WHAT DOES CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM LOOK LIKE?

by Lord Serious

On September 26, 2022 Senator Jennifer Boysko and Delegate Irene Shin paid a visit to a group of prisoners at Lawrenceville Correctional Center. After introducing myself and thanking the distinguished guest for visiting us at the prison, I asked them what were their visions for prison reform and criminal justice reform. They each spoke of their record and the various bills they have sponsored and fought to get passed. I’d like to thank Q. Patterson and Sistas In Prison Reform (S.I.P) for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the group who were chosen to attend this meeting. Below is a draft of some of the speaking points I wrote to prepare for the meeting:

First, we offenders request that you amend Code 15.2-1636.7 to prohibit the Compensation Board from continuing to use the formula suggested by Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys. This prosecutorial interest group has suggested a formula that incentives Commonwealths Attorneys offices to seek felony convictions for funding, and it deters prosecutors from using alternative methods to secure just and fair results.

This formula contributes to the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people. It encourages prosecutors to seek felony charges over misdemeanors, and it deters them from recommending diversion programs, even in cases where a misdemeanor or diversion program will result in a more just result without jeopardizing public safety. Furthermore, the formula fails to factor in the socioeconomic factors that also influence crime. All of this results in a biased criminal justice system that encourages its prosecutors to over charge and excessively sentence minorities so that their office will receive more funding.

Once this formula has been replaced with a method that will eradicate the bias and exploitative nature of the Criminal justice system. Many of your funding issues will be solved when it comes to the Department of Corrections, because prosecutors will be less inclined to charge every criminal defendant they possibly can with a felony and sentence them to prison. Those who can remain in the community without jeopardizing public safety will receive an adequate punishment without ever having to step foot in a prison, thus they will be less of a burden on the Virginia tax payer.

Next, we request that you amend Code 9.1-601 Citizen Review Panels. We ask that you expand their oversight abilities beyond the police department. We request that their oversight authority be amended to include the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Offices and the Probation and Parole Office.

It is our position that a lot of the socioeconomic bias that infects the criminal justice system goes beyond just police brutality. The entire system neither values nor does it respect the Black and Brown life, especially when they are from impoverished communities. Therefore, we ask that municipalities be given the authority to establish Community Review Panels that will maintain the checks and balances and make these two critical departments accountable to the communities they serve.

The Community Review Panel should be allowed to play a role in determining whether Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Offices are dealing too harshly with the citizens in their community. It’s easy for an office of predominantly White people to send young Black and Brown men to prison for multiple decades for their first felony offense. But the very communities that we’re committing our crimes in do not always agree that a lengthy prison sentence is an appropriate punishment, and the voice of the community should have some influence in these matters before trial. Community Review Panels should be granted the authority to recommend eligible cases for diversion programs when appropriate.

The Community Review Panel should also be granted authority to review the practices of the probation and parole offices for biases and abuses of power. Ex-offenders on probation and parole have no right to an attorney for a revocation hearing and neither can they appeal the decision if their parole has been revoked. This leaves ex-offenders at the mercy of the probation and parole office and they are powerless to prevent abuses of power. Therefore, Community Review Panels should also be granted oversight authority to protect returning citizens from bias probation or parole officers.

And lastly, we would like you to pass a law to make financial literacy a requirement for our rehabilitation. The Uniform Crime Report data shows that poverty is a major contributor to crime. In fact, that report list economic conditions and employment availability as the #3 influencer to crime in the Commonwealth, eclipsed only by population density and population stability which were #1 and #2 respectively.

Legislators in Virginia recognize that having access to more financial resources can help prevent recidivism. This is why the law was passed that now requires us to save $1,000 in our hold account. Obviously, legislators realized that Virginia offenders were not doing a good enough job with saving their money and many were being released with only the $25 they gave you for the bus ticket and the lack of financial stability is what was leading many to re-offend. Unfortunately, with inflation steadily increasing that $1,000 will have less impact by the time many of us are released.

So that $1,000 is not enough. If you distinguished guest are serious about prison reform and preventing recidivism then the nature of the Department of Corrections will have to change course, it must turn away from it’s past when it was a system that used mass incarceration as a profitable economic model. This economic model has failed and your budget issues and the statistics all show that mass incarceration is an unnecessary burden on the tax payer and it has never increased public safety.

-Lord Serious, September 2022

Speech by Q at the Rally Against Earned Sentence Credit Revocation

Listen as Q speaks at the rally about what it’s like to be incarcerated right now, and what it’s like to do too much time. He also addresses all of us out here and reminds us how much WE can take action and show up as families of the incarcerated. Thank you to Voice for the Voiceless, Humanization Project, Delegate Don Scott and others who were able to show support today. The work isn’t done!

