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Introducing Caged Cranes

The crane is born to fly… Caged, some cranes peck at themselves until they are bare. Some of them conform to their entrapments, others, they continue to fly…

The description above is not only about the tall wading class of birds known for their grace and elegance. It is also a survey of the many men I have seen held to the confines of the Virginia State Correctional System.

For over a decade, I have been one of those men… bound and surrounded. I have been sentenced to murkily strut the grounds of state correctional facilities speckled across Virginia – quite simply, as a crane caged and barred from its birthright. However, I’ve always been accompanied by the practice of prayer and meditation: my means to fly…

Furthering my spirituality by body, a friend and I came into possession of a few books on the art of Tai Chi and Chi Kung a year ago. We took to the practices in the books, got more into general health and wellness, and had an idea to help make a difference beyond the walls, Caged Cranes.

Caged Cranes is a concept that seeks to unite at-risk youth with the spiritual practices of Tai Chi and Chi Kung as a means for greater personal growth and spiritual development. It is based off of the idea that the opening of spiritual awareness is an opening to a greater outlook on life and an increased chance to see better options in less than opportune circumstances.

Fortunately, I found spiritual desire in my own journey, but I know I would have benefited from this type of programming in my teenage years. In the past 13 years of my incarceration, spiritual development has been a key pillar in my overall growth. 2008 is when I received a 20-year sentence for a mistake I made as a wayward young man, after the loss of my grandmother, Sharon Lynn Dixon. She was my rock and a vehement believer in God. She was an evangelist at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Virginia. For as long as I had known her, she was bound to a wheelchair, where she had been ever since she was shot in the back by a possessive ex-husband. As tragic as her situation was, my grandmother never let it stop her from taking to the streets every Saturday, going door-to-door to share the joy and strength she received from her belief in God. From a wheelchair, she still managed to stand as tall as anyone in the room. Her voice was always filled with vigor and passion, spirit and truth. Her hope was never sealed to the limits of her chair, it buzzed around the air she carried, and it flew as high as the heavens she envisioned.

I’ve held the spirit of my grandmother close every step of the way through my incarceration. Through her spirit, I have found my own connection and relationship to God and spirituality. A relationship that has kept me on a path of great personal growth and spiritual development. Growing up, we didn’t have much, but what my grandmother gave me has proven itself a priceless and irreplaceable treasure. A message I wish to share with others who find themselves caged: imprisoned by circumstance. No matter the obstacle or situation, we are all cranes with a birthright to soar.

I am imprisoned, but by body only. My mind continues to soar above and beyond the prison walls. I never gave up on my desire to seek higher education and help others. When I first entered the prison system, I didn’t have a high school diploma. Not only have I acquired my GED, I’ve also been blessed with an opportunity to fulfill my college-level education goals. Currently, I’m taking correspondence courses at Ohio University. As of right now, I’m seeking to obtain an associate degree in social sciences. For years, I brainstormed this very platform to help showcase the brilliance of people incarcerated and was given an opportunity to bring Brilliance Behind Bars to fruition, going strong for nearly 2 years.

My successes in the darkest of places only prove that progress is possible for those who may have experienced difficult childhoods or economic drawbacks.

I truly believe that the troubled youths of today can benefit from the practice of Tai Chi, and we can work with them to identify the spiritual beacons of their own lives. My hope is that this would result in an increase in youth achievement and lower incarceration rates for young vulnerable black men and boys – helping them find a higher purpose within themselves to achieve their goals.

I plan to implement this and other programming to give back to the community when I am released.

Q. Patterson, Founder of Brilliance Behind Bars

Editors Note: To learn more about Q, take a look at his origin story here.

A Thin Line Between a Hero and a Criminal, Q’s Origin Story

I’m not sure how many people understand how thin of a line there is between the path of being a criminal, and the path of being a hero — other than the people who have walked it. More so, the people who have unfortunately stumbled upon the darker side.

I have been incarcerated going fourteen years now. Over this time, I’ve lost my grandmother, chose to pick up the practice of prayer and meditation, and through the help of a loved one, been able to embrace my great desire for higher education. Reflecting on my life, I’ve been able to ascertain the point where it all changed for me — a childhood experience where I trickled over the line where hero meets villain.

