Dear Friends and Family,
This past week we have seen some major strides. In just under 2 weeks, we have surpassed our first $1,000 in our fundraising campaign! We have also had our voices heard on this week’s WPFW Crossroad’s show with Roach Brown, and at the Enough is Enough protest at the U.S. Parole Commission office. Talib and I are grateful to all the people who have been supportive in helping us to navigate this difficult climate, find ways to plug in and speak up, and come closer to achieving Talib’s freedom. Your support – logistically, emotionally, financially, and so on – means a great deal and helps counter the isolation and struggle of fighting this fight. Thank you all!!!
Support our Drive: https://www.generosity.com/fundraising/talib-m-shakir-legal-defense-fund–2/
Currently there are about 2.3 million people incarcerated in American prisons. That number includes state, federal and local jails. Of that number there are approximately 2,230 people serving life sentences from crimes committed as juveniles. The current debate among politicians is criminal justice reform. As it concerns juvenile lifers the question, around reform, is how much time is enough time.
How much time is enough time for someone to serve in prison for an offense committed before the human brain is fully developed? A National Institute of Health study proposes that the part of the brain that restrains risky behavior. and thinking skills is not fully developed until the age of 25. Jay Giedd, the psychiatrist leading the study, told MSNBC earlier this year that this finding came as a surprise to him because he used to think that the brain was fully developed at the age of 18. In all fairness to Dr. Giedd most people have the same opinion, including judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and other critical figures involved in the criminal justice process.
This issue is such a hot topic that Newt Gingrich urged Governor Jerry Brown to sign California’s Senate Bill 9, “The Fair Sentencing for Youth Act”, which authorizes resentencing opportunities for juveniles sentenced to life imprisonment. Mr. Gingrich in an op-ed piece written with Pat Nolan quoted,
“We did some dumb things as teenagers that might have caused a lot of harm. You probably did, too. Gratefully, we didn’t harm anyone too badly, but we cringe about how clueless we were about the possible consequences to what we did. Teenagers often don’t make very good decisions. Our laws take this into account in many ways. We don’t let young people drink until they are 21, and they cannot sign contracts, vote or serve on juries until they are 18. But there is one area in which we ignore teens, youth and impulsiveness: our criminal laws. Our laws often ignore the difference between adult and teens. and some youngsters are sentenced to life in prison. Should those youngsters remain in prison for something they did when they were so young? Wouldn’t it be better to re-evaluate them after serving a long stretch in prison and consider whether they have matured and improved themselves?”
In October 1993, at the age of 17, I committed an offense I deeply regret. I was involved in a crime where someone lost their life. An act committed under the influence of alcohol. An act not intended, nor excusable, and deeply regretted. As a result I was charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced as an adult. I was given a sentence of 20 years to life. Due to the seriousness of the offense I was fully aware that I was going away to prison for a very long time. I made a bad choice and justice had to be served. As of now I have been incarcerated for 23 years, three years longer than the twenty years the judge sentenced me to. How did this happen may be the question you are asking. I will get to that shortly.
When I first arrived at the state prison I immediately began working towards seeking knowledge. I knew that education was going to be the thing that would help me get through this sentence. I had, and have, a thirst for knowledge and love the process of seeking it. After I obtained my GED I began the UDC prison college program. It was my goal to graduate with a BA in Urban Studies. (The current national average recidivism rate is 0.4% for those that are released with at least an AA degree; however, it is 70%, at the national level for those released without sufficient education.) Unfortunately, the program was cut and I was not able to complete my studies. That did not stop me from pursuing other educational goals.
