As the race for DC’s Mayoral elections draw near the end things are getting tense. The candidates are out highlighting their points, and making their promises. There is talk of education reform, which is great, the legalization of marijuana, the promise of cleaning up, and addressing issues of abuse within the police force, addressing the need to deal with the poverty and housing issue in DC, gay marriages, and gun laws that will allow DC residents to carry concealed weapons. All hot and controversial topics.
As I try to keep track of the events happening in DC there is an issue that I don’t “ever” hear mentioned. That would be the issue of DC’s prisoners, who are DC’s “forgotten residents”, caught up in the web of Federal Prisons. Those men and women held in prisons far way from home, who do not receive any of the benefits of the new sentencing reforms, imposed by the federal government, who do not get extra halfway house time for completion of the drug program, while federal prisoners get a year off their sentences and extra half-way house time, and most importantly those who are dealt with harshly by The United States Parole Commissioner, who acts on behalf of The DC Parole Board.
What many of the new DC residents may not know, and some of the candidates running for mayor have forgotten, is the DC they have come to know and love has not always been this way. It has not always been a diverse and progressive city, where outsiders are welcomed. In fact many outsiders used to fear coming to DC for fear of being affected by the crime and violence taking place in DC during those times.
During the years between the mid 1980’s to the mid 1990’s DC suffered greatly, and was a city in turmoil. There was a time when crack and sex was sold in McArthur Park, right across the street from the White House. DC was the murder capital of the United States, averaging over 300 murders a year, for consecutive years. The now Head Commissioner of the United States Parole Commission, Isaac Fulwood, was the then Chief of Police. How ironic is that. That the very person that was responsible for the arrest of many DC residents, currently locked up, happens to be the very same person who oversees their release, something he is not willing to do, easily. Talk about a conflict of interest.
There was a time, in DC, where groups of neighborhood residents, The Orange Hats, took to the streets, as neighborhood vigilantes, with walkie-talkies, trying to make citizens arrest in order to take back the streets of DC. Curfews were imposed and DC, once know as The Chocolate City (DC’s unofficial nickname) became known as “The City Under Siege.” Many DC residents were sent to the infamous Lorton Reformatory to serve long sentences for crimes committed during this era of DC’s history.
I was sent to Lorton at the age of 17 in the year 1993 for a term of 20 years to life, and I now sit in federal prison (never having been released from prison) at the age of 39 because the parole board refuse to grant parole. A parole board that imposes a federal standard to prisoners that are not federal prisoners. The courts have ruled against such act, but the Parole Commissioners continue to make parole decisions, for DC prisoners that are eligible for parole, using the same standards they hold federal prisoners to. News flash!!! We are not federal prisoners!! We are DC inmates!
Despite all the events happening in DC, during this time, the Mayor of that time, who many can find fault in, made it his business to come to the facilities and inquire about the conditions of the prison, and the prisoners. He made it easy for guys, who were released, to find jobs in DC. He made us feel as if, despite the fact of being locked up, we were still DC residents, and part of DC’s infrastructure. Unfortunately, that cannot be said of today’s candidates. Whether they be those that run for Mayor or other DC council seats. DC prisoners have truly become DC’s “forgotten residents.”
The implementation of the “Revitalization Act” changed DC forever, for the better and the worse. It made it so DC residents could enjoy the now popular places DC is currently known for. The new China-Town, H Street, U Street, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, Petworth, Shaw, and all the other places people move to, or visit, DC to be part of.
I recall seeing a picture of Ben’s Chili Bowl in the Washington Post, when Obama was elected President, and thought I was looking at a picture of “Hard Rock Cafe.” Ben’s Chili Bowl, although always a decent place to eat, was a greasy spoon joint. One of the places that did not burn during the 1968 riots. A place many would go to escape the cold winter night, and warm up with a bowl of chili. Ben’s Chili Bowl is, and will forever be a part of DC. Just not the same way I, and others, remember it to be.
The “Revitalization Act” made it so whites and other nationalities could move into the DC and feel safe. DC was a city no one wanted any association with; a city that sent the Mayor to prison for sex and drug crimes. A city that was the laughingstock and butt to many late night pundit jokes. DC has now become the city where many of those same people can walk their dogs throughout Northeast, late at night without fear, and who now enjoy an expanded Capital Hill.
The “Revitalization Act” opened up the doors for outside investors to come and build, which offered more jobs to DC residents, new hospitals, condos and town houses were built, albeit at the expense of the poor. The poor who no longer could go to DC General, and get free medical attention when they fell ill. Who could not afford the prices of rent for the new condos that replaced the projects they once lived in. Charter Schools were introduced and school zones were redrawn. All in all, even at the cost of some of DC’s poorer residents, things began to look better for DC. Everything is new and improved, but no one has yet talked about or fixed the other problem… DC’s “forgotten residents”, those incarcerated in federal prisons.
Where Lorton Reformatory was located 35 minutes from DC, now the closest federal prison is 2 hours and 45 minutes from DC. There are DC prisoners housed in places as far as Atwater, California. There are a few hundred DC inmates housed on the other side of the United States.
