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