Here is a list of some of my achievements over the last 23 years:
UDC (college program)
Georgetown University (college program)
I am a certified and Licensed Barber
I am a certified instructor of basic English
I completed the BOP’s Life Connection Program, an 18 month, 1588, therapeutic residential community program
I have completed several drug courses, anger management and family courses
I learned (self taught) fluent Spanish and Arabic. My job for many years has been teaching Spanish GED and ESL
I have taken computers, Microsoft Office classes, and I am computer literate
I and a certified teachers aide. Through the Department of Labor I completed a 4000 hour course that allows me to serve as a teachers aide
I have taken building trades that required over 500 hours to complete. Also Residential Construction Electrical Principals that required 300 hours to complete
I have been the lead facilitator for several programs: Thinking for a Change, Quality of Life, Victim impact (taught in conjunction with Dr. Tony Gaskew, Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Pittsburgh). My favorite course was Concerned Offenders for Youth Awareness (COYA). COYA was a program where I worked with at-risk youth through the Maricopa County Youth Probation Department, in Phoenix Az. They were brought inside the prison were we were able to mentor them.
I have certification as a Drug and Alcohol Abuse technician
I have recently completed two major courses. One as a Peer Recovery Advocate, someone who works with mental health patients that may struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. The other course I completed through Adams State College is Victim Advocacy. Learning these skill allow me to work with victims of crimes and other abuse.
Most importantly, I have skills and training as a certified wellness and personal development Life Coach. It was a goal of mine to bring the concept of Life Coaching to a prison I was in. I was able to do that through a program sponsored by the Institute for Life Coach Training founded by Dr.Patrick Williams, who also became my coach mentor, friend and advocate. This program, in FCI McKean, has graduated over 90 inmates. Inmates who, upon release, can seek employment, or further their coaching skills. To list the recommendations I have would take up a lot of space and time. But, those people include Senators, an ex-Captain of the KCPD, Chaplains, College Professors, Wardens, and the list goes on.
In 2010 I had an initial parole hearing. At that hearing I was parole eligible but due to the nature of the offense I was recommended a 1 year set of until my next hearing. The final decision comes from the US Parole Commissioners. They set me off for 3 years. In 2013 I had a rehearing and was recommended parole. The USPC Commissioners sent back a decision to set me off 5 more years. Yes, I was given more time the second time at the second hearing while it was noted I was a better candidate for parole at the re-hearing. At the second hearing my staff representative was the Associate Warden of Programs. Not to mention the employment opportunities I had available, housing, community ties and support, along with money saved. But here I sit.
Why am I explaining all of this? Because as my family and I try to raise $20,000 for an attorney to represent me against the parole board. I need your help. I feel that if I am going to ask for you help and support that you know exactly what and who you are supporting. I want you to feel that your donations are being contributed to a worthy cause.
What is the cause? Yes, it has to do with me but it also address a bigger issue, and answers the big question. How much time is a enough time for a person who committed their offense as a juvenile to serve? How much rehabilitation is needed to prove to the parole board that a person is ready for society.
I need this lawyer because she is going to help gather other experts to show that I am not the same 17 year old kid I was 23 years ago. The board’s reason to deny me parole; I have the same propensity to commit crime, and that I am a danger to public safety, based on my behavior at the age of 17. Regardless of what I have achieved during my incarceration, my record of the last 23 years of my adult life. Despite the fact that experts have determined that most people outgrow crime around the ages of 35 and 40. What I have presented to them is not enough so I have to go the extra mile. I need your help to get there.
After reading this piece. What do you think? Do you think 23 years is enough time to serve for an offense committed at a time when the brain is not fully developed. Do you think, that after reading some of my achievements during my incarceration show, I am ready to return to society and be productive? If you do please donate to this cause.
Donate whatever you can. Post this story and pass it on to your friends, family and colleagues. Your donations and generosity will not go unnoticed and will be appreciated. I am ready for society. I am ready to be productive and live life as a productive upstanding and law-abiding citizen. I need your help to make that happen. So please help by donating, any which way you can. All you have to do is go to this link, Talib M. Shakir Legal Defense Fund, and make that donations. You will not regret it.
Thank for your help and participation!
Tags: Parole for Talib
In a recent article published in Mother Jones magazine, Jan-Feb 2016 by Corey G Johnson and Ken Armstrong, writers for The Marshall Project, there was a story that I could relate to. It is the story of a black man, Taurus Buchanan, who is serving a life without parole sentence for an offense he committed as a juvenile, at the age of 16. Here is the back story.