Our editor, Santia, holds an iPhone to the microphone for the public to hear.

Too Much Time: July Prompt

It’s been about a month since Governor Youngkin dastardly used his power to amend the state’s budget and deny thousands of deserved inmates a chance at an earlier start on a new life in the free world…

Advocates have rallied in the name of those incarcerated. Media outlets have been taking notice. The time has come for us who are imprisoned to speak for ourselves… WE have a voice, and we have a platform. Brilliance Behind Bars belongs to us all. Let’s let the world know what goes on behind the walls – the things apathetic politicians deliberately hide from the public eye…

Write an essay, compose a poem, or just drop some quotes describing your personal struggles in the penitentiary for your own rehabilitation, and explain how the denial of justice has affected you and your family. Explain to the public, legislators, advocates, etc. why you deserve a shot at an earlier release date. Remember: the world is really taking notice now. Let your voices be heard!

Do not forget to include your name and any contact information for any readers who may be able to offer you some assistance.

I have more love than you can imagine for each and every one of my brothers and sisters on this side of the struggle. I pray we find the light in these dark times.

Sending love, blessing, strength, and hope,
-Q

Too Much Time: A Letter to the VA State Leaders about the Budget Amendment Rollback of Earned Sentence Credits

By Quadaire Patterson

I can say, with utmost certainty, that I have been in prison for TOO LONG. And the longer I stay, the harder it is for me to keep my spirits high, to give my all to the pursuit of ‘better,’ and to truly be the change I’ve become.

Despite the DOC’s egregious lack of true focus on rehabilitation, I know that I have made the most of my 14 years behind bars by leading my own journey to being the best version of myself. Day in and day out, waking up in prison slowly gnaws away at the intensity of that inspiration and stifled MY momentum… but never totally extinguished it.

I plea with Virginia state leaders to save my spirit and others like it, as time in prison can be just as destructive to a person, as it can be in rehabilitating them. It is true, time heals all wounds; but too much time begins to erode even the greatest of monuments.

My story isn’t one you hear often when thinking about the concept of prison – but its more common than you may think. Not once have I ever taken my incarceration, nor my rehabilitation, lightly. I always took the experience as an opportunity to grow and change my life around. From the onset of jail, before reaching prison, I worked tirelessly to build practice in meditation and spiritual strength, and gain purpose behind my life. Not once have I ever denied myself the responsibility of my own actions or felt as if I didn’t deserve to be in here. I chose books instead of card games, I chose to watch news programs instead of entertainment. At times, I even accepted that I wasn’t ready to return to society just yet. I used to say to myself, “even if they came to let me out today, I wouldn’t be ready.”

I’ve faced challenges along the way, as I haven’t always made the right choices. But still, I kept my head above the fray and the thick air of desperation and destitution that fills the penitentiary from wall-to-wall. I can recall great moments of inspiration, where I was more than ready to face the world with new eyes and put forth my newfound perspective toward the mission of making a better tomorrow… these moments began in the year of 2012, 4 years into my 20-year prison sentence.

I have never once sought my rehabilitation with the motive of early release. I’ve undertook every means of my own rehabilitation, purely because I would inevitably be released and finally got serious about my own life. Still, I continue to maintain the vision of a new day of freedom for me and to maintain a version of a future in my heart where I can use my past to help guide others with the guidance I needed as a child. I just figured the leadership finally recognized people like me when they passed the expanded earned sentence credits in 2020.

Maybe that’s why it hurts me so much to hear that people don’t believe I deserve a chance at earning an earlier release date. I’ve put faith in the system – even when it was hard to – and even when it imprisoned me. I sought to understand it, and in return, it has not reciprocated the same sentiment. The system has not sought to understand me as a person; to understand that against the odds of incarceration, I’ve still maintained my hope and faith in society regardless of what it has done to me.

Yes, I had to come to prison to find myself, but I am absolutely sure that I don’t have to STAY in prison to keep it. As a matter of fact, I feel a tiny piece of my spirit gets chipped away every time I hear another person has overdosed, or got into a fight, or stabbed. Every time, I lose a little more faith in the system, another fragment of my vision of a new day…

I know WAS a misguided young man, and in the process of being so, I may have caused harm to some people over a decade ago. I’m not making excuses and not saying that the pain of the people I hurt was not important. What I am saying is, I’m a new person, and I deserve a chance at being proactive with my change and begin to make amends sooner than later. The person I am now will NEVER revert to crime. The person I am now, at 34 years-old, understands his own potential: an understanding that isn’t afforded to a lot of poor, black youth.