I’ve always considered myself a good kid. After several different location changes in my childhood, concepts like school and friends did not have the time to take an impacting hold on my life. However, I’ve always honored my parents, respected my elders, and was always ready to help anyone I could, when I could. My mother struggled with jobs and relationships as she tried to raise my siblings and I. She didn’t have enough energy to work long hours, endured massive migraines, chased behind three pre-teenaged boys (and a baby girl), on top of being very poor. An over-premissive parenting style seemed the viable option for her, so my brothers and I were free to roam and interpret the world on our own. Innocent enough, all of these factors set the ground for the childhood experience that changed my life.

I was ten years old when my family moved to a housing project in Durham, NC. Then, the Pokémon craze had set in heavy. Everyone had their gameboys, the videogames, and the trading cards. This craze didn’t fail to reach me either. I was totally in love with all things Pokémon.

I was at a cousin’s house, walking around their neighborhood. I was showing my cousins my rare holographic Pokémon cards, when a group of three older, unfamiliar kids walked up. I remember them clearly. One was a light-skinned boy, his hair was unkept and his clothes were a bit ragged and dirty. There was a kid who was big and round, he wore an old dress shirt that was too small for him, some old khaki pants and had a chipped tooth. The third was a very small boy who looked way younger than us. He had a bandana wrapped around his head with the knot tied to the front. “Hey, let me see those,” the light-skinned boy said. I looked at him with a smile on my face, and without hesitation gave him the cards in my hand. Excitedly, I began to explain the different cards and my love of Pokémon. Suddenly, he punched me in the shoulder and said, “These are mine now,” he then jumped back and threw up his fists in a fighter’s stance. I looked at him in amazement for a second before I understood what was going on. Outside of play – wrestling around with my brothers on the living room floor, I never had been in a fight before. Recognizing what was happening, I took a stance in defense of myself and my property. We danced in a circle, and before any strike was thrown, I saw a shiny piece of chrome glimmer in the corner of my eye, and then was frozen in astonishment. “What you gonna do now!?” is what the tiny bandana-ed boy said as he pointed a small handgun at my face. My mind and body were locked in place. Of course, I had never since an actual gun before, but being predisposed to cartoons, movies, and video games, I knew just how deadly a gun could be. Noticing how petrified I was, the boys turned away and fled with laughter and my trading cards in tow.

Seeing them disappear behind the houses of the neighborhood, anger and sadness boiled up inside of me. A raging ball of newly recognized emotions exploded, and I just erupted into tears. I sat on the porch of my cousin’s friend’s house shaking uncontrollably and bawling with my head in my lap. My younger brother sat beside me, his hand was rubbing me on my back in an attempt to comfort me. Strangely, I felt shame, cowardice, and disgust with myself. “Why didn’t I do something!? Why was I so afraid?” I cried inside and began I blame myself for being too kind, for giving the boy my cards. I looked at my little brother… I wanted to be strong for him, be his hero, and I felt like I had let him down. Through tear-filled eyes, I looked him in the face and cried out a promise, “I will never let anyone take anything away from me again!” Little did I know, that day and that promise would change my life forever.

Not too long after that encounter, I found it harder to walk away from confrontation or any type of situation that I could prove how brave I was. I found it harder to walk away from fights with the other kids, to walk away from challenges of thievery and delinquency. My behavior lead me to a childhood of truancy, underaged drinking, doing drugs and even joining a gang at the age of eleven. I no longer felt like a coward or a victim, but I didn’t realize at that age, that I was victimizing my mother and eventually myself with my erroneous quest for bravery. As a child, its hard to determine the line between being a hero and a villain. Even as adults, we look at most criminals as fearless or unhinged. These assumptions are not entirely true. Most of us here in prison were fatherless, scared children who managed our fear in distressing environments by imitating what we thought was brave.

Through meditation, prayer, and education, I’ve now come to realize what bravery truly is. I earned my GED within my first years of incarceration. I have been mentoring young men for over 10 years, helping them find their own spiritual journeys, tutoring various subjects, and motivating them to seek higher education. I currently take print-based college courses at Ohio University, studying to receive a degree in social sciences. I plan to use my education, reinforced by my experience to help deter youths who have fallen on the wrong side of that thin line. I also want to work with local legislators to create policies that support them.

