UPDATE: Due to Prop. 36 a revised Three Strikes law, inmate Santos Reyes was able to win his release on March 28, 2013 after, serving 15 years for cheating on a California driving test. He was immediately deported by ICE.
I had to move my 49er fan revolt material to its own site.
Believe it or not, it is part of my prison reform efforts but the amount of information I gathered demanded that I set up another site to contain what I have discovered.
I was 26-years-old when asked to teach Bible to teenaged felons housed at the San Francisco juvenile hall. Until then, I never knew sixteen-year-olds committed murder or rape. Particularly, these young men all looked so innocent or at the most, like a room full of candy thieves.
Teaching teenaged felons, with lives on hold due to youthful anger, ignorance and mistakes was a challenge and a lot of fun. The challenge was getting and keeping their attention. The fun was watching over time as if the words, “I get it”, lit up like a neon sign in the pupils of my delinquent pupils.
However, what made me a better volunteer counselor was a couple of neon “I get it” moments, I experienced, away from the facility.
One such moment, was the result of me witnessing a street fight where one man stabbed another. Blood, gushed out of the victim’s upper thigh as if it were water spewing from a fire hydrant. A quick thinking bystander immediately began first aid. However, the paramedics actually saved the victim partly because they kept feeling a very faint heartbeat; whispering, “Please don’t give up on me.”
I began to apply that analogy to the hardened hearts of the young felons I ministered; metaphorically, I became their paramedic. I checked their pulse by telling true stories from my own life’s experiences, which also enabled me to detect a spiritual pulse more easily. I even witnessed some, not openly, but secretly practicing what I preached; love, hope and respect towards one another.
My friends Mike and Greg contributed to another epiphany I had, which caused me to miss-out on one real special moment. I recall it was, “Monday Night Football!” I used “The Game” to talk myself into being too tired to volunteer; therefore, I stayed home to watch it.
Greg, a boxing fan, told Mike he was going to San Jose that same Monday to see Muhammad Ali. Apparently, that lit up a neon moment for Mike, who worked at the facility where I volunteered. He suggested tagging along with the intent of asking The Champ to take part in a video, aimed at encouraging the kids at the juvenile hall.
Now at the event, Mike and Greg waited patiently. Then one of them slipped Ali a note that read, “The Kids at the San Francisco juvenile hall could really use a lift.”
Ali, who was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, read the note. He then leaned over to his driver and said, “Get the car.”
They proceeded to follow Mike and Greg 40 miles back to San Francisco and up to the juvenile hall.
With video camera rolling, they all entered the building. Mike is shouting from behind his camera, “I got The Champ with me; I got The Champ with me!” Staff instantly turned into wide-eyed children themselves.
Ali was escorted up to each unit where he visited everyone. He shook hands with staff, encouraged all the kids including shadowboxing with some housed in my, maximum-security unit.
The following evening, several detainees shared with me their special moment. “Fresh Dan”, a 17-year-old award winning thespian, always put on an act. This night however, Dan was not acting; he put up his dukes and gave me a big neon smile, describing how he shadowboxed with The Volunteer Champ.
We as a nation have become so obsessed with enforcing “The rule of law” on average citizens that we are risking the possibility of squeezing the life out of justice.
Clemency is the most powerful tool in the criminal justice system, including the death penalty. Currently it is in the control of overworked judges and governor who are bound by the constraints of a bad law.
CALIFORNIA CONSTITUTION - ARTICLE 5
Executive clemency powers:
"SEC. 8. (a) Subject to application procedures provided by statute, the Governor, on conditions the Governor deems proper, may grant a reprieve, pardon, and commutation, after sentence, except in case of impeachment. The Governor shall report to the Legislature each reprieve, pardon, and commutation granted, stating the pertinent facts and the reasons for granting it. The Governor may not grant a pardon or commutation to a person twice convicted of a felony except on recommendation of the Supreme Court, 4 judges concurring."
During an April 2000 interview on “60 Minutes”, former California governor Grey Davis among other petty cases, justified a 25 year to life sentence for a man who stole a bike. The logic of Davis literally sent me into a trance and the next day I invented California Clemency Boards.
Today, I am excited because I see the time is right for many to catch my eleven-year-old vision. This vision of a new clemency process is clearer due to some sad actions, inactions and limitations of governors past and present.
Before leaving office, former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger granted a sentence commutation to the son of a political ally. In a plea deal for stabbing two people, Esteban Nunez was sentenced to 16 years for his crime. Schwarzenegger then used his power as governor to cut that sentence down to 7 years. The reason for this action, Schwarzenegger sarcastically replied “Hello to help a friend” (Fabian Nunez former California Assembly Speaker).
Patricia Wright, blind, diabetic, and terminally ill with cancer, is also bound to a wheelchair and wears a diaper. Governor Jerry Brown, aware of her case of conspiracy to the murder of her ex-husband agreed to grant her clemency. However, current clemency laws prevents any governor from using his or her commonsense, compassion and understanding of state prison rising cost, to grant this dying prisoner clemency.
If former governor Schwarzenegger was allowed to used clemency powers to help a friend and current governor Jerry Brown is prevented from using his commonsense, to grant clemency to a dying woman, then the clemency law in California is broken beyond repair?
