The New Forgotten Men and Women-Elderly Prisoners Appeal for Help!

Received via email from on March 16, 2018:

In December 2017, Major Tillery, sixty-seven years old and imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole in Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Frackville made a proposal to Superintendent Kathy Brittain for remedial policies and to stop the disrespectful and abusive treatment of the seniors.

“On behalf of all the Elderly Members of the General Population” Major Tillery asked for “humanistic consideration for health reasons” to implement some commonsensical, little or no cost changes: housing unit adjustments for the elderly; modifying shower times; providing additional blankets and cold-weather clothing items like gloves and long-johns; virtual visitation with even older parents. He also suggested a pilot program that combined seniors mentoring younger prisoners while getting their help in escorting the elderly in the prison. This program would “bridge the gap between the elderly and youth, create meaningful interaction—now and in the future with family and friends—and educate about diversity of true ethnic cultural differences.”

Pennsylvania has the second highest percentage of elderly prisoners in the U.S., related to the fact that it is one of six states that have prison sentences of life without the possibility of parole. In 1980 there were 370 elderly people in PA’s state prisons, as of 2014 there were 8000, which was 16% of PA prisoners over the age of 55. As of January 1, 2018, the DOC reported 10,442 inmates over the age of 50. The consequences of lack of adequate health care for any and all prisoners is exacerbated when it comes to elderly prisoners; years of prison life, including the food and quality of the water. The leading causes of death in the state’s prisons are heart disease, cancer, and liver disease. Studies establish that the elderly prison population is at higher risk for self-harm, suicide and victimization by staff and other prisoners.

On January 3, 2018, Major Tillery re-submitted his proposals to Sup. Brittain, the Office of Legal Counsel to the Department of Corrections (DOC) and the Deputy Secty for the Eastern Region stating the denial of accommodations for elderly prisoners is a violation of the American Disabilities Act as applied to the Elderly. He said:

“It is cruel and unusual punishment for the elderly to be abused and mistreated by correctional staff, our primary caretakers…. Medical and elderly care is part of reasonable care, custody and control [by the DOC] under color of law.”

The prison response is a once-a-week activities program and to limit participation to the twenty-two prisoners at SCI Frackville who are over 65. This doesn’t even comply with the DOC recognition that in the prison system, 50 is considered elderly.

With the support of other elderly prisoners, Major Tillery on February 16, 2018 gave notice to the Office of Legal Counsel for the PA. Department of Corrections (DOC) and Sup. Brittain:

“I am required to try and solve the Elderly Prisoners’ Issues by law under the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act before seeking class action Litigation. Supt. Brittain you know this is a real issue, and I realize changes take awhile. However, not being taken seriously for something this important I have no other choice, to save my life and others. I’ve been housed in the hardest control units in the U.S. I have issues from years of isolation, starvation and other abuses while at Marion [infamous federal lock-down prison], they fed me one meal a day, in the dark and now I’m old and still going through it.”

Major Tillery asks for “proper medical care opposed to dismissing our concerns and needs.” This complaint is for consideration of aging prisoners, eliminating lengthy periods of standing for count, or in line for medications and commissary or out in the cold between buildings or in the cell without long johns, gloves, sweaters, extra blankets. It is also a demand to stop staff bullying and harassment of elderly prisoners for memory loss, inability to hear announcements, or time needed to walk through the prison from the cell to the mess hall to the infirmary. The proposals repeated the need for a mentoring program with younger prisoners that would also provide assistance to seniors.


Elderly Prisoners Need Respect and Additional Care
Implement Major Tillery’s Proposals, including an elderly housing unit and a mentoring program with younger prisoners; more medical attention; and appropriate clothing and additional blankets in cold weather

SCI Frackville Superintendent Kathy Brittain 570 874-4516
Dep. Secretary, DOC Eastern Region Michael Wenerowicz 717 728 4122 or 4123


Excerpts of testimonials from Major Tillery, Terrence Poles and Clifford Smith below. Read these in full on Justice for Major Tillery

The New Forgotten Men and Women!
Major Tillery AM978, January 18, 2018

Now we have a group of “New Forgotten Man and Women,” the elderly held in Pennsylvania state prisons. Take myself– in 1983 at the age of 33 I entered the prison with a life sentence, without the chance of parole. At that time I was both mentally and physically strong. Even back then I noticed how older people were being treated; the lack of concern [for] programming for elderly assistance didn’t exist.

