How much do we believe in human redemption?

David Hall is a reformed prisoner currently at Airway Heights Corrections Center. He is a humble, respectful, advocate for criminal justice reform and endeavors to support all respective organizations and post blogs on restorative justice and reform. This year, he received his Associates Degree in Business, and currently works as a teacher's aide in the Business Occupations program for Spokane Comm.Coll. at AHCC, prison campus. He also serves as a Student Representative for AHCC, and is a Cultural Committee member for Afro American cultural events and activities.

-

HOW MUCH DO WE BELIEVE IN HUMAN REDEMPTION?

The Criminal Justice Reform Movement starts "in the jails and prisons." Reformed prisoners, by demonstrating their capability for rehabilitation, gives our community advocates inspiration to devote their support for human redemption. While there are correctional programs designed to change offender behavior with an objective to curb repeat offenses, (like providing prisoners with skilled-jobs, basic education, chemical dependency therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy), they fall short on "developing the necessary soft skills" for prisoners that are rehabilitative and restorative justice based. However, community organizations pick up that slack. There are thousands across the nation, committed to advocating for criminal justice reform, incorporating restorative justice principles, and help prisoners upon their release with reentry resources. And yet, the voters are uncertain. And, legislators have stalled and been unable to reach an agreement among themselves to enact laws and administrative policies to facilitate reform and restorative justice. This is due to an existing "billionaire interest" of those who invest in the jails, prisons, and bail for profit, which has undermined the efforts of the entire criminal justice reform movement. By allowing this billionaire interest to take such precedence, it shows, as a community, how much we really believe in human redemption.

Restorative Justice, is one aspect of criminal justice reform. Restorative justice is a theory that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior.  It focuses on mediation and community building to provide a better understanding of how both the victim and offender were truly impacted by the incident.  Community advocates of restorative justice can organize a meeting between the victim, offender, and/or other harmed community members to address all of the harms and have each party member decide together how to hold the offender accountable and restore the community  again.  There is a need for these community advocates and/or organizations to facilitate and conduct these victim-offender meetings in our state/federal jails and prisons. A community advocate or appropriate correctional staff member (like victim advocates) can act as a surrogate-victim if necessary, for the purpose of these meetings. (In Washington, there is generally a no-contact court order for life or certain period of time between the victim and offender. However, that judgment may be modified for the purpose of restorative justice). CNN's "Redemption Project" show, hosted by Van Jones, gives a remarkable insight on how these meetings are conducted.

Tramaine Miles, 58, a prisoner currently at Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC) in Washington state, is a 3-strikes offender who had been sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) for a shoplifting incident at a department store in 2007 that elevated into First Degree Robbery. Miles explained his story:

"At the time of the incident, I struggled with a serious drug addiction. I did not get an opportunity to undergo drug treatment. So I intended on stealing clothes from the department store to support my drug habit. I didn't understand the gravity of my consequences at that time. Although no one was harmed physically and the dollar amount of the items I took was less than $50, I sincerely understand I emotionally harmed the victims. Now I'm serving a life sentence and unable to be involved in my children's and granchildren's lives."

Miles further explained that if given the opportunity to meet with the department store staff, he wish to hold himself accountable, apologize, and explain his version of the incident. Here, presents an opportunity for community advocates to get involved.

John Lettellier, 66, military veteran, is another 3-strikes offender sentenced to LWOP for a strong-arm robbery (no weapon involved) at a sandwich shop back in 1999. Lettellier explained that, at the time of the incident, his girlfriend died of cancer. He became depressed and went on a drinking binge. He lost all of his property, valuables, and ran out of money. He initially sought a VA-program for help but their assistance became only available weeks later. But he needed a motel or place of shelter urgently at that time, and thereby committed strong-arm robbery. He obtained less than $100. Lettellier explained:

'The word REDEMPTION is a tricky word. It means to  restore something that was once whole. But I've always been a broken human being. In my case, I need to go beyond 'redeemed.' If I ever could meet with the owners and the clerk of that sandwich shop, I would inform them that throughout the decades of my incarceration I've taken many programs to reflect and improve my thinking and behavior. I want them to know I choose to hold myself fully accountable but accept a 'fair sentence.'  No one should ever have to go through what that clerk went through that day. Many people who cause an incident say 'sorry' out of rhetoric. But I choose to not ask for forgiveness, per se. Rather, I have joined self-help organizations like AA, NA, and became a prestigious member of a Chess Club as a way of showing that I will never become intoxicated nor commit crime again. I don't know what else is best for me to do, but in the interest of those whom I had harmed, I'm willing to do anything that will restore their peace of mind and heart, whole again.'