Taurus Buchanan killed Jacques Brown during a street fight, with on punch. His cousin Colin Know and Jacques had an elementary beef. Both were 5th graders who went to the same school. They had been exchanging words, as typical 5th graders do, and it went too far. One day the two happen to meet each other on the street, where they began fighting. Taurus was with his Colin, along with another cousin, Mario. Taurus stepped in and blindsided Jacques with one punch, the punch that would kill him. Jacques dropped to the ground. Taurus tried to wake him up, unsuccessfully. It was too late. The blow killed him.
The prosecutor in this case was a recently graduated law student, Tony Clayton. Who is also black. He wanted conservative jurors, people angry and fearful about crime, people he suspected would appreciate tough measures to stomp it out. He deliberately picked a jury of 10 whites and 2 blacks, ranging from ages 20 to 77.
Years later Clayton would see Taurus at a state sponsored boxing match and tell him that if he could do it over he would. That he would offer him a plea of 21 years, of which he would do 7. Instead he prosecuted him for second degree murder, which gave Taurus a life sentence. Clayton says, ” I should not have prosecuted Taurus for murder. I think I went to far. If the state of Louisiana let him out, I would fall on my knees and thank God.
Likewise Travis’ life sentence did not got well with other jury members, when they got older. One jury member wish he had a chance of parole. He quoted, “the person he was at 16 is not the person he could have become.” In Louisiana the oldest juvenile lifer is 69 years old. He as been in prison since the age of 17, 52 years.
The numbers, as of 2015, more than 2,230 people in the United States are serving juvenile life without parole sentences. According to data compiled by the Phillips Black Project, a non profit law practice that collects information of all 50 states. Their research show that with 376, Pennsylvania has the most amount of people serving juvenile life sentences. But Louisiana has a higher number of such inmates, per capita, than any other state. Of the 247 inmates, 199 are African American. In East Baton Rogue Parish where Taurus stood trial, about half of the Parish population is white, but of the 32 of the 33 juvenile life sentences being served are black.
There is a person interest in this story. Like Taurus I was a juvenile when I committed my offense of homicide. There are many similarities and differences between our cases. The most significant thing is that throughout the years we both have changed a lot, for the better.
What is interesting is that neuroscientists have been studying the adolescent brain for years have made certain findings. Findings that should be taken into consideration when dealing with juveniles. They have concluded that compared to adults the average teenager is more impulsive, volatile, and vulnerable to peer pressure and less aware of long term consequences. It has been concluded that the human brain does not fully develop until around the age of 24/25. The National Institute of Health Study proposes that the part of the brain, the ventral striatum, often referred to as the risk taking part of the brain or reward base region, deep inside the brain doesn’t fully develop until the age of 25. Thus offering an explanation to why teenagers are more likely to be involved in car crashes, resulting in death, compared to adults. Teenagers just don’t have the same thinking skills as adults.
The brain develops over time. Changes in the brain take place within the context of inborn traits, personal history, family, friends, community and culture. To sentence a juvenile to life, in prison, without parole is unfair considering the scientific data that exist to refute the claim that juveniles have the same thinking capacity as adults.
Where he and I differ is I have a parole-able life sentence. But, it might as well be life without as the parole board refuse to release me, for an act I committed at 17. Like Taurus I have done a lot in the 23 years I have been incarcerated. Whether it be from working with the outside community to help deter at risk youth from criminal behavior and acts. Teaching class in here such as victim impact, life coaching, or other cognitive based courses, they don’t recognize the changes I have made. Or have they? My question is what good is it to have a parole system if they refuse to use it, accordingly.
There has to be more to the process of granting parole for juvenile lifers. There are 2.3 million people incarcerated. Of that number 2,230 are juvenile lifers. There is hardly any talk about how to deal with this population of inmates. There needs to be greater oversight to these issues. These cases need to be reviewed by qualified personal, and not with the same standards used to review adult cases.