Although I was 33 then, it struck me as wrong and on several occasions I complained to the administration on behalf of the elderly and mentally ill prisoners. This bothered me to the point that I filed a civil lawsuit on these issues. [Tillery v. Owens, a federal a lawsuit that ended double-celling (4 in a cell) in PA prisons and required the Pa. Department of Corrections to provide additional mental and medical health care to prisoners.] …

The DOC has a humanitarian problem as it relates to how people treat other people.
Now I face the same fears. Not dying, but to die among people and medical staff who would treat one of the dogs up here with more care and compassion than me. I’m not exaggerating, it’s true. I have it a little better than most older prisoners here, because after 35 years I helped raise a lot of these young brothers, so they check on me daily. But what about the others, the older people who are not Major Tillery? They get pushed around, cheated for phone time, medical treatment just flat out dogged by both staff and other prisoners. I only get problems mostly from administration. So when the old people come to me, I try to bring their grievances with mine. And like I started— ‘Forgotten Men and Women in 1983’ and now ‘Forgotten in 2018’ … .

Aging in Prison
By Bro Tacuma/Terrence Poles BL5740

NEGLECT, CARELESSNESS and DISRESPECT, are the main aspects of aging in prison that the general public isn’t fully aware of. First and foremost my name is Terrence Poles. I’m 55 years old, and I’ve been serving a DBI sentence since 1989. (Death By Incarceration: AKA LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE.)

We’re NEGLECTED because the state doesn’t offer any meaningful or therapeutic programs for the elderly.

Because of their CARELESSNESS and callousness, they won’t even give/allow me to use an extra mattress (for back pain and arthritis).

The DISRESPECT is manifested in so many ways. We aren’t given thermals, vitamins, or nutrients and other things that will prolong our health and well-being. There isn’t even a housing unit for the elderly. Some older individuals have serious medical issues, which may cause them to have to get in the showers at certain times. Instead of having to wait until 3 pm standing for sometimes 15 minutes to 20 minutes just to get into the shower.

A Summary of Life, My Life as an Old Man…
By Clifford Smith AM8913 (AKA) Robert Amin Atkins

It’s 2018: I’ve been incarcerated for 36 years, watching my life, my hopes, dreams, and visions slip away. That’s my perception. It’s a reality that society, my correctional community see me, and all the elderly at SCI Frackville.

Is it unreasonable to request civil, fundamental, basic human rights for the elderly? Fair treatment programs that inspire growth? Awareness of how to transition to old age? It’s a difficult task, with deliberate indifference from staff, and other inmates who don’t understand that they will eventually grow old, and die in prison. Why can’t we die with respect and dignity?

I’m fighting for the right to be treated fairly as we grow older. I’m afraid I will have my job taken from me because I am an old man and continue to question, challenge our treatment.

When you speak truth to power there are consequences; but we won’t be silent. The simple things we do day to day are a challenge, like walking to the dining hall. I’m bumped, pushed just because I don’t move fast enough. If I don’t chew fast enough, I’m not allowed to finish my meal. I’ve outlined many examples of abuse and questions about the treatment of the elderly.

In struggle, Amin The (Old Man)

Write separately to:

Major Tillery AM9786
Clifford Smith AM8913
Terrence Poles BL5740

SCI Frackville
1111 Altamount Blvd.
Frackville, PA 17931

For More Information, Go To:
Kamilah Iddeen (717) 379-9009,

Rachel Wolkenstein, Esq. (917) 689-4009,

The only man in Missouri serving a life sentence without parole for a marijuana-related offense has been granted parole

From KRCG, Aug 10th 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — The only man in Missouri serving a life sentence without parole for a marijuana-related offense has been granted parole.

Jeff Mizanskey’s lawyer Tony Nenninger said a state parole board heard the case last week, and has decided to let him be released after more than 20 years in prison.

Governor Jay Nixon commuted Mizanskey’s sentence in May, allowing for a parole hearing that was held on August 6th.

Nenninger says the state is expected to release Mizanskey within 25 days.