While I’ve been able to achieve this level of growth during my incarceration, my story did not have to have this chapter of imprisonment. That leaves me with the questions: How can we save those noble little boys out there who are only seeking to be heroes? How do we teach them not only courage, but righteousness and strength, without ever having them see a jail cell? Through my story, I hope to increase the awareness that the world is full of these misguided good kids, who didn’t have a proper chance to find the heroes they truly were, before it was too late. If we can do a better job of identifying these special children, we can help them be more than just villains society believes deserve nothing more than a life of incarceration. We can create more heroes…

Our mission focuses on remembering the brilliance behind bars, giving incarcerated people who want to be heroes a chance to show the world that they CAN be.

– Q. Patterson, Creator and Organizer of BrillinaceBehindBars.com

Restraints

Those who tell themselves they will never be free will never experience true freedom because they will never do what is necessary in order to obtain that freedom.

Freedom is to have a free-dome; it is only gained when you free your mind of all mental restraints. Until those restraints have been loosened from the wavering mind of those who have doubt or a level of uncertainty of what it feels like to be free, they will remain a product of their own thoughts which have held them captive because they have yet to learn the art of self mastery.

Proper preparation prevents poor performance and I am of the belief that if you aren’t ready, get ready, and once you get ready, stay ready. I myself have a very lengthy sentence and have currently been incarcerated for 21 years. The new good time sentence credit will help, but due to my sentence, I will still have double digits left to serve. For years now with the glimpse of hope I have, I’ve prepared myself physically, mentally, and spiritually for that day when it does come. Preparation starts in prison, so don’t wait until the last minute to prepare.

– Antoinne Pitt

Reaching Out: About Prison Food

Thank you for the platform to express my ideas and comments. For the people that are not effected by the new bill and will be here for a while, this issue with the food we are receiving is slowly killing us.

Here at Deerfield Correctional Center in Va., it is a geriatric facility with men 45 and older. You would think that we would be receiving a well balanced and nutritional diet, being that our health and age desires so, but this is to the contrary. We only receive two vegetables a day and we are being served chicken bulk 10 to 14 times a week. This chicken bulk contains all the undesirable parts of the chicken and is highly processed and unhealthy.

The doctors here at Deerfield have recommended that we don’t eat this. The menu does not reflect this. They list meals like sausage gravy, texas hash, creole mac, sloppy joe, and spaghetti, but all these examples and many other entrees are made with the same meat (chicken bulk). So to the powers that be, it looks like we’re being fed an assortment of different entrees, but in reality we’re being fed the same meat over and over again. Sometimes 3 times in one day. We have written complaints over and over again to no avail. This matter needs to be addressed. Thank you.

MICHAEL LOISEAU

What’s Free, Part 2

by Lord Serious

What does freedom mean to you? Freedom is commonly defined as being free from restraint or bondage. There will be some who will read this, who think to be free simply means “you are not in jail or prison.” Then there are others who are currently in prison, or who’ve spent time in confinement, who view it a little differently. After serving time as a prisoner under physical restraint and bondage, you may tend to look at what it means to be ‘free’ from totally different perspective.

When you no longer have the freedom to come and go as you please, you quickly realize that the worst thing about being incarcerated is not the physical bondage; it’s the mental chains that weigh you down the most. Being trapped in your own head, reliving past traumatic events, imaging endless scenarios about how your life would’ve turned out differently if you had only made different decisions. The stress and tortured inflicted by the what ifs, the I should’ve – could’ve – would’ves, and the unbearable pain of heartache you feel after losing a loved one who you never got to say goodbye to, or a love interest to another man who can fulfill her physical needs. All of the above cause pain that teach the physical prisoner that it is the mental chains that he must first liberate himself from in order to endure and survive prison.

But you see the problem with these two perspectives is that they are too narrow. What freedom is, or isn’t in the above-mentioned context can only be explained through its relation to prison.

