Posts Tagged ‘at-risk youth’

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.

Advertisements

Jail-pic-4

The latest events surrounding the death of Michael Brown has me wondering about the future of the the world we live in. I think of the events that have taken place and wonder how will this change the society.

I think of the racial split that will occur behind this event. I am grateful that the youth of today are more open to the diversity that makes up this country.

As these events unfold the discussion on the prison yard is interesting. Those mostly concerned are black, and you can hear frustration and anger in their voices.

Being incarcerated I have a different view. What happened was wrong, no doubt. But, the way that the community has decided to voice the wrong is not proper either. I know there are some who are taking advantage of a bad situation. But at whose the expense?

I remember early in my incarceration we decided to protest the living conditions within the prison. At the time I was being housed on the juvenile range. Someone came up with the “good idea” of throwing our mattresses and property on the tier and lighting it on fire. We were locked in the cells and started to throw out our stuff. We were yelling for our demands to be met. We gave them 5 minutes to fix 100 year problem.

We started to toss baby oil on the stuff, as baby oil is flammable and will burn. 5 minutes passed and a match was lit and tossed on the stuff laying on the tier. A big fire ignited and there was this loud whoosh sound. In a matter of seconds the tier was on fire. Smoke start to fill the locked tier and cells. We almost killed ourselves!! Guys were choking and screaming to be let out the cells. Guys were sucking air through the toilets. We would flush the toilet to get air in the bowl. The bars got hot to the touch. We almost killed ourselves! What did we do? Excuse my French but we did not get shit and we fucked up the prison some more! The prison that we had to live in because they were not going to let us free.

We took a situation that was criminal (the mistreatment of inmates is called cruel and unusual punishment) and harmed ourselves. We did not get what we wanted, a 5 minute fix to a 100 year problem. We ultimately made it bad for ourselves. It is more criminal to create a oppressive situation for oneself. This is what the people of Ferguson is doing to themselves.

Make no mistake about it.. Wrong is wrong. But you don’t fix wrong with more wrong. Something needs to be done. Answers need to be given. But this is a 400 plus year problem that people want fixed today. Sorry but I doubt that it will happen in that fashion.

We need to step back and readdress the problem the right way. Intentions need to be made clear. For what purpose are we here for? What is the goal and object of any demonstration and protest? I am glad that people are stepping up. But not the manner in which some of are doing so.

For those of us who can remember 9/11 we see how this event has changed the world, and not necessarily for the better. We are no more safer today. From what I hear it is more of a hassle to maintain privacy, to avoid being profiled, and to travel. I don’t know an outside world post 9/11 so I don’t know. But I will say this. What happened in Ferguson Missouri will be monumental in changing future events just as 9/11 change world events. The issue of race and poverty can no longer be avoided. When the time comes to address these issues, whether by dialogue or actually putting forth actions, what course of action will be taken.

We can no longer, as a society, avoid what is to come, in terms of social change and justice. To do so would truly be criminal.

Talib would like to hear other opinions about this situation. He is currently incarcerated but maintains the A Voice From the Inside as a means to reach out the public, and as a tool of awareness to what goes on in prison. He is open to taking all questions and comments. If you think others would be interested in hearing more pass the word, repost and sign up at his site.

October 24, 2013 Week 4.

Well today we picked up from where we left off last week. Talking about responsibility and who is at fault. Some of the guys have yet to come to terms that the actions that they committed were solely their fault. There are a lot of other issues that played in the events that happened in our lives but ultimately we all have a CHOICE. That is the most important thing that has to be realized.

It is hard to get to this point when for the most part many of the men in prison have adopted a criminal personality:  that has its own thinking pattern associated with it.  It is hard to get some one to see that they have created victims when they feel that they are the victims.  It is true that we are victims of something, yet, there has to be some accountability for the actions that we commit.

So, who is the blame? That is were the conversation took off. The professor says that our parents failed us, if we are in here. I disagree to a certain extent.

There are many men and women locked up that come from stable homes and have gone to good schools. If this is the case have the parents failed? There are many men and women here that have lived in the inner-city all of their lives, yet they were raised with good morals and values.  Yet they end up in prison.

There are also men and women incarcerated that were raised in these communities that have parents who have never been to prison. Who worked hard and did all that they could to provide. So if this is the case who failed who? Is this an excuse to continue crime? For many people it is. It misdirects the blame, responsibility and accountability that is needed to stop committing victims. This will be the cry when these men find themselves in trouble.

