Many people do not know about this report but it is important that everyone know about it. This report is the testimony of Dr. James Austin to Congress, at the request of Former Parole Commissioner Isaac Fulwood, with regards to the way the USPC handles DC parole-able inmates. In short it was determined that the way the USPC handles DC inmate was too harsh yet the USPC has yet to abide by the recommendations of Dr. Austin. These recommendations and the promise to implement them is a good start to push for change. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton is the primary representative for the way the USPC operates. It is certain she is aware of the testimony of Dr. Austin. The question is at what point will she make the USPC acknowledge and implement these recommendations.

Dr. James Austin testimony

Like our new page DC Coalition for Returning Citizens on Facebook to support the movement to recognize change to the handling of DC inmate’s parole.

bird with cuffsBringing together the experiences and voices of DC residents affected by incarceration, follow our latest project on FaceBook:  DC Coalition for Returning Citizens.  With this group, we hope to bring advocacy and attention to the unique quest for parole faced by DC’s inmates.  DC inmates are the only citizens in the U.S. automatically incarcerated in Federal Prisons, and not state prisons. They are also the only offenders besides federal inmates whose parole is overheard and determined by the U.S. Parole Commission, and not a state parole commission. As such, incarcerated individuals from DC face a special set of challenges in their journey toward freedom and release on parole. This page serves as a source for information, networking, and advocacy for DC inmates and their friends and families.  Show your support and “like” us on Facebook!

The answer to that question is simple. There is no way that a discretionary panel, or entity, should have more influence and power than the sentencing court or the Judge. In most cases the judge hands down the sentence based on the elements of the crime committed. Whether that sentence is harsh or lenient, the Judge has that discretion. Once the Judge hands down the sentence it is the Department of Justice to oversee that sentence. It is not the job of that department to hand out more time for the same sentence. This has been the function of the parole board for many years. It is time that this practice and reversed. The duty of the parole board is to enforce penalties when there have been other criminal acts committed during the course of incarceration, or penalize the convicted if they fail to adhere to the rules and regulations of the prison and refuse to participate in rehabilitative programs. The USPC is setting guys off for offenses they were sentenced for in court. The DC 1987 regulations is an incentive based parole guideline. It is meant to give guys a push to program and eventually change their behaviors. It is not to be used as another means of punishment.

This has been the problem with DC inmates since the federal government take over. When they closed Lorton guys were shipped all across the country without regards to the distance between love ones. They were housed in super-max prisons where they were overseen by guards with loaded guns. Guns they used to shot guys if they crossed certain colored lines. All the while these inmates were, if still held in Lorton, medium and minimum security prisoners. The USPC has set many guys off for as long as 15 years, in increments. If the actual DC system was still in place these things would not be happening. If the public begin to question and hold accountable those elected officials things would have to change. More people need to get more involved in these affairs. There has to be a community effort for change to take place. It is time that we get our love ones, that have worked hard for their release for many years, home. The time is now!

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.

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, (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
( 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.