Finally Headed Home

Jason Hernandez says he is still shaking from the news that he will be released from prison in five years. Yesterday, his life without parole sentence was commuted to 20 years.

Before yesterday, President Obama had received over 8,700 commutation requests from federal prisoners and granted only one, to a terminally ill woman suffering from leukemia. She died at home in October. Now, eight more people will have the chance to reunite with their families after the President commuted their excessively long sentences.

Jason said waiting to die behind bars for his crime of dealing drugs for a five-year period starting when he was 15 is like "looking at the world through the eyes of a dead man." He would spend his time "imagining all the things [he'd] love to do, and things [he'd] do differently if only [he] could get a second chance at life." He'll finally have that second chance.

Stephanie George's lawyers told me yesterday that Stephanie was so overjoyed and shocked she literally could not form words when they told her that she will be released by April. A single mom of three, Stephanie was sentenced to life without parole for drugs her ex-boyfriend had stored in a lockbox in her attic. The commutation came as the best possible birthday gift for her daughter, Kendra, who has desperately missed her mom for the past 16 years. Stephanie told me months ago, "I pray and ask God to keep [my children] safe until I can get there and help them out." She will now be reunited with her children and grandchildren outside prison walls.

Reynolds Wintersmith entered prison as a 20-year-old to serve life without the possibility of parole for his one-year involvement in a drug ring as a street dealer starting when he was 17. An older prisoner told him that he could treat prison as a college where he would learn and grow, or as his grave where he would die. Because of his unnecessarily extreme sentence, prison for Reynolds—like thousands of others—was to be both the place where he gained an education and the place where he would die. But this changed yesterday. After serving nearly 20 years in prison—half his life—for his first conviction, Reynolds will now have the opportunity to reunite with his daughter Chonte' and pursue his dreams of teaching and counseling other young men to avoid the path that took him to prison.

But the eight Americans who were commuted yesterday are not alone: there are thousands more serving excessively long sentences. Over 2,000 federal prisoners have been sentenced to grow old and die in prison for nonviolent drug and property crimes. And the number is going up: we know of three people who were sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent federal drug crimes last week alone. Without presidential commutation, the only way these people will leave prison is in a coffin. And those commuted yesterday were just eight of the around 8,800 people who are still serving unjust mandatory sentences under a decades-old law that mandated sentences for offenses involving crack cocaine that are 100 times longer than for offenses involving the same amount of powder cocaine.

Yesterday's grant of commutations by President Obama is one important step toward undoing the damage that extreme sentencing has done to so many in our criminal justice system. But it must not be the last. The ACLU hopes the President will grant even more commutations, but only Congress can prevent the need for commutations going forward. This is because the sentencing laws themselves are the problem. President Obama announced yesterday that in the New Year, lawmakers should act on the kinds of bipartisan sentencing reform measures already working their way through Congress such as the Smarter Sentencing Act. Extreme, one-size-fits-all sentencing has caused our federal prison population to balloon out of control, and as a result federal prison costs to have soared to $7.9 billion this year alone. We need systemic reform like the Smarter Sentencing Act to fix America's problem of extreme, costly, illogical sentences.

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V.Mclean

The prison industrial complex and culture of mass incarceration is a looming threat hanging over the heads of all Americans. This threat has captured the attention of organizations such as the ACLU and the NAACP, amongst others because of human rights violations. For profit or private prison undermine an already broken justice system making things worst. Slavery was akin to for-profit prisons and the motives of greed are all too common. Slavery is wrong and we as humans understand why. The prison industrial complex seems to be immune to respecting human rights under the pretense of breaking the law. Just because its law doesn’t mean its right, which is one thing we have to remember. No law should suppress a since of goodness and morality; sacrifices are made to correct or do away with such things. Let us remember our past and the pain and understand to revisit it, will result in the destruction of ourselves no matter what colorful spin you put on it.

Would we accept slavery again? Most would say no, some would say yes. Those that say no, have bought into the belief that such practice could never revisit America and we have become moral beacons of the earth but some would be surprised to know that as stated by the ACLU that “there are more African-American adults that are under correctional control than were enslaved in 1850 before the civil war” (as quoted in the ACLU NATIONAL PRISON PROJECT, 2013). A system that has grown by 700% from 1970-2005 is problematic. The numbers are ridiculous as they don’t even keep pace with crime or population growth. The fact is capitalism hangs and waits for anybody it can catch in its web of greed. Many years ago the thought of free labor and untold potential riches fueled slavery, many justification were concocted to keep that institution running like a well oiled machine.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, this is sound physics, so what is the opposite action of capitalism? The answer is greed, which when unchecked can result in situations like the recession that hit the USA, when institutions were pretending to have more cash then they possessed and a few players knew everybody else’s “cards”. Unfortunately capitalism works well in making a creative society, so this is why it works here in America. Responsible capitalism is the key. Many hold the private sector to be the Holy Grail for a perfect society but nothing can be further from the truth. Fact is, when your bottom line is the only concern, people inherently protect their interest. The private sector can’t fix all of society’s problems. Let’s take the food industry, it’s heavily subsidized which is a form of controlled communism, it’s not really a free market. The US realizes that food can’t totally be put in the private sector, it just would not work. Because the U.S. has such subsidies we have surpluses of food and prices are relatively affordable for some. The government is capable of responsible policies but they also can make things seem very cumbersome as well. When put under the microscope of true justice, private prisons look ugly, real ugly.