What about the restraints society imposes upon the public? Do these encroach upon our freedom? Do the laws and social norms impede our ability to fully express ourselves? Are we somehow less free in a society with man made laws that place restrictions on our behavior? What about the laws of nature? Can you be truly free if you are unwillingly bound to obey the physical laws of the universe?

What about financial freedom? Why must we borrow and accrue debt just to live a lifestyle beyond our means? Why must I pay back what I borrow, especially when the creditor adds interest? In a truly free society, wouldn’t food, clothing, and shelter be free?

What is sexual freedom and should society place limitations on it? Should people have the sexual freedom to explore all our their urges whenever they choose? Should same sex marriages be lawful in a free society? Should the society determine gender roles, or are we free from making a choice because these roles have already been predetermined by nature? Are we bound to the gender of our genitals or do we have the freedom to change it whenever we please? Now, do not think I am advocating any of the above-mentioned behavior. This is simply an impartial analysis of the broader implications for what is, or what isn’t freedom?

These are some complicated and controversial personal and societal issues. But the central theme to them all is what’s freedom? These are controversial issues because they put individual freedoms into direct conflict with societal norms. It is the duty of society to act in the best interest of the majority? But many times these societal norms oppose our freedom to pursue our own individual self interest. So how do you find a balance between individual freedoms and group freedoms? How do you reconcile their differences when they take opposing sides? And who decides who’s right and who’s wrong when everyone has their own opinion?

So when you ask me what’s free? My answer is simply I don’t know. I haven’t the slightest clue what freedom is, because I have never fully experienced freedom on an individual level, nor have I experienced it on a group level. Freedom has eluded me my whole life. In fact, I spent my entire life living in a society that had laws and social norms that I played no role in deciding, yet, I had to conform to them. Sometimes I did, but a lot of times I didn’t. But these social norms are used to control the behavior of those who live within the society. Certain social deviances are frowned upon but they are accepted, but there are also categories of social deviances that this society has criminalized. As a result of my social deviance from societal norms, I was sent to prison. So as an individual, I have never been free. I have always had to live by someone else’s rules.

However, on a group level, the native Black person living in America is the most over-regulated and controlled group in this country. The societal norms of this society has literally passed laws that explicitly stated that it is illegal to be Black in America. As societal norms changed, these laws were rewritten in a race neutral language that permitted the racist spirit of the law to still be enforced. So is it really any surprise that in less than 200 years after the abolition of slavery, my group would suffer from the mass incarceration of our people all over again? Or that we would still be fighting for the freedom to cast Black ballots in free and fair elections?

What’s free? What will it take for my people to be free from racism? What will it take for the world to be free from White supremacy? I think it takes a virtuous freedom. A freedom where Black people willingly sacrifice some of their individual freedoms for the greater good of our race. Only once we achieve this unified freedom will our group gain the freedom to exercise self determination as a people. Only then will our group gain the freedom to compete against White supremacy, and only then will it be destroyed. Only after White supremacy has been destroyed, will we as individuals have the freedom to enjoy and express our melanin without fear of repercussions.

To learn more about me visit my website http://www.lordseriousspeaks.com.

Guarantee For Success

The Guarantee For Success is what comes to my mind when such topics relating to freedom are presented to me. Yes, the prison doors in Virginia are going to be opening up like never before due to a piece of legislation that was passed in 2021 General Assembly.

Many offenders are going to be released before their expected release date! But the reality is that freedom wont be valued as long as the contents of a man’s heart won’t be challenged beyond the crimes that lead them to prison. Character refers to the moral, strength, self discipline, fortitude or a good reputation. It is also what enables you to act on your integrity, which guides you to believed what is right or wrong. Yes, it is right for us to have this discussion but it is also wrong if everybody don’t play their part, and get a grip on not just prison, but the person as well.

Yours truly, Leroy Williams, of Deerfield Correctional Center

Freedom: Free-dome

Peace Kings & Queens of the Common. I say common because another word for it is Universal… think over that. First and foremost, I would like acknowledge Q. Patterson for formulating this incredible platform and a big thank you. Salute.