This plays a part in how we may be raised but at some point we knew that our actions were wrong. If that is the case we cannot shift the blame to others.

I had an interesting conversation with a guy after the class. We talked about his upbringing and how he ended up here. In fact this is the same kid that met his father in prison, doing a life sentence. He told me that through all of his life his mother was on drugs, crack. Yet, she did the best that she could do under the circumstances. He told me that he faults the older guys in his neighborhood because they had the most influence on what happened in his life. They knew that his mother was on drugs and that his father was incarcerated. If they knew this and wanted the best for him why did the teach him the rules of the game, streets.  So, I think that we all have had experiences that are very real for us, experiences that landed us in prison.

Everyday we send our kids out in the world to be traumatized by what is out there in the world. Most of these experiences are unknown to the parents, yet these experiences are the most profound experiences that our children have ever had in life. These are the experiences that shape the way that our children think, believe and act. This is so true for the kids that grow up in the inner-city. What do you expect from kids who grow up in communities polluted with beer bottles, syringes, old condoms and drug baggies? On the way to school they are confronted with bullies and glimpse of the attractive life of drug dealing. These are some powerful experiences. Children spend more time out the house and are influenced more by what happens outside the house vs. what goes on in the house.

What does this mean? It means that there are several key factors that play a role in the events that lead many of us to prison. But, what does that have to do with going out and making conscious decisions to steal, deal and kill? None what so ever. In fact the victim role plays a big part in the reasons why criminals and crooks continue criminal behavior. Life is never about others, only about them. The life of crime is a selfish life. It is a life that no one gets into except that there is some self gain and profit.

In fact there are other issues that come into play when it comes to this issue. Fear is a factor. There is a fear of putdown and vulnerability that leads to a zero state. Anger, when it is used as a means to control others. Pride, false pride/criminal pride, there is too much pride to do what is needed to change.  All of these issues and more are issues that have to be dealt with in order to begin to understand what it means to victimize others.
It is a serious thing to get men who have been conditioned to think and believe that their life is the only life that matters to change. I have high hopes that their lives are being changed. I believe that there is a wealth of untapped talent and potential in every human being. It only takes a willingness to tap into those talents and potentials. I look at myself and know that I am living proof that what I am saying is true. That I have talents and potentials that if I knew of them at 17 I would be in a different situation. That rings true for most of the men that I come in contact with through this class. It is a matter of educating and a willingness to take the steps and be patient with the process.

Until next week. Peace

August 7, 2013 was one of the most disappointing days of my life, as I was denied parole for the second time.  Not only was I denied parole but I was given a harsher set off than I was given the first time that I saw the parole board. The first time I was given a 36 month set off, three years, and this time I was given a 60 month set off, 5 years.  Which is crazy considering what I have going for me in terms of support.

I went to the parole board with the Associate Warden as my staff representative. For those of you who don’t understand what that means let me tell you. That is the second highest Executive Official in the Prison, second to the Warden. That person has to have the approval of the Warden of the institution to be present.  So in essence that person was there to represent me with the approval of the Warden.  So that is like the ultimate staff support that a person can get.  This person spoke of all of the things that I have done here in terms of teaching and facilitating classes.  Classes such as Victim Impact which is a very important class and course for violent offenders.  This person stated that based upon my behavior and actions within the prison that it was clear that I would be productive in society.

I showed the board that I was a good candidate for parole as I demonstrated and proved that I had covered all of the risk factors that are associated with recidivism.  I showed and proved that I (1) had strong family support, ties and a place to live, (2) that i had all of the necessary paperwork needed to get a valid identification, birth certificates and social security card, (3) I had a job lined up waiting and had been in contact with other organizations to come and do volunteer work that may have lead to gainful employment with them, and (4) I have done a substantial amount of time incarcerated with no infractions nor new/continual criminal conduct.

The time between my first parole hearing three years ago and the hearing this June, 2013, I went outside the institution and sought education.  Education that I personally paid for.  Education that is not even provided in the institution.  So that showed my continual achievement of programs.

It is not often that a person comes before them with the support, plans and goals that I have.  It is not often that a person who came to prison as a child makes the mature adult changes and choices that I have made.  It is not often that one comes to a parole hearing with the highest of the executive staff speaking on their behalf.  It is not often that a person comes to the parole board with a genuine and reputable mentor who has invested time and energy towards the success of that person to be denied parole.  Not only denied parole but given a harsher penalty than the first time.