Wyo. bill would end life without parole sentences

By BEN NEARY: from: Associated Press.  – SF Chronicle 
Updated 5:20 pm, Thursday, January 17, 2013
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Under a bill proposed Thursday, Wyoming would no longer have a prison sentence of life without parole — a punishment currently reserved for first-degree murder convictions or repeated sex offenses.

The measure would prohibit such sentences in the future and allow the governor to shorten prison terms for inmates facing such time.

Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, said he raised the plan “for the sake of the state.”

“Right now we have about 21 or 22 people in for life without parole, and there will be more,” Burns said. “And at some point, we’re going to have an aged population of people serving life without parole, and the state’s going to be responsible for their medical care.”

Burns said the plan would give the governor the authority to “basically get rid of the state’s responsibility for these people.”

Cheyenne District Attorney Scott Homar opposes the measure, saying that in some cases, particularly when it comes to sex offenses, “There’s just no question that life without the possibility of parole is the only penalty they should get.”

Linda Burt, with the ACLU of Wyoming, said her group might have concerns with Burns’ bill because it could result in more people receiving death sentences.

Burns spoke at a hearing last week in favor of a separate House bill that would prohibit sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders.

Wyoming must change its law in regard to juvenile offenders in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that banned mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles.

The pending House bill would specify that juveniles convicted of first-degree murder must serve at least 25 years before they would be eligible for parole.

“You’re not the same person when you’re 17 that you are at 42,” Burns said. “And I don’t think their maturity is formed enough to, frankly, be responsible for the rest of their lives. The fact is, they’re going to serve at least a minimum of 25 years in prison.”

Burns said he expects his fellow legislators will give his bill “a reasonable reflection.” Co-sponsor Rep. Matt Greene, R-Laramie, declined comment.

Homar, the Cheyenne prosecutor, said the Wyoming County and Prosecuting Attorneys Association hasn’t taken a formal position on the proposal.

He said, however, that sex offenders who have been convicted three times have likely committed many more crimes.

Read more:

Save the Honor Program

From: The Honor Program
Plz click here to sign the petition to save the Prison Honor Program

July 12, 2012: For Immediate Release

The California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation has decided to transfer out more than three-quarters of the men successfully functioning on the Progressive Programming Facility at California State Prison-Los Angeles County in Lancaster. This will result in the only fully functioning maximum-security facility in the sprawling, sadly dysfunctional prison system to collapse.

The prison system in California is under a federal court mandate to shrink down from a high of almost 200% of capacity to only 137.5% of capacity by June of 2013. To accomplish this, the state has diverted low-level offenders to county jails and changed parole regulations. Ultimately, prisoners remaining in the 33 far-flung institutions of the system will be spread out to ease local crowding. To date, the process appears to be on track to meet court-ordered deadlines.

All of the above is to the good, and we congratulate Secretary of Corrections & Rehabilitation Matthew Cate for his valiant efforts to turn around the troubled prisons in a time of extreme fiscal constraint and limited options.

But moving so many of the men from the revolutionary Progressive Programming Facility to other, far less well functioning prisons is a bad idea for a number of reasons.

It spends money that doesn’t need to be spent on transfers that don’t need to happen.

It jeopardizes the stability of a program that should be the template for the future corrections system in California.

It causes needless hardship to hundreds of friends and family members of men currently housed in Los Angeles’s only prison.

There is still time to change this decision by the Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation. Read the full proposal submitted to Secretary Cate by the Friends and Families for the Honor Program, and click here for sample letters you can send to Secretary Cate to advocate for his support.

The Friends & Families for the Honor Program ask that you write and/or call Secretary Cate and ask him to allow all the men who desire to continue in the Progressive Programming Facility to stay. It’s simply the right thing to do.

Thank you for your support and assistance.

Address to write to ask for a continuation of the Honor Program:

Secretary Matthew Cate
California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation
1515 S Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 830-3676

Why I’d Vote for the SAFE California Act and Hate Myself in the Morning

July 10, 2012
Why I’d Vote for the SAFE California Act

By Kenneth E. Hartman, on:

Kenneth E. Hartman, who has served over 32 continuous years in the California prison system on a life without parole sentence, says that replacing one form of the death penalty (lethal injection) with another (life without parole, the other death penalty) is not abolishing the death penalty at all.
If I could vote, I’d vote yes on the S.A.F.E. California Act, which would end the ghastly practice of lethal injection executions.