Freedom? What is Freedom? Why is Freedom? Where is Freedom? When is Freedom? These are all questions that are normally not asked so how can a person actually answer something they have no understanding of? Freedom: free-dome, unchain your mind from being programmed and stop agreeing with everything you see and hear. Thats where it all starts, with an agreement made that I’m going to give attention to what someone else has learned instead of learning it myself. Dome is closed so wouldn’t make sense to turn a dome into a stadium… open-minded, think over that. So ask yourself – am I really free or am I living in another organization confinement? Rather than know thy self, figure thy self out.

Peace; I am Allure The Seer of Truth you can reach me on JPay.

Prompt: What’s Free, Now?

It has been 2 years since BrillianceBehindBars has been encouraged to ask the question about what freedom means to you. Since then, the earned good time credits bill has been passed. Though it might have taken on new meaning, the question remains the same… “What’s free?”

The beginning effects of the earned sentence credit legislation is starting to reach the general population in prisons statewide in Virginia. The spirits within the walls are brightening with a new sheen of hope. but this newfound hope does not come without its own unique set of repercussions — the kind that are sure to accompany any type of mild life changes, whether incarcerated or not.

With thousands of incarcerated peoples eligible for early release and are about to experience an accelerated return to the public, the general air surrounding talks of early release comes with a slight tinge of fear. The burdens of public living have escaped many of us who have experienced an extensive amount of time behind bars. It is not hard to imagine how sudden news of early release could possibly appear a little suffocating for some of us here who seek to be independent and more than functional members of society.

Anyone who has spent even a night in jail has a larger frame of reference to draw from when the idea of “freedom” is loosely thrown around in town hall debates about wearing masks in a pandemic.

However, for anyone like us, who are armed with heightened awareness of what it truly means to be “imprisoned” – the idea of what “freedom” is (or what it means to be “free”) has evolved. That is to say, we know what it means to be free while still “locked up.” True freedom is achieved on multiple levels. Freedom in the truest sense involves freedom of the mind, and in our capitalist society, financial freedom is a must to say that we are truly free…

There is still a matter of tremendous amounts of suspended sentences looming over the heads of many who will soon leave the prison. Along with that, there are still major obstacles facing ex-felons in securing adequate employment and the restricted level they are allowed to participate in the political process. Sure, some of us will be leaving prison soon, but if not properly prepared, we could end up just trading one prison for another. If we continue to do what we’ve always done, we will continue to have what we’ve always had. For most of us behind bars, that is unacceptable.

I am interested in hearing what some of us have planned to obtain this truer form of freedom. Whether or not you have benefitted from the new law, freedom for a lot of us now is only a matter of time. For others, freedom may still be in reach someday soon. What will you do with it?

Prompt questions to help inspire writing:
-Do you believe there’s more to true freedom than getting out?
-If you were set free today, what would you do and where would you go? What are your plans?
-What’s your ideal job or career? Do you think it will be difficult to attain?
-Do you see restoration of rights as an importance to your freedom? Why or why not?

With great love and respect for each and every one of you,
BrillianceBehindBars Creator, Q. Patterson

Reflect

Thank you for allowing me to express myself, and for the work y’all do.

True change can only come from the person that wants change. We must use this time to reflect on ourselves and take the steps to better ourselves cause if we wait on the DOC to do it, we will be waiting a lifetime. Everyone deserves and needs a second chance, no matter what he or she did. Without it, what does a person have to look forward to?

Our last governor got a second chance to show he isn’t the person in a certain photo, and with that second chance, he showed us the real person he is and who knows how many second chances our new governor has gotten or will get. Second chance legislation is good; no I wouldn’t qualify if it passed right now, but there’s others who will. I got a 35yr sentence and have been in for 25 yrs now and have received 3/100 series charges in that time.

One, I was simply lied on, but as you know, you’re going to get found guilty on what the officer says, and the charges weren’t back to back they were yrs apart. Last one, last yr

The behavioral requirements are to much cause the system is set up for you to fail. If you go 20yrs charge free now, you’re manipulating the system then they trick you up to catch a charge. Things happen in here and some you can ignore, others you can’t. This VADOC isn’t set up to correct or rehabilitate you, cause it offers you nothing to help you in here, or for when you get out. When you do right, they give you no incentive or reward to keep you in the right direction, but when you step outside of their line, they are qiuck to take something from you. They should charge the behavioral requirements, as I don’t think people in vadoc can meet that requirement. At the end of the day, they need to look at who we are now and the things we have done for ourselves to be better citizens in society and to stop judging us from our past. Thank you for your time, and God bless.