If I am not a prime candidate to make parole my question is who is? I was referred to as model prisoner by one of the staff members.  It makes no sense and everyone is stunned by the decision.  It has even affected the way that the other inmates see the possibilities that exist in their lives. I was like the beacon of hope and motivation for these guys and the way that they see it if I can’t make parole how can they.

The reason that they used to deny parole is that due to the nature of my offense, there is a high probability that I will not obey the laws of society.  That reason is in total contradiction to what I have done in the last 20 years and what I am doing now.  I have been a big advocate for victims and have taught those classes.  I have also done other work that has been shown to improve the well being of others and have fostered good relations between the men and their families and communities.  So even from here I have been active in being pro-social.  How is it that I could not do it out there with more resources at my disposal?

Not to minimize my offense, but for those of you who may be wondering.  I have a regular street crime as my charge.  That means that there are no extraordinary elements to my crime.  It didn’t involve women, children or elderly people.  Nothing that would warrant what has happened to me in regards to the set off that I received.  Furthermore I was 17 when this offense was committed.  I am being punished as if I was fully aware of the penalty and repercussions of my behavior at the time . Not to justify my actions, but it is relevant. 

To be fair to all I will just briefly recap the events of my offense.  A guy was killed in a failed robbery attempt. The ironic thing is that I made this poor decision trying to get to a better place.  A place that offered support that was needed for me to be successful.  At the time I didn’t have the means to pay for the travel expense and in a desperate and foolish attempt to get the money needed I borrowed a gun and bought a 5th of gin to calm my nerves.  For some reason I thought that I could just do a harmless stick up.  In my mind I never thought that anyone would buck up against a gun.  When I went into this place there was a clerk sitting on the freezer who, I didn’t know at the time, spoke no English.  So when I ask for him to lay down he jumped up and I panicked and fired the gun.  He was about 15 feet from where I was at.

One thing that came out in trial was that there was no way that I intended to shoot the guy due to the gunshot wound.  He was shot in the neck which was consistent to the motion of him standing up. I had the gun aimed over his head and when he stood he became lined up with the gun.  Had I intended to shoot and kill him he would have been shot in the body area as the gun would have been pointed at his head and his upward movement would have changed the target of the gun.  Due to that evidence I was convicted of 2nd degree murder. The board is judging me and making decisions as if I intentionally went in here to kill this person during the robbery. They are making independent decisions despite trial testimonies and legal decisions that were made in my case.  I never denied the offense.  When I was captured I confessed and expressed regret for that act.  That is not what hardcore criminals do.  That is not what people who intentionally kill people do.  The judge in my case recognized these elements and sentenced me based on those mitigating factors.

What I did was reckless and careless, and I have done my time for that act and have done the best that I could to offset that act while incarcerated.  So, at what point am I allowed to redeem myself and repay my debt to society by entering back into society?  I can’t do it from in here.

In fact to demonstrate how punitive this measure is, usually when the board denies someone parole it is to give that person enough time to get a needed program of evaluation.  So they say, we are gong to deny you parole for 2 years so that will give you enough time to get a GED.” So they tell the person what is needed to make parole.  In my case because I have already done everything, they set me off and cannot even recommend that I take a program or get an evaluation during the time of the set off.  So it becomes clear that they want to be punitive by punishing me with out even telling me what is needed of me to make parole. That is because I have done it all. There is not another program in the BOP that I can do, I have literally done them all.  This suggests that they do not believe in their own system of rehabilitation.  If they did they would give me the parole that I have worked hard for.

How is it that a child, literally, is punished as an adult and serves his time as an adult and conforms to all of the rules and regulations, goes above and beyond what is necessary and achieves high recognition to not be given a second chance at a time in his life where he is less likely to recidivate, according to statically findings. What logic and reason is used to make that decision?

I am making a plea to all of those that follow me on this site to aid me in fighting this decision. To call to attention the system that is in place and demand answers from the people that make these decisions.  What criteria is being used when deciding these cases?   Why has my case been denied parole, and what exactly is expected of me to achieve it?

I am reaching out to those advocates of juvenile justice, penal justice and human rights, as well as concerned members of society to seek justice and answers.  At a time where this country is in difficult and challenging economical strains, does it make economical sense to spend $40,000 for the next 5 years, totaling $200,000, for my continued incarceration?  A person that has clearly rehabilitated? This in itself should cause one to be concerned.  I am not the only one.  If there are five of us, which there are, that is 1 million dollars spent.  There are approximately 2.3 million people locked up in the U.S., and if there are just 5,000 people being treated the way that I am being treated?  The math speaks for itself.