But I’d hate myself in the morning.

There really isn’t a good argument in support of the death penalty.  It doesn’t deter crime.  It isn’t a good example of why killing is wrong.  And it costs a ludicrous, unjustifiable amount of money.  Add in the fact that it’s fundamentally a barbaric practice that should be relegated to the proverbial dustbin of history, and there’s no other vote possible.

And I’d still hate myself in the morning.

The people who crafted this initiative should hate themselves, too.  Instead of doing away with lethal injections and that’s that, they wrote a monstrous law that will condemn thousands of Californians to perpetual imprisonment serving life without the possibility of parole.  As if that wasn’t enough, they had to salt it up with mean-spirited provisions guaranteed only to aid the ever more expensive prison system.

The construction of the initiative reveals a bit about the authors’ motives.  Pandering is a generous word in this case.  First, they try to kowtow to the angry victims’ rights groups by demanding that those newly minted life without parole prisoners be forced to work.  The truth of the matter is we desperately want to work.  There aren’t enough jobs to give everyone an assignment.  Second, they create six more special circumstances (to add to the existing 27) that transform second degree murders into life without parole sentences if the victim was a peace officer: not hard to figure out to what interest group that pander went.  Third, the initiative creates a sort of perpetually mandated slush fund for local law enforcement to dip into at will: again, not hard to see where that pander was aimed.

The ACLU of Northern California openly advertises that life without parole is a horrible and painful sentence, that life inside this state’s horrific prisons is a nightmare, that medical care is cruelly deficient, and men and women sentenced to death by imprisonment will be forced to endure endless suffering until they die a lonely death in a barren cell, somewhere.  And they state all of this with a mocking glee to solicit support for the initiative.  It’s hard to reconcile their thuggish rhetoric with progressive thinking or with the promotion of anyone’s civil liberties.

It’s also clear that the authors of the initiative have little interest in promoting prisoners’ rights, in working to advance civil rights inside the prisons, or in doing anything to rectify the rampant and gross abuses of power that characterize the criminal justice system in this state.  One wonders how they sleep at night crowded into bed with their reactionary other halves.

The obvious reading of the sub-text of the initiative is the authors have become so myopically focused on the practice of lethal injections they’re willing to throw the other 140,000 prisoners of this state under the bus.  It’s a pity because if they had sat down with the many other groups working to bring about real reform to the entire system a strategy could have been worked out.

That’s too bad.  California is ripe for deep, foundational, and transformative change, particularly inside the prisons.  The confluence of factors that make this possible is a genuine once-in-a-lifetime event.  In a few more years, the great edifice of punishment will rear up out of the mire of debt obligations and budgetary impasses.  And then it’s back to business as usual.

I’ve served more than 32 years for killing a man in a drunken, drugged up fistfight when I was 19 years old.  When I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole the statutes in place at the time set my first parole board hearing at 12 years and every three years thereafter.  No one then thought I was sentenced to death by imprisonment.  In the decades since, those dozen years to a board hearing turned into another death penalty.  There are almost 4,000 men and women sentenced to the long, slow death inside.

Life without the possibility of parole is not a reasonable alternative to the death penalty; it’s just a different way of doing an execution.

I’d still vote for the initiative because I believe that the death penalty is wrong and doing away with one form of it is better than nothing.

But I’d hate myself for that vote the next morning.

Submitters Bio:

Kenneth E. Hartman has served 30 continuous years in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on a life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) sentence. He is the author of “Mother California: A Story of Redemption Behind Bars,” a memoir of life in prison, published by Atlas & Co. (New York, 2009), and is an award winning writer and prison reform activist. Ken was instrumental in the founding of the Honor Program at the California State Prison-Los Angeles County, and is currently leading a grassroots organizing campaign, conducted by LWOP prisoners, with the goal of abolishing the other death penalty.

