Dear Marc Major and Ashley Nellis,
I have been gifted a copy of your book, The Meaning of Life: The Case for Abolishing Life Sentences, from the Durland Alternatives Library and their Prisoner Express program. This is a response to your request for reactions to the book. I hope my feedback can be of use to The Sentencing Project and the Campaign to End Life Imprisonment.
I will describe how I processed this book and my concerns regarding sentencing campaigns, available correctional programs and the ability to appeal life sentences. I also have recommendations for individual case studies and suggestions on how offenders can become more identifiable to the public.
With a subject that stirs so many charged responses, relaying this discourse in non-political fashion allowed me to view it with minimal bias. The history of policy decisions and statistical trends introduced a level of scrutiny that I appreciated throughout the book. The presentation is easy to understand, and I’ve used it as a reference for recent conversations. Overall, I trust that the authors have prepared me for discussion.
I identified with points made about marketing propositions with catch-phrases instead of science-based proposals. I think it’s easy to understand that one should be more deliberative when exposed to campaign propaganda. As for representatives and appointees responding to lobbyist interests, and not communal needs, that’s easy to dismiss as Politics. But I found it appropriate to question if we feel that elected officials and their appointees are qualified to give life its value based on voter support for issues non-related. I think asking this triggers a sense of civic responsibility and will help to re-evaluate the parole process.
To deprive people serving the lengthiest sentences correctional programming is counterintuitive. Emotional and cognitive developments reduce risky behavior, which reduces disciplinary offenses, which reduces the length of a sentence. Providing betterment opportunities early on is productive on many levels. Reversing patterns spanning decades with a crash course on cognition prior to one’s release is unrealistic. And similar to a spiritual process, personal growth can lead to understanding the need to atone for an impact made on others, helping to recompense their victims.
The ability to appeal life sentences was interesting in contrast with those of short sentences and death. The Death Row inmates set free by new witnesses indicates a population of Lifers facing similar injustice. When faced with the possibility of dying in prison, options to appeal should be proportionate with what’s at stake.
As a juror, my predisposition towards sex crimes and offenses against vulnerable populations leaves me prone to err on the side of caution: The moral ramifications of not convicting someone guilty of a certain crime are worse than sentencing one innocent of the same, and I assume the appeals process will fix whatever I get wrong.
The examples of wrongful convictions being overturned by DNA evidence and advances in neuroscience (the latter used to reopen cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome) inform us other cases stand to be impacted by new technology. Providing candidate cases new hearings should come with priority.
For presenting examples of offenders released, I could use some troublesome cases. The statistics illustrating recidivism rates after long-term incarceration offered insight, but didn’t convey the post-release struggles that result in course-correction or failure. I question the differences, exceptions and commonalities that influence a case. And what other variables are suggested to contribute to recidivism?
It’s easy to be apathetic towards an ability to parole — offenders require minimal deliberation: An entire system exists to ease our relations with tribal outliers. A brief review from the Board of Parole is typically all that considers one’s freedom. To articulate their efforts and years worth of changes, a moment with the Board is just not enough. How can an offender self-evidence their transformations and become more transparent in appealing to others?
Currently serving a 40 year sentence with the test of a limited life, I’m creating opportunities — as none are provided by my current facility — and experience liberty in sharing my time. The model I’ve created with help of my father makes my efforts visible. It’s therapeutically beneficial, available to the public and allows me to present myself authentically. You are welcome to view this project at bookofirving82431.com
For other offenders with free-world assistance, pages or groups can be started using existing platforms at no cost. Use these to post and share links to certificates, journals and other documents helpful in viewing progressions. I use my outlet for the following: 1) Documenting how I serve my sentence. My victims deserve to watch me cycle and understand the way that I program. It’s my only way to atone directly. 2) Displaying identifiable qualities provides a reference for others: I’m currently seeking mentors and intellectual stimulation. By sending letters with invitations to visit my site, I can communicate my interests more thoroughly. I’ve even compiled presentations for requests of legal assistance and raised public awareness for group concerns. 3) I have long-term aspirations for development, and watching myself progress is reassuring — it adds hope. And when my time comes for parole review, I can present my body of work as a journal to the Board and other community prospects.
Before I close, I’ll share my thoughts on abolishing life sentences. It’s my experience that most aged lifers don’t pose criminal threats, and some can reintegrate with their own resources. Many of them genuinely regret how they’ve affected others, and that comes with a wisdom and understanding that fellow offenders learn from. Lifers continue to possess community value. That said, I can’t agree that everyone is redeemable or deserves another chance to live free. But only when considering those guilty of especially heinous acts.
Thank you for The Meaning of Life: The Case for Abolishing Life Sentences. The book was informative and readable, and helped further my understanding of your goals. I hope my feedback on processing sentencing campaigns, viewing correctional programming opportunities, considering appeals and using individual examples has been constructive, and that you’ll benefit from sharing my experimental method of presenting one’s self during the process of correction.