– DERRICK EDMONDS

Sentence Modification: A Step in the Right Direction

Peace! My name is Darius Simmons (B.K.A. 7). I am currently 15 years in on a 22 year sentence. This is the first (and last), time that I have ever been convicted of a felony and sentenced to prison time. I didn’t kill, injure, or harm anyone. However I was sentenced 12 years outside of the sentencing guidelines that only called for 9 years, 2 months as part of a plea agreement. This is higher than my co-defendants who all had prior felony convictions.

During my incarceration, I sought out every avenue available for relief, to no avail. I even petitioned Gov. Northam for a Conditional Pardon, only to be denied after waiting for an answer for 4 years.
You see, I never once denied my role in my case and took full responsibility for my actions, but the sentence was woefully disproportionate to the crime and the Court didn’t take into consideration the fact that I had no prior record, and I turned myself in!

The first few years was rough. I had to learn the law, then I fight my own case to the bitter end with no legal assistance. After I exhausted all of my remedies, I fell into a deep depression as it felt like I had life sentence! At only 24 years old, to be faced with 2 decades can seem impossible to do. I eventually lost hope, started getting into trouble, ran my security level up, and ended up doing 5 years at a Maximum Security prison. It was there, after being surrounded by guys who had triple digits and multiple life sentences, that I decided to accept my fate. However, I realized that this isn’t how I wanted to live my life. So to ensure that I don’t recidivate once I am released, I made the decision to utilize the rest of my time to equip myself with tools that I can use to be legitimately productive in society.

I obtained my G.E.D., I’ve taken numerous rehabilitative programs, I received several Trades, maintained employment tutoring in the G.E.D. class, and becoming Teacher’s Aids in the Trade courses that I completed! I eventually worked my way back down to Security level 2 facility and been at D.F.C.C. for the past 4 years. The sad part about it is, I still have 4 years left to do! Its clear to see that I’m not the same young 24 year old kid that made a few bad choices. I’m now a 39 year old man with a Fiancée and 2 teenage kids who need my presence now more than ever! I have an aging mother who’s health is declining and I fear that I won’t get to see her again as a free man. Not to mention all of the loved ones that I lost over the years that I will never get the chance to see again.

The Sentence Modification concept and bill, which has already been adopted in D.C. and Colorado, if passed, will be a step in the right direction towards fairness in the criminal justice system here in Virginia. This would be for myself and countless other men and women with lengthy sentences, who are not who they were and deserve a ‘Second Look.’

Also, for those who are just starting out on a long sentence, just knowing that such a policy exists, provides an incentive that will motivate a person to want to rehabilitate themselves, hold themselves accountable for their past mistakes or poor decisions, and take responsibility for their actions moving forward, in hopes to possibly return home to their families one day. In turn, this will generate a safer prison system and lower recidivism rates do to the incentivised behavior modification and rehabilitation.

Science shows that a person’s brain doesn’t reach full maturation until between 25-28 years of age. This means that although a person is an adult by societal standards, they are still incapable of making rational decisions or temper emotions in certain situations as a person in their mid 30’s and beyond. As a result, they make an ill advised decision that they end up regretting for the rest of their lives. Add to that, the fact that statistics show that most people ‘Age out’ of criminal behavior in their 30’s – thus proving that people do change!

Now the question is – do we continue to perpetually punish people for making bad choices at a time in their young life, with all the pressures surrounding most of them, based on their economic and societal circumstance? Or do we as humans have compassion and understanding that ‘people make mistakes and poor decisions.’ We all have at some point in time in our lives. Just some are a little more severe than others. And no matter how severe or not, we all want the same thing: To be forgiven!

