My prison pen pal Conway reports that the hearing on his petition for early release has been delayed until December, crushing his hope of being reunited with his family for Christmas. It’s been over two years since California voters passed Proposition 36, which was supposed to roll back the harsh sentences imposed on nonviolent offenders under the three-strikes law. This Nov. 14 L.A. Times article suggests the state is dragging its feet on releasing prisoners because the Department of Corrections benefits from their underpaid labor:
Federal judges on Friday ordered California to launch a new parole program that could free more prisoners early, ruling the state had failed to fully implement an order last February intended to reduce unconstitutional crowding.
The judges, for a second time, ordered that all nonviolent second-strike offenders be eligible for parole after serving half their sentence. They told corrections officials to submit new plans for that parole process by Dec. 1, and to implement them beginning January.
“The record contains no evidence that defendants cannot implement the required parole process by that date, 11 months after they agreed to do so ‘promptly,'” the judges wrote in Friday’s order.
Corrections department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said the agency would comply with the order.
But the federal judicial panel did not take action on other steps it had ordered California to take last February. Those include increasing the sentence reductions minimum-custody inmates can earn for good behavior and participation in rehabilitation and education programs.
Most of those prisoners now work as groundskeepers, janitors and in prison kitchens, with wages that range from 8 cents to 37 cents per hour. Lawyers for Attorney General Kamala Harris had argued in court that if forced to release these inmates early, prisons would lose an important labor pool.
Meanwhile, my friend Conway keeps his soul alive through creative writing. In addition to poetry, he is working on an autobiographical novel about growing up with his brothers and sisters in a gang-ridden neighborhood. I think he could be the next S.E. Hinton! I was struck by this poem’s taut rhythm and rapid-fire rhymes and wordplay.
This is the smell of a cell…
This is the smell of rust and dust, and sometimes lust.
Plus it’s the smell of double bar-locks, block and blocks, of towers
and useless clocks. If you don’t know what time it is, oh well!
Could it be the smell of a dirty-ass sock, or worn-out useless
fruitless talk? But still, it’s a voice you feel you might trust.
Not that, oh no!
This is the smell of nothing good. No pleasure, no sound,
nobody around to be found, nowhere to go.
Nothing to show, for all the shit you now know.
This is the smell of a place where no one belongs, but still
we’re stuck here. Because the court insists we’ve done something wrong.
This is that place where they’ll put you away, to serve
day after day. And you’ll rust in the smell of the dust and decay.
This is the smell you will always smell, unless
they tell you “your smelling is finally done.”
In this smelly assed life, that’s good for no-one.
This is the smell of no place to be, this is the smell I see.
This is the smell of just one prisoner’s tale.
This is the smell of that living hell.
This is the smell that I smell.
This is the smell of jail…