Instead of giving in to the temptation of correcting this problem by trying to repair it by giving more power to the governor, I suggest we go in the opposite direction. This constitutional amendment would take the power away from the governor and give that power to average citizens (pre-screened).
Five commonsense thinking citizens sitting on their county clemency board would have the power to weigh the facts of a request for clemency from qualified inmates. Instead of the state forcing local authorities to take whomever they will send back to the county under the new “Realignment” law, local residences would take on that responsibility.
This new process would streamline the clemency process in a way that is 21 century humane, saves billions of tax dollars and offer a renewed focus on rehabilitation.
To ease prison overcrowding, we could also offer qualified nonviolent inmates an excellent opportunity with the incentive of earning a presidential type pardon if that individual does not re-offend over an established period. This incentive alone could end up saving billions in incarceration cost over the next decade.
Finally, I learned from FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) that in the state of Florida, Todd Hannigan is serving a 15-year prison sentence as the result of trying to commit suicide. My new clemency system model could be modified to work in any state and help free a man like Hannigan from out-dated thinking, which is one of many states that use punishment as a form or correction and rehabilitation.
Click on "My proposed idea" at the top of this page to view the proposed constitutional amendment.
California Governor Jerry Brown’s plan, to send nonviolent prisoners back to county jails under a new law is, akin to Santa giving gifts to Satan.
This new law AB-109, also known as “Realignment”, reclassifies certain nonviolent, non-serious and some sex offense felonies; allowing the convicted to serve time in a county jail, home detention or probation, instead of prison.
I am all for releasing people who do not belong in prison. However, if we continue to treat men and women who commit crimes like animals on a leach, with unfair laws that create more envy then solution to recidivism, then we will never release the right prisoner.
With public safety in mind, lawmakers have followed up the Three Strikes law that voters approved in 1994 with their own version of an unsafe and ill-conceived law. AB-109 signed by Gov. Brown to meet a federal court order to reduce California ’s prison population might satisfy a court order but offers hope to some undeserving inmates in the name of “Public safety.”
Before AB-109 became law, the situation with current California prisoners Michael James a black inmate and Michael Schneider a white inmate was this:
1994 case: Michael James is serving a 25 to life sentence under “Three Strikes” for passing a bad check at an Alpha Beta store for $94.00.
2008 case: Michael Schneider is serving a 28 year 4 month sentence for “Running a fraudulent real estate investments scam/Ponzi schemes for over 14 years; wherein he stole over $43,000,000 from over 57 investors, many of whom were elderly and lost their lifesaving.” He pleaded no contest to 173 felony counts (including residential burglary, builder financial abuse, embezzlement, grand theft and forgery). Unbelievably, these two men will serve the same amount of time behind bars. James must serve a minimum of 25 years while Schneider could be release after serving only 24 years. But wait!
Michael Schneider a Ponzi schemer is also labeled under AB-109 as an “N3” type offender: 1. Nonviolent 2 Non-serious 3 Not a sex offender, even though he stole $43 million. Under this new law, N3 convicted candidates are best suited to avoid prison time as of October 1, 2011. James is a petty thief but also has the label of, “Three Strikes” offender.
Schneider is not the type of prisoner to start prison riots or hunger strikes which is what a fearful public would preferred back in their community over the typical imagine of your average criminal. Nevertheless, it appears that fear is passing so many laws, that commonsense can be heard shouting “Enough already!”
Lawmakers have made it clear that, no inmate would be released from state prison to the street under AB-109. However, anyone who believes that none these prisoners will be set free considering the extra burden placed on the counties, probably also believes, there is a Santa Claus.
In all fairness, lawmakers, in fear of being labeled, soft on crime, should share the blame of creating a bad law with all Californians. On the other hand, nonviolent Wall Street type criminals currently serving time in California prisons are receiving a share of AB-109 as the state’s largest Christmas gift.
Prison officials are working around the clock with teams of mental heath, rehabilitation, probation and other agencies of the state to find those best suited for release to county control. However, in the process, they have to pass up on more than 8,000 second and third strikers who pose a lesser threat to public safety.
“Matt Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, who referred to “Brown's plan” as the solution to comply with the court order, tells me Cate is, more interested in keeping his job then releasing an undeserving individual from prison, while more deserving prisoners, many black, rot in prison for petty crimes.
With the tool of AB-109 to assist and a computer program assessment already in use to release inmates, many undeserving individuals, will move to the front of the line for release.
California’s Three Strikes law is being treated as if it is not guilty of, contributing to the large number of truly nonviolent inmates being responsible for prison overcrowding. Second and third strikers are not eligible for early release under the new law.
The simple reason is that in creating AB-109 it unjustly and intentionally disqualified these inmates simply because of the label “Career criminal” associated with the Three Strikes law.
Governor Jerry Brown, the California legislature and prison Secretary Matthew Cate, should be forced to answer to the fact that a white nonviolent prisoner who schemed $43 million would be a safer release over a black nonviolent prisoner who stole $94.00.
In addition, we should all demand that California lawmakers who designed AB-109 to help ease prison overcrowding by a federal demand, be amended. This law must allow many of the 8,000 nonviolent non-serious and non-sex offenders who are also “N3” types be considered for transfer to the county level.
Contact the governor’s office today: Governor Jerry Brown c/o State Capital, Suite 1173 Sacramento , CA 95814 Phone: (916) 445-2841