Pertaining to the bill as it stands, I think that its too restrictive in regards to the behavioral stipulations for eligibility. Staying charge-free for five years is nearly impossible. In a prison with people warehoused in close quarters and everybody’s dealing with their own unfortunate situations. Whether it be the loss of loved ones, missing loved ones, or just not having any outside support at all. Plus tired from being down so long or just starting out, having a hard time adjusting and the end is no where in sight. Couple that with all the different personalities, makes for a very hostile environment where anything can happen. It doesn’t have to be you who initiates conflict or even be at fault. You just might have had to defend yourself and you still will receive an infraction which won’t reflect that you acted in self defense.
Or, a C.O could be having a bad day or issues at home that they bring in here with them and take it out on us. You could be on the receiving end of an infraction as collateral damage. Sounds strange, but it happens more often then you think. Maybe something as small as not having your shirt tucked in or not standing in time for count can effect your eligibility to petition. So five years infraction free is hardly an achievable feat. If passed as it stands, I myself wouldn’t be immediately eligible. I still would have 2 more years to go before I’m eligible.
So with a few amendments, I think this Bill can change the landscape of the justice system in Virginia and make it fair and just for all.

Darius Simmons, Deerfield Correctional Center

Rehabilitation, by Jerry James

Here at D.F.C.C, the inmates are very grateful that a new bill has been moving in the General Assembly to grant us the opportunity for some type of relief! However since 1995, the abolishment of parole, Virginia has not implemented any type of beneficial reform that would allow inmates to be released earlier. Nor has the V.A. D.O.C. given any incentive programs that will encourage good behavior and allow inmates to be released back into society. Therefore, we believe this bill, SB378, will be a great addition to prison reform.

You have individuals serving lengthy sentences looking forward to only 4.5 days a month – is that really an incentive to behave? This current law that’s in place is a hopeless law, which is the truth in sentencing act.

Let’s take for instance, myself, Jerry James, a first time offender who has done 22 yrs on a 38 year sentence with 11 years to go. I will admit in the beginning of my sentence, it was rough on me mentally. I really felt hopeless and didn’t see signs of relief. I gave up on the moral principles that I was raised upon and conformed to what I felt was normal prison life to fit in, as so many others that are in my position.

Then I came to my senses and realized that my decision did not only affect me, it took a toll on my kids and family and loved ones too. In order to change, I had to take the necessary steps to improve and change my way of thinking. I enrolled in mind changing programs such as Breaking Barriers, N.A. and A.A., Thinking for a Change, peer support groups and also going back to the way I was raised and got myself back right with God. I took Commercial cleaning class, plus I received my G.E.D. along with being Valedictorian of my graduating class. Now I am receiving my Associates degree in Biblical Studies at Revelation Message Bible College in Jacksonville, Florida. I have been charge-free for 17 years, so it is possible to do so, despite the many obstacles that I constantly have to hurdle to continue my rehabilitation!

I also hold the most trustworthy job at this facility, working for the Administration such as the Warden, Asst. Warden, the Major, Captains, and Lts, doing Custodial Maintenance and keeping their offices clean, along with hallways, floors, bathrooms, trash, sweeping, mopping and ordering supplies.

Therefore, I truly believe that SB 378 will be a great fit and will give guys something to work for to get home to their LOVED ONES!!!!!

Jerry James
Deerfield Correctional Center

Definition of Second Chances

Thank you for allowing me to express my take on a piece of legislation that’s beyond what a person has done wrong in life, but how he or she responded to what they have done. “THAT’S MY DEFINITION OF SECOND CHANCES.”

As I sit back and reflect on how the United States has more people incarcerated than any other country, it leads many people to believe that incarceration is more about politics than the crime or the victims of those that committed those crimes. Since Jan. 1st of 1996, Virginia got tough on crime and came up with one solution, “85% and no parole.” So now I pose this question, is that the real solution? Of course not! That’s because most of the inmate population will be released one day, change or not!!!

It’s about time, it’s long overdue for us Virginians to put in place legislation that focuses on Second chances. Giving individuals the necessary tools to be able to tackle not only what led them to prison, but beyond prison is the REAL SOLUTION. So why not put in place a system that restores good health through therapy and allow the judicial system to evaluate a person after a period of time for an early release, because there are plenty of people in prison that are still being punished for who they used to be, rather than who they become. Enclosing, it’s not a matter of if this piece of Legislation is enough. It’s about getting back to what this country was built on, second chances!!!

Leroy Williams
Deerfield Correctional