I have a case. One I am trying to raise money for. I have an attorney, willing to take my case, but she needs money. About $25,000 to be exact. Why so much money? She wants to hire a forensic Psychiatrist to review my case, from the past to the present, and make a report. Guess what the report will say? I am not the same 17 year old kid, and that at 40 years old, after 23 years in prison I am not the same person. That with all the family and community support I have, and with all of the achievements I have from years of institutional programming, that I can be released from prison, and not be a safety risk to the public. It takes that much money to prove the obvious. Well if that is what it takes I am willing to pay the price. One thing I have realized is freedom is priceless.
I need your help, and others, to get the ball rolling. We are putting together a site to do crowd funding. Any little bit helps. We will be discussing this more in our upcoming blogs. When that time comes I hope, and pray, that you will be supportive in helping us reach this goal. Thanks for your support.
Tags: mass incarceration, Presidential pardon, serving time
Over the past few months there has been a lot of talk about penal reform. A lot hype surrounded the Presidents visit to a federal prison, the pardoning of inmates that were over sentenced, and the initiative to implement a program that will allow for additional incentives during ones incarceration. What does that mean? Nothing.
It was predicted that at least 6,000 inmates would be released from prison November the 1st, 2015. I know here, in FCI Cumberland, there was a lot of suspense and anticipation. The buzz throughout the prison was “2 point reduction” who got it, who can get it, and who was denied it. The process is lengthy, and not as easy as most people think, and the Judge has the final say so. Guys were preparing themselves to whatever news they were expecting. Most guys went about their day, and routine, as normal, unconvinced that they would benefit from these changes. Me being one those guys. November 1st came and went, and all of those guys are still here.
6,000 is a large number of people to be released and from an institution that holds over 1100 people you would expect at least one person would leave. Not one person. So what does this mean? It means a lot.
Another case, that hits home personally, is the case of a friend of mine that was sentenced to life in prison. Everyone involved with the case, outside of his co-defendants, just knew he was going to walk free. All of the witnesses against him were drug addicts, many who got on the stand and admitted to being coerced into saying the things they were saying against him. There was not physical evidence and the amount of drugs they accused him of selling was about 14 grams. He was sentenced to life in prison. He has filed the appropriate papers for a pardon from the president. He has been told that he fits the qualifications and that it is almost guaranteed that he would be granted a pardon. He has been waiting years now. Just this past Sunday 12/5/2015 a big article came out in the Washington Post. It seems that he has been told the same thing that others, who are waiting for pardons, are told. That it is on the Presidents desk. That he is going to hand pick, roughly, 100 out of 9,000 before the end of December. What are the chances that his case is picked?
There is a lot to be done. But what? That is the million dollar question. We have travelled too far down a road that leads no where. What is worse is we know this but are afraid to turn around and find the right road. As the world around us crumbles the situation becomes even more bleak. Wouldn’t it be nice if life was like a video game where we could just hit the reset button and start over. That no matter what happened we could just pause the game and come back to it. Well, life is not like that so we have to get it right. Or at least not spend so much time trying to get it right. That is the first thing we need to think about when we talk about penal reform. How do we get this right.
Lately we have been getting feedback from some of our readers who have experienced false positives from the Ion Spectrometry Devices used at federal institutions to screen visitors for illegal substances. These machines are notorious for causing false positive readings on innocent people who have had no contact with illegal substances. (Alternet: A new machine designed to ferret out drug smugglers among prison visitors is targeting grandmothers, substance-abuse counselors, and other innocent bystanders.) Once removed by all federal prisons in 2010, since 2014 they have seeped back into mainstream use in randomized screenings of visitors. If you have experienced a false positive reading, please voice your complaint. The only way to demand rigorous investigation into the accuracy and efficacy of these machines is widespread pressure from all who have experienced this problem. A groundswell of effort the last time around with this issue caused the FBOP to withdraw their use, and pull the machines for maintenance, development, and better callibration. If you or your loved ones have experienced a false positive, please follow the suggested steps provided by FedCURE to resolve your issue. Please make sure to write letters of complaint to the warden of the institution, as well as the regional director, the deputy director, and your representatives in Congress. Continue to exhert your voice until we get a response. We all deserve time spent with our loved ones.