References

ACLU. (2013). The Private Prison Debate Challenge. Retrieved from
https://www.aclu.org/blog/prisoners-rights/aclu-v-cca-private-prison-deb...

Takei, C. (2013). Kanye West, "New Slaves" and a Long Tradition of Locking People Up for Profit. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/blog/prisoners-rights-racial-justice/kanye-west-new...

V.M.

Would we accept slavery again? Most would say no, some would say yes. Those that say no, have bought into the belief that such practice could never revisit America and we have become moral beacons of the earth but some would be surprised to know that as stated by the ACLU that “there are more African-American adults that are under correctional control than were enslaved in 1850 before the civil war” (as quoted in the ACLU NATIONAL PRISON PROJECT, 2013). A system that has grown by 700% from 1970-2005 is problematic. The numbers are ridiculous as they don’t even keep pace with crime or population growth. The fact is capitalism hangs and waits for anybody it can catch in its web of greed. Many years ago the thought of free labor and untold potential riches fueled slavery, many justification were concocted to keep that institution running like a well oiled machine.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, this is sound physics, so what is the opposite action of capitalism? The answer is greed, which when unchecked can result in situations like the recession that hit the USA, when institutions were pretending to have more cash then they possessed and a few players knew everybody else’s “cards”. Unfortunately capitalism works well in making a creative society, so this is why it works here in America. Responsible capitalism is the key. Many hold the private sector to be the Holy Grail for a perfect society but nothing can be further from the truth. Fact is, when your bottom line is the only concern, people inherently protect their interest. The private sector can’t fix all of society’s problems. Let’s take the food industry, it’s heavily subsidized which is a form of controlled communism, it’s not really a free market. The US realizes that food can’t totally be put in the private sector, it just would not work. Because the U.S. has such subsidies we have surpluses of food and prices are relatively affordable for some. The government is capable of responsible policies but they also can make things seem very cumbersome as well. When put under the microscope of true justice, private prisons look ugly, real ugly.

References

ACLU. (2013). The Private Prison Debate Challenge. Retrieved from
https://www.aclu.org/blog/prisoners-rights/aclu-v-cca-private-prison-deb...

Takei, C. (2013). Kanye West, "New Slaves" and a Long Tradition of Locking People Up for Profit. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/blog/prisoners-rights-racial-justice/kanye-west-new...

Anonymous

Where is the Life sentences for all the NSA and law enforcent (stingray, triggerfish, and other imsi devices) for violating their oath to the constitution for all the illegal data collecting? It's treason what they are doing!

Anonymous

Thank you ACLU!

Anonymous

What happened to the The Eighth Amendment?

(Amendment VIII) to the United States Constitution is the part of the United States Bill of Rights (ratified December 15, 1791[1]) prohibiting the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments, including torture.

Anonymous

Where are the life sentences for the Wall Street Banksters who made off with $trillions and hurt every American? The well-to-do hire expensive lawyers and never see life imprisonment.

Anonymous

Richard Wershe Jr is serving a LIFE sentence for one *non-violent* drug charge he received as a minor (17 years old) back in May of 1987. Three years prior Rick was recruited by Federal agents and Detroit police as a teenage undercover informant in Detroit's dangerous drug underworld of the 1980s. Rick's release is long overdue!!

http://www.thefix.com/content/story-white-boy-rick-richard-wershe-detroi...

http://www.deadlinedetroit.com/articles/6448/steve_fishman_parole_board_...

http://www.theoaklandpress.com/general-news/20131211/white-boy-rick-orga...

http://www.deadlinedetroit.com/articles/7589/from_243_miles_away_white_b...

http://www.theoaklandpress.com/general-news/20130713/lake-orion-polices-...

https://www.facebook.com/freewhiteboyrickwershe
http://www.change.org/petitions/free-white-boy-rick-wershe
http://freerickwershe.com/Home_Page.html
https://twitter.com/freerickwershe

Letter from Ex Detroit cop -> https://sphotos-a-iad.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-frc1/76647_10151152598368558_...

Letter from a former Federal agent who worked with Rick:
Page 1: https://fbcdn-sphotos-e-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/9311_101511525984...
Page 2: https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash2/552411_1015115259...
Page 3: https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/197393_1015115259...
Page 4: https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/400232_1015115259...

http://articles.latimes.com/1991-05-23/news/mn-3263_1_detroit-police
http://www.nytimes.com/1991/02/12/us/detroit-police-chief-and-former-dep...
http://www.nytimes.com/1992/05/08/us/former-detroit-police-chief-convict...

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