This is a time where some of America’s most conservative leaders have spoken out about the issues regarding teen offenders.   Newt Gingrich has openly opposed the way that juvenile offenders are treated and dealt with in the system.  In an op-ed with Pat Nolan he says, “We did some pretty stupid things as teenagers that might have caused a lot of harm. You probably did, too. Fortunately, we didn’t hurt anyone badly, but we cringe now at how clueless we were about the possible consequences of what we did.”

Teenagers don’t often make very good decisions. Our laws take this into account in many ways:  we don’t let them drink until they are 21, and they can’t sign contracts, vote or serve on juries until they are 18.  But there is one area in which we ignore teens’ youthfullness and impulsiveness:  our criminal laws.  The application of our laws often ignores the differences between adults and teens, and some youngsters are sentenced to life in prison without parole.  Despite urban legends to the contrary, this law has no exceptions:  A teen sentenced to life without parole will die in prison as an old man or woman.  No exceptions for good behavior, no exceptions period.  No hope.

You might expect that these LWOP sentences are limited to the “worst of the worst,” but that is not the case.  A young teen can be a bit player in a crime, e.g., act as a lookout while his buddies go in to steal beer from the convenience store…About 45 percent of the inmates serving LWOP for teenage crime were not the person who caused the death.  Yet they will die in prison of old age, with no chance for release.  But should these youngsters die in prison for something they did when they were so young?  Would it not be better to re-evaluate them after having served a long stretch in prison to consider whether they have matured and improved themselves?

“We are conservative Republicans, and we believe that some people are so dangerous that we must separate them from our communities. That is what prisons are for.  But sometimes we overuse our institutions.  California’s teen LWOP [law] is an overuse of incarceration.  It denies the reality that young people often change for the better.  And it denies hope to those sentenced under it.  Of course, not every young person going through the system turns his or her life around.  But would not it be better to at least consider whether these inmates have matured and improved themselves after a long prison stretch?” (As quoted by Newt Gingrich)

So in light of this what does this say about a person such as myself who has demonstrated that I have matured and changed my life for the better?  Where is the justice in that.  I think someone needs to call Newt and ask him about my situation.  Like hey Newt here is the perfect example that what you consider to be appropriate in terms of release for juvenile offenders of violent offense that have served a long stretch.  Why can’t I get out and I don’t even have life without parole?  I have life with parole. So if a person who has demonstrated this with a parolable sentence can not make parole how is a teen with a LWOP going to ever be given a second chance?  Makes you think and wonder.

I am appealing to those interested parties to send this out to your colleagues, families and friends, teachers, professors, advocates, law centers whoever may find interest in this to join me in finding out solid answers.  Answers that are needed that will hopefully help free me from prison,  sooner rather than later.  One this that has been proven is that longer sentences create a loss of ties with the family and community. How is it that at the time where I would be the most productive I could be denied the chance to go out and be productive?  Is it that they are holding my age against me? I am 37 now and will be 42 if I have to do this whole 5 years. What if they decide to set me off again 5 more years? Now I would be 47. What productive years do i have left in me? I just become a product of another system that tax the American public because now I become too old to compete in the work force. That is the system of welfare and subsidized ex-offender government programs.

Pass the word and get this message out. It is what this site is about, A voice from the inside. This is a voice that needs to be heard. This is a call to action to see that this voice gets heard and to challenge those powers that are trying to suppress it. Please send this and link this message to you loved ones, friends and colleagues. I want as many people to know of this and hopefully stand in support of me as I fight it. It is important that you sign up as followers so that you get the updates as they come.

My plan is to formulate a letter that can be used by all to send to the parole commissioner asking for a reconsideration and a reopening of my case. The more support that I have the louder the voice becomes. If you know of anyone that has access to any type of media outlet, contact them about this story.  Whether it is through another blog site, the associated press, or NPR, and so on.

In closing I want to say thank you all for you support and I hope that this message is heart felt and taken into consideration by all.  I will be sending out another letter along with the address to write to.  If there are any specific questions that you have for me that may help you come to a decision please feel free to voice them, no matter what they are.

Thanks all

“It was once said that the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering in to its prisons.”

