. DC’s prisoners. Ask them if they even have a plan to address this concern.

Working together change can happen. It does not matter if you’ve lived in DC from the time U Street and H street where streets lined with boarded up, and condemned buildings; buildings that remained boarded up from 1968 to 2000, 32 years these streets produce very little income for DC residents. Or if you just moved here and now enjoy the bars, clubs, cafes, and stores that these same streets offer DC residents. Or if you can remember when only a few subways traveled through DC. Or you now safely travel as far out as Dulles airport.

It does not matter your race, color, creed, or sexual orientation, we have something in common. We are residents of DC and we all share similar concerns. The betterment of DC, on a whole. As a long time DC resident that has been “forgotten”, I ask that you remember us, and speak for us, too.