I ask state leaders to not disregard my efforts, or others like me with a self-imposed rehabilitation and personal growth, by saying it is unworthy of actual redemption in the form of an earlier release date. When you disregard us, now it is YOU who are working against a greater version of what we are today.

-Q. Patterson, Brilliance Behind Bars Creator

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

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

Future

“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” -Malcolm X

This quote just spoke to me as I read it this morning – because for millions behind the walls, their outlook of a future is bleak. Their daily view of life is bars, concrete and metal. Their days consist of daily counts, consumption of food not fit for humans, wearing the same orange/blue/brown jumpsuits (for the most case). I ask, how does one prepare for a future when they have no idea what the future holds for them? They were given decades long sentences and laws continue to overlook them because of their offense. They are deemed outcasts, a threat to society and threaten public safety. Some are innocent and punished for exercising their right to a fair trial. Others were teenagers, immature or dealing with mental illnesses and made a bad choice. How can they prepare for a future when they are not promised one outside the walls? How can your future belong to those who are prepared for it, when their future lies in the hands of legislators and lawmakers!

Over the last month and even some in 2020, I witnessed lawmakers and legislators sit in a box, debating the future of thousands of men and women behind the walls. Having intense discussions about their very livelihood as if they were discussing a non-existent thing that has no life. When they were discussing the fate of a human—a person that lives, breathes and who has the same red colored blood flowing through their bodies as them.  But they argued and determined that their lives do notmatter. They made decisions to kill bills that would allow those persons to come home to people that love them, children that miss them and spouses that bears the weight of life without them daily. These lawmakers and legislators do not know what it feels like to live this life every day because at the end of each day, when they are done making choices and decisions that keeps men/women behind the walls—they go home to their family, their children, and their spouses. They go home to family dinners and spend time tucking their children into bed each night. They sleep in a bed that is plush and comfortable. They have access to an unlimited supply of necessities. They do not worry whether they will wake up to see another day. 

These men and women still strive to have a positive outlook on life. They still strive to lay the foundation of a better future. They do not allow their current situations stop them from becoming a better person. They have owned their bad choice. They are not making excuses for what happened to them. Daily, they are growing, maturing, and changing the trajectory of their future. They have not allowed the obstacle of their path deter them from working towards their FUTURE!

In the words of our first black President: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” — Barack Obama

– Jerry James, Deerfield Correctional Center

The Cycle of Victimization

When will we, as a country, began to see crime as an extension of a vicious cycle of victimization?

I myself – a ‘convict’ – have been beaten, abused, shot, and stabbed… ridiculed, rebuffed, and victimized. None of my assailants were arrested, or put to trail. Even now, I do not wish the harshest of punishments to befall them. I wish only for a chance for their hearts and minds to be changed…

When I see people who have been victims of crime profess that the people behind bars should face more punishment, I wonder to myself how easy it is for people to forget that they (the ones incarcerated/the “criminals”) are victims themselves: victims of financial oppression and social oppression, victims of mental illness, victims of emotional dilapidation. It’s so easy to ignore the voices of those victims… easier to sacrifice the tears of ‘con-victims’ to appease the ‘real’ victims.

Do not misunderstand, I do not disregard their loss or abuse. NO ONE should have to go through such, life itself is hard enough. I merely want to offer a perspective that may hopefully open the mind’s eye and get us on a path to ending m the vicious cycle of victimization.

I hear the testimony of state senators about constituents as victims of rapes and murders. I also hear the testimony of incarcerated constituents as victims of molestations, fathers and family members lost to wrongful deaths, poverty and abusive upbringings… what I see, what I hear, rings a tone of hurt people, hurting people… is it right? NO. But neither is the outlook that the prisons that span this country coast-to- coast do not house the majority of the greatest victims of society.

This is an injustice that will only serve to further the vicious cycle of victimization… and continue to cost lives… to the grave of the prison system.

– Q. Patterson, BrillianceBehindBars Creator, #1392272

THOUGHTS ON VIRGINIA’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

by Lord Serious

The sooner the inmate population within the custody of Virginia’s Department of Corrections learn that the General Assembly has no intentions of passing any real prison reform legislation, the quicker they will begin organizing their own political coalition to force their hand. Neither the Republicans, nor Democrats, in Virginia’s state legislature have any interest in passing any substantial laws that will effectively reduce the inmate population. Neither are they willing to pass any substantial legislation that will effectively prepare us to reintegrate back into society as a rehabilitated men and women.

So you want to know my thoughts on Virginia’s Criminal Justice System? Here goes: this is a criminal enterprise ran and organized by a mob of slave catching, thieves, and murderers. The purpose of this system has always been to oppress and repress the movements of Virginia’s Black population and this will never change.

