Quotes from prisoner testimony regarding Post-Conviction Review*
From members of the Concerned Lifers Organization and the Black Prisoners Caucus at WSR, Jan 28, 2019
* These excerpts are verbatim except that a few punctuation marks were added where necessary for understanding and a few spelling mistakes corrected
1. I was sentenced to Life Without Parole (LWOP) for a crime I committed when I was 19 years old. I’ve been in prison for 35 years. I can’t tell you what it would be like to have hope, because my circumstance has never allowed me to have it. But I can describe hopelessness.
LWOP is hopelessness. Every day you wonder how much closer you are to the end of your sentence. You can’t help it, because that’s a human being’s natural reaction to incarceration–to yearn to reach its end, no matter what it is. You learn to survive if you can, to exist, but it’s only a holding on, a dogged refusal to quit. It’s not because there’s a pathway in front of you down which you might walk in order to redeem yourself. At no point in this sentence are you allowed in any way to make up for the crime you committed as a young person–no matter how vast the difference between who you were at the time of the offense and what you do or make of yourself in the decades after. Nothing is in front of you except the end point of the sentence, all you were really sent to prison to do, to die here. With no point to work toward other than your own physical expiration, your will to live inverts, it turns in on itself. You feel as though you’re being crushed, as though you can’t draw in breath, as though you’re only pretending to still be alive.
Please pass a bill that would allow for sentence review so that I and others who’ve worked hard to reform ourselves can know what hope is.
2. On January 25th 2016, another prisoner attempted to murder corrections officer Terry Breedlove at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center. As officer Breedlove lay unconscious, the assailant repeatedly struck him with a large piece of steel. Myself and another prisoner named Lee Hamilton stopped the assailant and literally saved Breedlove’s life. No officers were around to help Mr. Breedlove, and if not for myself and Hamilton, he would have died.
Why is this relevant to the discussion of a review process? Both Lee Hamilton and myself were sentenced to Life Without Parole.
3. I was arrested at 18 years of age in 1991; I am now 46 years old and going into my 28th year in prison. … My current release date is 2049–which is way past my life expectancy. To say that I am the same man today that I was 28 years ago would be like saying the caterpillar is the same as the butterfly or the tadpole is the same as the frog. …
I am not afraid to die in prison–I have already had to accept that as a very real possibility. What I am afraid of is that I will die before I have ever had a chance to live. This bill is important to me for obvious reasons, but most importantly … because it will provide hope. And hope is like air–we need it to live.
4. Incarcerated 30 years as of 2019, 78 years old. Sentenced to LWOP for 2 homicides. I have incurable chronic lymphatic leukemia (CLU)–in remission for about 1 year with targeted chemotherapy; 3 heart stents in right coronary artery; replacement left hip implant; high blood pressure; hypothyroid condition, cataracts in both eyes. Chemotherapy alone retails at about $10,000 per month. Have not had a major infraction for 20 years and have never been put into IMU.
5. This bill will give a person like myself that was given a de facto life sentence at age 29 (64 years) a valuable opportunity to show the review board and society that I have changed. … Please don’t let where you find us define us.
6. My crime, first degree assault, under the SRA is 100 to 133 months. [Yet] I’m on my 37th year and a good time sentence of 50 years minimum. The constitution guarantees to be treated equal under the law. How can someone commit the same crime under the exact conditions and criminal history serve 9 years and the other 37 years and counting?
7.I have been in prison almost 20 years on a 25-year mandatory sentence for first degree murder. I came to prison at the age of 19 and turned myself in on this murder. I am not eligible for any good time. In March of 2018 I went to a clemency hearing. I was given a recommendation of 4-0 for a grant, but in December I was denied by the governor because he said I had done nothing extraordinary. When I went to my hearing I had no opposition, even my prosecutor said I should be released, as well as my victim’s grandma…. As a first time offender, I believe that there should be opportunities for second chances.
Richard Eugene Tullis
8. My family and community has witnessed my transformation and has since forgiven me and now desires to see me come home and contribute positively to my Hilltop community after causing so much destruction. I owe them the opportunity to reconcile in person, not by wasting away in prison.
Vincent J. Sherrill
9. I am a 67-year-old, old-guidelines prisoner who entered the DOC as a juvenile in 1970. With 48.7 years of incarceration, I have witnessed the pendulum of WA-DOC policy swing extremely in both directions. …Many of us are hopeful that this bill will lead the pathway to a new SRA. When the SRA was enacted, it served to burn away many of the positive elements created by Gov. Evans and Dr. Conte.
10. I am 3½ years into a 32½-year sentence. The opportunity to get in front of a post conviction review board would dramatically change the lives of everyone it affects by giving them hope. … A real change occurs in prison for any people after a decade or more of incarceration, and to continue to ignore real and positive changes in behavior does a disservice to everyone involved.
11. [Serving 12½ years] All of the men in my life that have helped me reach the path of rehabilitation would be impacted by this bill. Most of them have been in long enough to make 15 years look like a drop in the bucket. They helped me have my “ah-ha” moment. They left a life of crime and decided or found that there was another option, another way to deal with all the trauma that we have been through in our entire lives. …
I just want anyone to not see us for our absolute worst moment in life, but see us for who we are entirely! A child, a son, a father, an uncle, a winner, and most important, a human being with all the potential in the world. Just give me a chance and I swear I won’t let you down!