When it come to corrections there are four major goals that are primarily used to achieve a reduction in crime and recidivism, these goals consist of:

1.Rehabilitation-which stresses the re-socialization or reformation of the offender through institutional or community programs.
2.Incapacitation-which seeks to reduce crime through the actual physical restraints of the convicted offender.
3. Deterrence- which refers to the notion that the punishment of the offender serves as an example to the rest of the society.
4. Retribution-which refers to the correctional policies that are predicated on two principals:
(a)individual responsibility
(b) proportionality, meaning a convicted offender deserves to be punished because they are responsible for committing a specific criminal violation, and that the punishment must be proportional to the severity of the offense committed.

If these are the goals of incarceration there are certain elements that must be considered, in order for these goals to be met.

1 If rehabilitation is the goal of incarceration sentencing polices must involve flexibility and the goal has to reflect the characteristics and needs of the “individual”offender.
2 If incapacitation is the goal of incarceration it is expected that the goal to reduce crime and recidivism is met but using a system of sentencing based on legislative’s or the courts desire to keep of the streets those offenders who might otherwise engage in criminal behavior off the streets.
3. If deterrence is the goal of incarceration it may cater more to the side of the public and society, as they seek means to inhibit criminal behavior through these exemplary sanctions, therefore making the needs of society precedent over the needs of the individual offender.
4. If retribution is the goal of incarceration it would require a relatively inflexible sentencing system and little discretion would be permitted at the sentencing stage.

Often times what is overlooked is that there are very few direct links to crime and incarceration. Other than the one who commits crime eventually is incarcerated. Crime is a result of, and depends on, social conditions such as poverty, underemployment and urbanization, Currently incarceration polices respond not to crime but to political climates and legislative intent. The get tough on crime model has not worked and has been proven to be ineffective in reducing recidivism. Actually, there has been an increase in crime, violence and homelessness each year since the war on drugs began, or what is commonly now called “the get tough on crime”, policies have been used to address this issue.

Statistics show:

Between the years 2010 and 2011 violent victimization increased from 4.9 million to 5.8 million, an 18% increase.
1. Assaults, which account for 86% of all violent victimizations increased by 22 %
2. Total domestic violence increased from 1.1 million to 1.4 million in 2011.
3. Domestic violence increased from 4.4 million in 2010 to 5.3 million in 2011, a 19% increase.
4. Intimate violence increased from 3.0 million in 2010 to 3.3 million in 2011, a 9 % increase.

Crime is equated with social disruption and its perpetrators are a threat to the dominant culture. The role of the criminal justice system and especially prisons, is to protect societies lawful and the values of society. So the mindset is that if rehabilitation doesn’t work there is a primarily reliance of incapacitation, deterrence and retribution, which has become a cause to the overcrowdedness that exists in prisons today. It has been proved that incapatictaion, deterrence and retribution has not reduced criminality or recidivism, often most prisoners will leave prison in a worsened condition than when they entered.

What is recidivism and how is it defined?
*Recidivism is defined, by some, as the relapse of an individual into criminal activity based on re-arrest for new offenses that lead to incarceration.
What is Re-entry and how is it defined?
*Re-entry (often associated with recidivism) is the process of releasing prisoners into society , where plans for inmate’s transition, into society, are addressed. To help them develop the skills needed to live free of crime, to help them maximize the time they spend during incarceration and what its expected upon release.
So, if recidivism is associated with re-entry and it has been proven that incarceration doesn’t reduce recidivism nor protect the public, the question becomes, why is there an increasing flow of tax dollars in building more prisons when it could be used to developed more effective programs geared towards re-entry? one of the current strategies to reduce recidivism includes building more prisons and imposing harsher sentences, even though these methods have been proven to be ineffective. The sad reality is that tax payers are paying lager amounts of money to build more prisons rather than trying to find more effective and efficient ways to address this issue.

According to the Justice Mapping Center, www.justiceatlas.org.  “In Pennsylvania, taxpayers will spend over $40 million dollars to imprison residents of neighborhoods in a single zip code in Philadelphia, where %36 of the households have incomes under $25, 000.”   In an article that is posted on my blog, called the Million Dollar Block.   It speaks about places that spend more than a million dollars each year to incarcerate residents of a single block.  You can visit my site to read these articles.

The agencies that have changed the trend some and have seen bits of results in the area of reducing recidivism are the agencies that utilize what is called re-entry courts, which are working well and have had much success in reducing recidivism. Reentry courts consist of a system where the courts collaborate with probations and parole to accommodate some of the needs of the ex-offender.