At least while housed in Lorton DC, a place close to home, prisoners were made to feel as if they still belonged to DC. The price of communication was 6 cent a minute for a 15 minute phone call. That price is now $2.75 in federal prison. Most guys don’t make enough to pay for those calls, let alone try to help schedule a visit to a place far from home.
DC prisoners also do not receive any benefits federal prisoners receive for the completion of programs. We do not get the 1 year off for the completion of the drug program, we do not get extra half-way house time, we do not benefit from the Second Chance Act. What is the purpose of DC residents being held in federal prisons? What is to gain and who benefits? Surely, DC prisoners don’t.
There was a time when a DC prisoner housed in Lorton could drop his custody level and join a work release program, where they would go to work in DC in the morning and return to the prison at night. There was a time when the incentive based sentencing guidelines would allow for up to 75 extra good days for the completion of programs. There was a time where UDC had a satellite campus in the prison, and DC inmates would attend college and earn degrees. Degrees they would return to DC with, and use to help rebuild the DC communities. The DC Parole Board was lenient and fair, when following the guidelines for release, now it has become a weapon of enforcing punishment where punishment is not needed.
DC prisoners, the “forgotten residents” of DC, are treated harsher than any other prisoners, across the board. They are sentenced to longer terms of incarceration, for the same offenses committed in other states. They are violated for technical parole violations more than other parole violators, in other states. They are sent back to prison for these same violations, more than any other parole violators, in other states. The question must be asked, and answered, what has and what will become of DC prisoners? Those “forgotten DC residents.”
When it comes to DC prisoners no one speaks up, or out. Are we not residents of DC that deserve a voice? Do the concerns of our loved ones become obsolete and dismissed due to our incarceration?
There is a term used in DC, “Returning Citizens”, I assume is supposed to make things better for DC prisoners coming home, to help de-stigmatize “ex-offender.” That is fine and dandy, but did I lose my DC citizenship when I was incarcerated? I had it while in Lorton, but it seems I have now lost it.
No one campaigns for those “forgotten residents” of DC, therefore, many of these prisoners are lost in a system that does not care what happens to them. As far as it is concerned “we” are not “their” problem. If that is the case we become “your” problem. It has been said the feds only job is to house us.
We are long time residents of DC and have as much right to DC and what it offers as a person coming in from another city, to set up shop and begin a new life. I don’t fault those coming in from other cities to relocate but they should know of the plight of DC and what others endured, and continue to endure, throughout the years. They need to hear the stories of those long time residents who have sons and daughters behind bars, who are raising the children of their children. To hear the stories of what took place for DC to become the city they call home.
When they enacted the “Revitalization Act” DC prisoners were sold to the lowest bidder, those agencies who could house for the cheapest price. These “forgotten residents” were not part of the bigger plan to make the city a better place. That has to change. DC’s “forgotten residents” need to have a voice, and their needs have to be heard and attended to, in order to become “Returning Citizens” upon release. It has to be understood that we do in fact matter, and play a critical role in DC politics.
Whatever new plan the new Mayor has for DC, it has to include a plan for those forgotten residents. Someone has to speak for us, or at the very least hear our concerns, and the concerns of our loved ones. Not just hear these concerns but respond to them as well. It would best serve the interest of those who look forward to a future in DC politics. Why?
DC is one of the few places where ex-offenders can obtain and have their voter’s rights re-instated. Mayor Barry knew this and played it well. These “forgotten residents” have the same voter’s rights as any other DC resident. They can gather the support and votes from family members, to support the candidate, who will support the cause of the incarcerated. Someone that will help draw their families closer.
As Returned Citizens these “forgotten residents” may be what stands in the way of one becoming Mayor, or not, of DC, or City Council. Whether they go, or not, to vote, or whether they encourage, or not, others to vote could make a big difference in DC’s Mayoral elections.
I hope that, in the near future, someone begins to notice that there are DC residents who are forgotten about. That they realize that we are part of DC’s infrastructure, and need as much support and assistance as other DC residents.
I hope to shed light on a serious and overlooked issue. I hope to catch the attention of those, who claim to be concerned in the future of DC. We, the “forgotten DC residents” are part of that future, our family and love ones are part of that future.
As you attend these town hall meetings and pose questions to candidates ask them what is their plan to address the needs of those “other” DC residents. DC’s prisoners. Ask them if they even have a plan to address this concern.
Working together change can happen. It does not matter if you’ve lived in DC from the time U Street and H street where streets lined with boarded up, and condemned buildings; buildings that remained boarded up from 1968 to 2000, 32 years these streets produce very little income for DC residents. Or if you just moved here and now enjoy the bars, clubs, cafes, and stores that these same streets offer DC residents. Or if you can remember when only a few subways traveled through DC. Or you now safely travel as far out as Dulles airport.
It does not matter your race, color, creed, or sexual orientation, we have something in common. We are residents of DC and we all share similar concerns. The betterment of DC, on a whole. As a long time DC resident that has been “forgotten”, I ask that you remember us, and speak for us, too.