 

Lettellier has been a reformed prisoner for several years, and with the help of community advocates of restorative justice, his accountability and sincerity for the victim's well-being can be merited in lieu of an unfair 3-strikes sentence to life.

Miles and Lettellier are two among thousands of prisoners who have changed their lives completely. Most are not LWOP-offenders. Some reformed prisoners even made stellar achievements by either advancing their education on a collegiate level, prison-employment, or contributed remarkable volunteer duties. Looking at their accomplishments now and how they have reformed would make it very difficult to imagine that they ever committed. One reason associated with their reformed maturity is that, generally, people grow older as their brains reach the adult stage. "The middle-aged mind preserves many of its youthful skills and even develops some new strengths," Melissa L. Phillips wrote in her article, "THE MIND AT MIDLIFE," (2011). "Research suggest, for example, the middle-aged mind is calmer, less neurotic, and better able to sort through social situations. Some middle-agers have improved cognitive abilities." 

But the "tough on crime approach" of our criminal justice system overshadows prisoners' human redemption. Sentencing laws have removed the judges' discretion to modify or reduce harsh penalties, like sentence enhancements and mandatory minimums. One particular consequence of these harsh penalties is that it makes human redemption a "disincentive." Prisoners will become "institutionalized" and won't even endeavor a reformed, behavioral change if they are mandated for release from prison beyond their productive living years. Please understand that this will serve as an injustice to our community. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," said Martin Luther King, Jr. 

In Washington state, the legislature introduced a bill in early-2019 that would create an executive board to reexamine a prisoner's reformed status by the 15th year of his or her incarceration, but was unsuccessful. Section 1 of "Senate Bill 5819" stated that "the Legislature affirms research in cognitive development have given us the necessary information to TRUST rehabilitation, hope, and effective programming," whereby many offenders are able to "fully" rehabilitate. The bill further stated that the legislature finds that "offender rehabilitation may occur 'prior' to the end of a lengthy sentence " and, "...in certain cases, incarceration well beyond rehabilitation may NOT further the goal of addressing public safety and providing effective rehabilitation." However, the respective legislators voted to NOT PASS this bill. But why? The legislature seem to understand that there is a need for such reform. Could the legislators not reach an agreement to pass, or is there a "billionaire interest" undermining the entire effort? Surely, had the legislators enacted this bill, they would have shown that they sincerely believe in Human Redemption.

And therefore, more Community support in reform is needed. More effort is also needed. Reformed prisoners are now realizing that there are community advocates who campaign for criminal justice reform and promote restorative justice principles because these advocates believe in their redemption. As a reformed prisoner myself, I believed that the entire Movement "starts in here." My incarceration presents a "special opportunity" to work with community advocates and organizations, and respectively advance their efforts and objectives from inside the prisons. Reformed prisoners and community advocates can work together on submitting proposals to correctional superintendents or administrators to implement programs based on restorative justice or at least incorporate its principles in existing therapies. Brian Stevenson, Director of "Equal Justice Initiative," said in his interview on CNN's Van Jones-show, "If you care about criminal justice reform, you have to visit the jails and prisons and hear their story." PLEASE REACH OUT AND GET INVOLVED!!

And then finally, the Community will show our Legislature its support for Human Redemption has outweighed the billionaire interest in our jails, bail, and prisons."
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
David D. Hall, ("D.Hall"), is a reformed prisoner currently at Airway Heights Corrections Center. This year, he received his Associates Degree in Business, and currently works as a teacher's aide in the Business Occupations program for Spokane Comm.Coll. at AHCC, prison campus. He also serves as a Student Representative for AHCC, and is a Cultural Committee member for Afro American cultural events and activities. D.Hall is a humble, respectful, advocate for criminal justice reform and endeavors to support all respective organizations and post blogs on restorative justice and reform. Please write him your questions and comments, or simply send your support at either of the following: "David D. Hall, DOC# 887360 Unit R-A-31 AHCC, P.O.Box 2049, Airway Heights, WA, 99001 "