A recidivism rate of two-third ( as of now the rate is 70%) clearly shows that something is amiss and some of the offenders are not being adequately prepared to return to society. This is often due the the lack of funding that is needed to develop the appropriate programs needed to better prepare and equip the offender.

10’s of thousands of Americans are released into the community from prison and jail every year and very few of them have the basic resources needed to stay out of prison. Sadly, often prison conditions make it easy for offenders to reoffend, as the basic necessities that most of them do not have out society they are provided in prison.

There is a need for access to services, including education, job training and job placement. There is also a need for substance and alcohol abuse treatment before and after release. Half of state prisoners and one-third of federal prisoners in 1997 reported committing their offenses while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Yet, among those who had used alcohol or drugs in the month before their crime, only %14 had received treatment since their admission into prison.
Many offenders have limited employment history and/or no experience needed to perform certain jobs. Some of these limitation are related to illiteracy as well as the lack of work training skills need to achieve self-sufficiency. Yet, few receive these services while in prison. Not necessary because they are not offered these skills but sometimes it is due to lack of enthusiasm.

How can this be addressed?

1. By redesigning the methods which are currently being used to address these issues.
2. Implementing and redesigning programs, as well as building facilities that specialize in the needs that are that are closely associated with crime and recidivism reduction.

The BOP has been looking for more ways to address some of these needs.  Here at this institution some of these steps include, but are not limited to:

1. Mock job fairs where one of the requirements is that the inmates learn how to write resumes and cover letters.

2. Partnerships with the local halfway houses and probation departments to speak to the guys about the realities of what to expect upon release.

3. The BOP also has an Inmate Employment Information Handbook that contains a list of the agencies and information that will be needed upon release.  This handbook is free and accessible to every BOP inmate.  Here at this institution we keep that information on hand and available to whoever wants it.  

4. A Career Resource Center where the inmates can gather information needed to obtain birth certificates, social security cards and other identification related information.  Information which is critical in gaining employment.  

One of the most important points that I want to make is how education is connected to the problem of recidivism. At least 70% of all people incarcerated have not completed high school. Out of this group %16 have not high school education at all. %40 are functionally illiterate, meaning that they read below or at the 5th grade level., %19 are completely illiterate. In the population of adults in America %21 are functionally illiterate and %4 are completely illiterate.

Studies show that education and recidivism are related because inmates with at lest two years of college education have a %10 re-arrest rate, while the national re-arrest is about %66. Despite the conclusive evidence the education has a direct link to crime, poverty, incarceration and recidivism education as a means of solution is often overlooked.

Education provides for employment, important to successful re-entry. There are two main systems in our society, Penal and Educational. When one fails the other takes its place. Those that adjust and do well in the educational system almost never find themselves in prison. Those that learn the importance of education while in prison almost never re-offend. Which is why furthering my education is so important to me, as well as advocating the importance of education on all levels, as a means to address these social issues that exist within our society.

Also attached to education is self worth and value, It is through education that one learns life skills, social and other proactive skills needed to stay connected to society. One also learns essential skills that will be essential to avoiding prison in the future. Lack of employment is one of the major reasons for committing crime. Lack of employment is often due to lack of education, in the communities that are more commonly associated with crime and low income.

It is through education that one learns their role in society. Many offender often return to communities that breed fragmentation and negative influences. Poverty  crime and ethnic disparity can create an imbalance in these communities therefore the community can no longer positively influence those that reside within it. The order of the day becomes survival. One begins to not only think this way but act out these roles as a means to survive. They begin to believe this is the role that they are supposed to play in life, as crime has now become a way of life for them. it is through education that this cycle is disrupted, and one learns to understand their roles in the greater society, and not just in one small destitute community.

(Would it be safe to say that what people learn in this community they practice in prison, and what they learn in prison they practice in the community?)

So that I am clear here let me go on the record as saying that it is important for those who have committed crimes to be punished, accordingly.  Therefore if incarceration is a reality of our society lets deal with the issue so that there becomes less of a need to use it in areas where it may not benefit and becomes more of a financial burden.

Along with the four goals of incarceration that are used today education has to be included as one of these goals. Not only does it have to be a component but the process of education has to start at an early age.

1. These components have to place a serious expectation, which members of the above communities can learn and benefit from education.