The prison population does not have to continue to hope and pray that the very people making a fortune off of warehousing us will one day become more humane and enlightened. We may “pay our debt to society” by serving time. But this does not mean we have to comply with their demands that we permit them to exploit us for our labor or our financial resources. We have the power to disrupt and dismantle this entire system, and we wouldn’t have to resort to violence in order to accomplish this either. All we would have to do is refuse to work, and boycott Keefe Commissary, Global Tel Link, and JPay.

They have to feed us, and clothe us. So all the inmate population would have to do is give up the luxuries and comfort gained from spending our money, and our family or friends money with these blood suckers.

This system cannot survive without our compliance. Therefore, since Virginia’s Criminal Justice System is just a continuation of the Old Dominion’s long history of keeping Blacks in chains and shackles. I’m of the opinion that we should stop playing by their rules. I think if these politicians and government officials are not careful, a day will come when people in my position will stop waiting for these corrupt politicians and slave drivers to free us. Instead, they will begin thinking up ways to hit these slavers where it hurts.

As long as the expense of housing prisoners can be covered by the tax payer, the politician and government official can balance the budget.

But what would happen if the inmate population stops cooperating with this system, and they removed their monies from their DOC accounts? What if prisoners stopped allowing themselves to be used as a source of revenue?

What would happen if this same inmate population decided to cost the Department of Corrections money in other areas as well? What if there suddenly was a spike in the cost of medical treatment due to more inmates requesting sick call? What if there was an exorbitant spike in the cost to replace broken or damaged state property, because the inmate population suddenly became a lot more clumsy or careless?

What if every criminal defendant took their case to trial and opted for a jury trial? But before the verdict was brought in they had a psychological breakdown in the presence of the jury that caused them to become such a disruption in court that it forced judges to declare mistrials?

This may not amount to much in days, or even months… but what if this type of non-compliance and correctional disobedience was employed for a span of years? I wonder how much money this would cost Virginia’s Correctional System? Would their corporate executives still receive their Christmas bonuses? Or would they find that their ledgers show a decrease in profits and the slave business and the mass warehousing of human beings isn’t as lucrative as it used to be?

It is my opinion that it isn’t too inconceivable for these things to start occurring should the Virginia Criminal Justice System continue to refuse to accommodate the inmate population’s modest request to pass legislation that will permit both violent and nonviolent offenders with an equal opportunity to earn up to 30 days of additional Good Time at a GCA Level I.

Life demands a balance and if you are not treating people fairly, then the universe will produce an individual who will come amongst you to reset the scales.

Lord Serious is an activist and the author of one of the most controversial books of all time. Apotheosis Lord Serious Hakim Allah’s Habeas Corpus Appeal is a must read for those who hope to understand the era of mass incarceration through the eyes of today’s modern day slave.

It is available at https://www.amazon.com/Apotheosis-Serious-Allahs-Habeas-Corpus/dp/1734220201

My Race is Not a Crime

Here we go again, DAMNIT MAN, I’m sick & tired of being sick & tired of seeing my people wrongfully oppressed by these so-called authority figures.

What possible reason could you tell yourself to justify shooting a unarmed man in his back seven times? I can recall during this journey (bid), talking with an elderly white man, and he gave me a piece (a very valuable jewel) that made so much sence, I must share it with you in hopes that somebody else “Gets It” –

Guns were made for hunting, & you only shoot what you hunt and plan to kill & “EAT”, and since I don’t eat people (not a cannibal), I don’t shoot people!

My being born black should not be a crime, nor should it dehumanized my existence, my right to live in accordance to the standards set for all! If you got an issue with my blackness, then take your complaint to the Creator of all, cause I’m not the problem here, but your views of my race, ethnicities, beliefs, & values are. At the present, we are dealing with two (2) pandemics. One that is new, and deadly claiming over 200 thousand lives, and the other that is over 400 hundred years old, with probably triple the equivalence of a death toll and still climbing here today. Covid-19 vs. Racism. Instead of trying to get a seat at their table, we, as a people need to build or own table. Its doable, especially when we’ve built this country up from our blood, sweat, tears, & ideals. This country, which we claim to love so much was actually built on the backs of our ancestors whom where stolen from their native land, enslaved & forced to do what the others refused to do & given the worst treatment in return. We were viewed less than human. Know your value & self worth, cause we all as a race (the human race) matter beyond what these mere words could ever express. All life is special, & should be cherished as such. That’s Real Talk, that’s Equality!

Sincerely, D. Moyler #1119539

Lawrenceville Correctional, Virginia