Shon’s story, followed by Ben’s story, generated a lot of interest. Parenthetically, the debate on whether federal drug crimes are inherently violent got me off track from the basic message: prisoners need to know there is hope and the rest of us need to know that changes to our policies on sentencing and incarceration are required.
Last night, I received a long and heartfelt e-mail from a man who has done time in the state and federal systems. His words are worth hearing. Although he identified himself to me, I won’t identify him because I am uncertain whether the fellow would want to be identified. So, I will simply quote him and let the reader hear his story in his own words, but without knowing his name. Here are some edited snippets of the man’s story as told to me:
- “I am writing this to explain some of what sentences both long and short do and some external things that come into play.”
- “[W]hen I was younger, for the most part from 16 to right around [H]opwood’s age at sentencing, I was a screw up and I was in and out of state [jails or prisons] more times than I could count.”
- “I . . . had to make up my mind that I didn’t want that kind of life anymore.”
- “I got myself together and worked my tail of[f] to become an EMT and later a Paramedic. I did so and experienced helping others which I still try to do to this day. I saw many things out there including 9/11 up close and personal.”
- “I contracted Hepatitis C and I am currently waiting . . . a liver. . . . I had to stop working as [the disease was] clouding my memory.”
- “When I got sick, I had to fight for 2 years just to start collecting comp and I fell back into my old habits. I am not trying to make light of it, nor am I trying to make excuses. I broke the law and for that I was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison which I served at [a federal medical center.]”
- “[T]he judge in my case Judge Chatigny, did me a favor sending me in. [H]e [helped me get] my head back on and the probation officer Patrick Norton actually helped me. They saw me as a person. “
- “The state courts did nothing for me … [but] the Federal courts and system actually saw me as a person and what I was really about.”
- “What I think people fail to notice is that you can have such good intentions, but as a convicted felon there are so many traps you can fall into and it is also hard not to fall [back] into the old ways of life . . . .”
- “[T]he [prison] system, if applied right does work, but it’s broken and warehousing people is not the answer. If someone is locked up for a year or 5 or 10 without some type of training or getting taught some way to make a living out here, then the revolving door will just keep revolving.”
- “Are there people who won’t change? Yes there are, but there are people who want to change and without the tools being at hand to help do that, they are not going to be able to succeed upon release.”
I thank my correspondent for writing.