2. There has to be an upgrade tin the educational system at the early stages of development. Many people from these communities have been deemed unteachable and unlikely to learn. This is why of the when they enter into prisons they do not understand the value of education nor can they make the connections as to why it is important to have and education in order to remain free.

3. There has to be a broadening of opportunities and possibilities that are achieved through education. It is not enough to tell them, but to show that and continue to show them amd continue to reinforce the ideas, concepts and beliefs.

Although for some members of these communities going to prison is a given, and often considered normal, it is never too late to change. So as this stage the focus had to be on developing needs based programs, for the offender, specialized for their needs. These steps have to be taken earlier and also be workable and realistic. This plan has to focus on accountability, responsibility and be designed to set goals that will aid in the re-entry concerns that the offender must meet in order to remain free.

*The BOP has what is called an ISDS (Inmate System Development System) yet one of the concerns that I have with it is that the process of developing the plan can often come too late.  What do I mean?  The process in developing that plan needs to start at admission, at the very first jail that the inmate lands in.  It is often the case that this plan doesn’t start to develop until the inmate is sentenced and sent to their designated institution and often they have been exposed to other outside influences that may steer them away from starting the process of re-entry at an earlier point of their incarceration.  The earlier the better.

I strongly believe that investing in therapeutic learning communities and institutions, are a better investment of tax dollars, and would aid in addressing the needs that must be met to reintegrate into society. The intent and focus of these communities and program would be the acceptance of responsibility, restorative justice and meeting the educational and rehabilitation needs.

Without these programs and living conditions there is a higher chance that many offenders will fall victim to a certain type of prison socialization. The subculture that we call prison politics. It is a way of life that one has to adapt to in order to survive within the prison system. The subculture often breeds hostility, anger and resentment. Inmates often suffer extremes bouts of depression and anxiety. In some case there is a need to confine them to special housing units where they are locked down 23 hours a day depending on the time of year it could be for 24 hours at a time. I have experienced this type of solitary confinement many times during my incarceration. The SHU is used as a mechanism to modify inmates behavior. There are some of us who can withstand being locked down at lengths at a time, but there are more that can not withstand the hole. The longest time that I have done in the SHU at one time is 16 months.

These conditions and this subculture can deaden the emotions that are needed to be empathetic to the experiences of those who are harmed as a result of crime. Empathy is an important aspect in the process of change and transformation.

One of the programs that I helped to develop and facilitate here is a a program called “The New Beginnings Program”. It is a program that focus on many of the pre-incarceration issues which often lead to prison m as well as many of the post incarceration issues which often leads one back to prison. There are several components to The New Beginning Program some of them being:

1. Crime prevention – where the realities of crime and its roots are addressed. We discuss the importance of living a productive and responsible lifestyle, free of crime. Thorough increasing awareness of certain social behaviors and conditions that contribute to crime and violence.

2. we discuss thinking barriers and tactic use that complements the criminal personality. so it is here that we work on correcting think patterns.

3. we focus on substance and alcohol abuse awareness, as well as lifestyles that are equally addictive and dangerous.
4. we also have a mentoring and coaching component.

The New Beginnings Program is based on the concept that, if a person is willing to make the choice to change there are three concepts that can be applied to their lives for what we call transformation to work.  Those three concepts being:

1. Relationships – the developing of positive and productive relationships that nurture growth and development.  This is where coaching has been very effective.

2. Reframing – changing the way that one views life on a whole.

3. Repetition – getting into the practice of doing these things over and over again

The most important and critical component of this program is relationships, and the goal of this program is to stress the importance of building, mending and fostering healthy positive and productive relationships.

Another and very important program that is in the developmental stages is a program geared and focused towards preparing guys for the transition back into the family.  One of the most critical components in reducing recidivism is support, family in particular.  This is an area that is often overlooked.  How is the person going to be received back into the home?  What transitions and changes does the family have to make to accommodate the person back into their lives?  I know that there are many accommodations needed upon my release; the question now becomes is my family ready to meet the man who left a boy?

Another project that I am currently involved with is a project that I have going on with a Dr. Patrick Williams, founder of The Institute for Life Coach Training and co-author of the book Becoming a Professional Life Coach. What we are doing is finding ways to incorporate Life Coaching as a means of intervention in the area of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency. We are looking for organizations to network with and work with to achieve this goal.  This is something that is most important to me.  This is where I focus most of my attention and why I designed the RECONSTRUCT PROGRAM.  My focus is in the area of Juvenile Justice.  Please visit Coaching The Global Village to read more about this project.

