Why I Believe “CHANGE” is Possible

I would like to thank you ll for this opportunity to share my thoughts and feeling, about the current status of the VADOC, and its policy. I have been incarcerated for almost 30 years, and by no means am I asking that anyone should feel sorry for me. I committed one of, if not the worse crime, I took another person’s life.

With that said most of the men incarcerated today (90-95%), will be released back into someone’s community. I know for many of you this is a very scary thought. Now that we know this fact, my question to you today is: who do you want that man or woman to be? One that has been given the opportunity to change, or a very angry person? The next question is: do you believe people are capable of “CHANGE?” If so don’t we want these men and woman who could be your neighbor, to at the very LEAST be given that chance.

In my almost 30 years of incarceration, I have held many jobs, some for the income to support myself. For the last 5 years, I have worked as an Elder/Peer Mentor in the Deerfield Correctional Center Re-entry Program, and I can say without a doubt this has been the most rewarding job I’ve held. This gave me the opportunity to see first hand that people can “CHANGE.” It also allowed me to help others, and myself at the same time. It is so amazing how much you learn about yourself when you are helping someone else. The other thing that I have learned is “CHANGE” is a personal choice, there is nothing anyone can do until the person wants that “CHANGE” for him, or herself. The best part of my job was to see that light come on for them. This is why it is so important to have these programs and opportunities in place for those man and women who want help. They may not always know how to ask, but I know change is possible because l have seen the change, and am lucky enough to be here to help these men when they are ready.

The very sad truth is under our new Governor, we have lost the re-entry program here at DFCC. The re-entry program provides the time and opportunity for these men to make that “CHANGE” in programs like Thinking for a Change, and Victims Impact. The focus seems to be more about punishment, not rehabilitation; which we all know does not work. If it did, why are so many men and women locked up today? I know it sounds great to say ‘lock them up and throw away the key,’ and if that was the end, that might work – but that brings me back to this fact: 90-95% will be released.

My hope in writing this is just to say we can “CHANGE.” I have changed, I have grown, but it was not easy. The most important thing is I wanted help. I have taken responsibility for all my action. I know I caused a lot of pain to so many good people, some that I can never repair. It also doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. The last thing that I would like to leave you with is: one of the answers to the violence that we are seein today is not the police – its men like myself, who will be willing to go out into those community and speak to these young men, and women to tell them there are other choices – you too, can “CHANGE.”

Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts with you. If you would like to contact me with your feedback, questions or a longer conversation, go to the app store and download the JPay app using my name and number to create an account and email me.

I have not lost hope and I won’t, nor will I give up on “CHANGE.”

Kenneth Bibbs #1114910
Deerfield Correctional Center

On Second Look: Incarceration is just another word for nothing left to lose.

There is a song by Janis Joplin where she says “FREEDOM is just another word for nothing left to lose.” I thought about those lyrics and what they mean, then I changed the word FREEDOM to INCARCERATION and it speaks to me in an entirely different way. Context is everything … looking at someone or something today with the eyes of yesterday is the best way to stagnate, ignore and even deny progress.

In life, we have the opportunity to Forgive and Learn. Forgiveness comes from the heart of those offended as a part of their healing process and the lesson is learned by the offender thru the penalty received. In terms of incarceration, its not the amount of time imposed but what you do with that time to atone… and once that lesson is learned, the cycle is complete.

“Second Look” in lieu of parole or more sensible good time laws for exorbitant sentences allows for a fresh set of eyes to review and determine if the aforementioned cycle is complete. Most of those in opposition to any significant prison reforms are denying not only those incarcerated, but themselves of the invaluable gift of growth, as well as the ability to learn and forgive. Unfortunately, personal agendas and biases (both implicit and explicit) continue to block the path to real justice in Virginia, so this has to be addressed if one is to reasonably expect anything different.

Telling people that they are irredeemable by using this strictly punitive and archaic sentencing structure (85%, no parole), then releasing them into society anyway after 30, 40 or 50 years of incarceration does society no good… Has it stopped crime? NO! Has it been a deterrent of any kind? NO! It has no benefit other than retribution.

Wasting a human resource out of spite should actually be a crime itself. 26 years of this system and what you have are packed, understaffed prisons – and some of which need drastic renovations or need to be closed down altogether and a state budget nightmare for years to come.

The punishment of incarcerating someone now isn’t just about doing the time imposed on you when you’re sentenced…. its doing so much of it that when you’re released to the world, you have no real time left.

Depending on how this Second Look legislation is structured and implemented, that will determine its success and benefit… whether or not it means that every year after a certain point in a persons sentence they will be evaluated (by unbiased and subjective people, not a computer algorithm) on a scale that is evidence based, or if its only for those like myself incarcerated at 18 years old, now 41, and about to embark on my 24th year of a 45-year sentence – still having another 18 years before my mandatory release date?

This legislation also has to be retroactive and all inclusive (for violent and non-violent) in order to be fair and combat some of the damage done by the 85%, no parole laws. Either way, there is no downside to review someone after a certain point in their incarceration, that’s the humane thing to do… its why parole and good time credits exist (not in Virginia).

However, what I don’t want to see is another mechanism in place that feels its sole function is to just keep people in prison regardless of any proven change in mindset and behavior. That seems to be what the republicans believe the parole board is supposed to do… just rubber stamp NO or DENIED on every review. There is a point that you reach while incarcerated when there is nothing left to do but sit idle while life passes you by… you have completed everything available to you and mandated to you by the state, and then reached beyond that on your own to do more for yourself and your family, but then you sit and lose it all because you still have another 20 or 30 years before your release date. Second look legislation can fix that issue and much more.

Let’s be honest for a minute though: if 60% of Virginia’s prison population were white, WE WOULDN’T BE HAVING THIS CONVERSATION, nor would we still begging to fix what any person with a conscious has agreed are bad laws.

Lastly, I keep hearing people falsely claim that change is a process and then use that as an excuse not to do anything to help the so called “process” … Change is NOT a process, its a RESULT! With regards to people… CHANGE is what happens when an individual or a group of individuals are 100% dissatisfied with their current circumstances or conditions.

I could go through and give historical precedence b.u.t. I don’t see the need because if you’re still reading this, you already know I’m right.

Peace!

– Sincere Born Allah, #1131459, Nottoway Correctional Center