12. The post conviction board would be good because it would give most prisoners a chance to get their act together while they are still incarcerated. It can be used as incentive so prisoners can have something to look forward to. Thank you!
13. I’ve been in prison for over 19 years and am set to be released in approximately 24 months…. I believe [this piece of legislation] is necessary in order to bring back hope into the lives of thousands and systemic change to a system that for the last 30+ years has focused on incapacitation. Creating a process for early release will incentivize change and shift the culture in prison, causing individuals to be more reflective and intentional about their transformation. I believe this will result in safer prisons and also safer people returning to the community.
14. In 2006 I was charged with second degree murder at the age of 16. I received 23 years as a result of being sentenced as an adult. I have served thus far close to 13 years. And today I am a completely different man. … But as long as I am incarcerated I can be of no service to anyone. Not to my family, not my community, not the world. I would like the state to make a positive investment in me by bringing in a suitable parole system so that I may take that investment and reinvest in making the world a better place.
15. Hope is more important than most people realize. Many of us have done things in our youth that we would NEVER do in our maturity. It is important to be able to eventually move beyond the worst things we have ever done and work toward becoming the sons, brothers, community members that we are capable of being. … This cannot happen if a person is thrown away like toxic waste… It is vital to be able to redeem oneself.
16. I have seen so many people who I know wouldn’t be much of a threat to society due to their ages alone, who will die in prison. Old men, who can barely stand up, let alone commit a violent crime of any significance. I’m not sure what the purpose or justification for this is, but it seems to me that once somebody can show that they are rehabilitated or no longer a threat to society, it’s difficult to justify not considering them for release.
17. I have been in prison for 15 years and acquired quite a few tools. Taking these skills to the streets would allow me to help mentor young men on a path of destruction and harm. This allows me a real chance to pay a debt to society. It would also allow me a chance to support my family. Everyone should receive a second chance if they put in the work. … Let’s change lives, let’s heal our communities.
18. [3-5 years left on 14-year sentence] I am in total support for this draft bill as it would give more people a chance to be a positive citizen in the community, as so many men and women have changed for the better through self-help programs. I just ask that the STG (security threat group) part get taken out of the bill as DOC’s current STG program is based on a lot of false information and there is no way to challenge that STG identity placed on prisoners.
19. I have been incarcerated since 1980, which is four years prior to the implementation of our current system. In my observation, the current system is toxic. It robs potentially outstanding citizens of any hope and relegates them to a human warehouse for long periods of time. It also releases people who have done nothing to address their rehabilitation…. Most of us committed our crimes between ages 17 and 25. At forty or fifty we are completely different people.
I believe this bill is important because everyone deserves a second chance in life. Although I am doing multiple life without parole sentences, …. I believe that other men deserve a second chance. I had my chance and I threw it away. I now facilitate programs to help others not make the same mistakes I have.
20. I’ve been in prison in WA State since the mid 80’s with virtually no hope for release; I changed my whole life anyway. Which has had the dual effect of making me happier about myself and my relationships with others, while dramatically increasing the pain felt by imprisonment and the loss of family and home. A bill that allows a review so that same objective measure of who I have come, and whether I should have a chance at being part of society, part of the world, a chance to rebuild relationships, and atone for what I’ve done and who I’ve hurt by my actions, means everything to me.
David John Lennon
21. Tomorrow, I begin serving my 24th year of incarceration. I was convicted of assault and burglary for a crime I committed 3 months after my 28th birthday. I was sentenced to serve 35½ years. I am sorry. And I am ready. I graduated with an AA degree last year. I finished school with a 3.89 GPA. I worked hard for that. And I’ll work hard upon release.
With this one stroke of the legislative pen, [post conviction review] would radically change the prison experience and paradigm. Recidivism will decrease and productivity will rise.
22. [Sentenced to 246 months at 18] Being given more time than you’ve lived is a shock to your system. It was to mine. Truly I felt my life was over…. I had to hope, I had no goals, I was following the footsteps of my parents who were both incarcerated in a Texas DOC facility. … My breaking point, my “click” moment was about 5 years into my sentence, when it hit me: “Man, you’re a father. Is this good enough for your son?” … I decided to be a better man for my son regardless if I was rewarded or not. My son was 3 months old when I came in, he’s now 12. I’ve not seen him. However I still live for him.
23. The proposed legislation to me personally represents life and the opportunity to repay just a little of the care and consideration my mother and father have given to me in the 30 years that I have been incarcerated. I realize that it was my actions that placed me here, but life without hope is cruel, and while I owe a debt, I hope that I can attempt to repay it more productively than solely by remaining here.
24. Although I am doing multiple life without parole sentences, … I still believe other men deserve a second chance. I had my chance and I threw it away. I now facilitate a program to help others not to make the same mistakes I did.
Questions: Contact Carol Estes, Prison Voice Washington, firstname.lastname@example.org