I came to prison as a juvenile and I will tell you that they system has it all wrong when it comes to that area. I am not talking about juveniles being charged as adults but the treatment of juvenile and the expectations for them to act and think as adults once in the system.  So, my goal is to get involved with others that need first hand education on this issue.

One of the projects that I wanted to do was a project called the first 365. It is a documentary that recounts the first year after my release. How does a guy that came to prison a child and leaves a man after 20 plus years adjust to a new world. I can not imagine a world with computers while you can not imagine a world with out one!! So how is the re-entry process for a person such as this. This is something that I have, unsuccessfully, been trying to get others involved in, making and filming this documentary. If push come to shove I will do it on a I PHONE, because the message needs to get out there and people need to see it.

One of my future plans is to use my experiences, expertise and skills to work with wayward youth, which to me is the ultimate recidivism reducer.  Get them before they get here.  I really want to focus on the concept of relationships and Life Coaching.  I also intend to work in the field of re-entry and with ex-offenders.

In closing, I want to say that this is a societal issue that concerns us all and that to fix any of it requires that those who share the common goal of changing what exists today collaborate and work together to get the job done. These partnerships are essential in more ways than one.

As I get closer to coming home I ask myself, What makes me so different from the statistics that I just mentioned?  I ask myself who is really invested in, no only, my transition back into society, but also the transition of the other men that will be released from prison, who may have the same potentials that I have if not more.  I am fully confident that I have the tools to succeed, but what concerns me is not my capabilities but the willingness of others in extending the hand of opportunity needed in order to use the skills that I have to make a difference in a problem that will be just as much mine one day as it is yours now.  My goal and the question of what I am going to do becomes clear.  That is get out and become a citizen regardless if others are willing to help me along the way.  I am going to ask myself, Have I left something behind that is worthwhile, something productive?  Did I leave prison, making a difference and what have I done to become part of the solution?  The question now becomes what are you going to do?

Talib has partnered with Dr. Patrick Williams, MCC, BCC, the founder of the Institute for Life Coaching and Coaching the Global Village, to further develop his Reconstruct Program curriculum into a life coaching model for inmates and ex-offenders.  Please visit the Coaching the Global Village website to read more about this project and offer your support.

The Reconstruct Program

Project: Coaching the Global Village is forming a new partnership with Talib Mustafa Shakir’s Reconstruct Program. It is a program designed to introduce productive principles and provide realistic solutions to aid in the successful re-entry of current offenders back into society and provide coaching/mentoring for at-risk young adults. Read more about the life coaching vision for the Reconstruct Program

A life coaching program for ex-offenders

by Talib Mustafa Shakir

It all started with a vision.

reconstruct2Yes, just like most things in life it is usually a vision that sparks some of the most life changing moments in our lives. What was my vision?. It sounded outrageous until I explained the plan of execution. The vision was to develop a life coaching program for ex-offenders. To help them make better choices in designing their future.

Yes that got a few laughs. I mean we are talking about a profession that typically caters to executive and business leaders, so what and how is a person who has been engaging in anti-social behavior for so long going to benefit from coaching? “A lot!” was my response. Let me explain.

I can say this with confidence because I am an example of how Life Coaching has truly helped me change! I came to prison at a fairly young age, seventeen, and have spent 20 years (straight) behind prison walls. During this time I participated in many programs and none of them had been that effective, in the sense that they did not do anything to empower me to be successful out in society. It had been about recognizing the wrongs that I had done, and due to that focus it set barriers on life’s possibilities…. read more

School To Prison Pipeline

Meridian, Mississippi Sued By Federal Civil Rights Lawyers For Operating ‘School-To-Prison’ Pipeline

Federal civil rights lawyers have filed a lawsuit against Meridian, Mississippi and other defendants in which they accuse city officials of operating a “school-to-prison pipeline” that jails students days at a time for minor infractions, without a probable cause hearing.

Students are apprehended and arrested for such infractions as talking back to a teacher, being out of dress-code, or tardy to class.  The lawsuit says incarceration is used as a “medium for school discipline,”  Meridian is not the only place in the country operating this sort of system, but so far it is only county not completely compliant with federal investigations.

Many experts have attributed the school-to-prison pipeline to zero-tolerance policies— a holdover from the war on drugs — that punish all major and minor rule infractions equally, bringing police disproportionately into high-minority schools.