United States Must Halt Life Without Parole Sentences for Children

United States Must Halt Life Without Parole Sentences for Children, says Amnesty International

Human Rights Organization Details Stories of Three Young Offenders From Louisiana, Illinois and North Carolina, in New Juvenile Justice Report
Louisiana Case to be Featured in Amnesty International’s Global Write-a-Thon

November 30, 2011
(Washington, D.C.) — Authorities in the United States must ban the imposition of life without parole sentences against children and review the cases of more than 2,500 prisoners currently serving such sentences to bring the sentences into line with international law, Amnesty International said today in a new report.

“In the United States, people under 18 cannot vote, buy alcohol or lottery tickets or consent to most forms of medical treatment, but they can be sentenced to die in prison for their actions. This needs to change,” said Natacha Mension, U. S. campaigner at Amnesty International (AI).

Children as young as 11 at the time of the crime have faced life imprisonment without parole in the United States – the only country in the world to impose this sentence on children.

Amnesty International’s 34-page report ‘This is where I’m going to be when I die’: Children facing life imprisonment without the possibility of release in the United States, illustrates the issue through the stories of Christi Cheramie, Jacqueline Montanez and David Young.

In the United States, life without parole can be imposed on juvenile offenders as a mandatory punishment – without consideration of mitigating factors such as history of abuse or trauma, degree of involvement in the crime, mental health status, or amenability to rehabilitation.

“We are not excusing crimes committed by children or minimizing their consequences, but the simple reality is that these sentences ignore the special potential for rehabilitation and change that young offenders have,” said Mension.

In May 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court said life without parole is “an especially harsh punishment for a juvenile,” as the young offender will serve, on average, more years and a greater percentage of his life in prison than an older offender. “A 16-year-old and a 75-year-old each sentenced to life without parole receive the same punishment in name only,” the Court said.

Eighteen months after prohibiting this sentence for non-homicide crimes committed by under-18-year-olds, on November 8, 2011, the Supreme Court agreed to consider this issue in relation to crimes involving murder. It will not issue a decision until the second quarter of 2012 at the earliest.

The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which entered into force more than two decades ago, expressly prohibits the imposition of life imprisonment without the possibility of release for offenses, however serious, committed by people under 18 years old. All countries except the United States and Somalia have ratified the Convention.

“It is long past time for the United States to ratify the Convention without reservations or other limiting conditions and to fully implement its prohibition on the use of life imprisonment without release against children, including in relation to the cases of those already sentenced,” said Mension.

On November 30, Christi Cheramie, who is serving life without parole in Louisiana, will submit an application for executive clemency with the state Board of Pardons. Christi was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release in 1994, when she was 16 years old for the killing of her 18-year-old fiancé’s great aunt.

She pleaded guilty just before her trial in adult court began, fearing she could be sentenced to death if the trial went ahead. Her guilty plea prevents her from directly appealing her conviction or sentence.

A psychiatrist who saw Christi prior to her trial said that she was a “depressed, dependent, and insecure” 16-year-old who “seems to have been fearful of crossing” her fiancé, who she maintains committed the crime. Christi’s childhood was marked by sexual abuse. At the age of 13, she was hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic after trying to commit suicide on at least two occasions.

After spending half of her life in prison, Christi believes she has changed in many ways. She has obtained a high school equivalency diploma, a degree in agricultural studies, and teaches a number of classes at the prison. A warden has stated that she is “worthy of a second chance.” View a video of Christi’s grandmother and her conversation with Christi here:

Christi will be among 15 people for whom Amnesty International activists worldwide will be taking action as part of Write for Rights – the Global Write-a-Thon on December 3 – 11. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide will be educated about Christi’s case and asked to call on Governor Jindal to help. In the United States, more than 35,000 people are expected to participate in this annual event.

Additionally, on Dec. 3 in New Orleans, Amnesty International USA, the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, the Louisiana Interfaith Conference and Citizens for Second Chances will hold an event from 4 to 7 pm with a candlelight vigil, music and speakers focusing on Christi’s case at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, 1313 Esplanade Avenue. For more information visit

A clemency campaign is also pending for a second person whose case is profiled in AI’s report. Jacqueline Montanez is the only woman in Illinois serving a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a crime committed as a child. A victim of child abuse, Jacqueline began abusing drugs and alcohol at the age of nine. Jacqueline’s abuser was her step-father, a gang leader, who also involved her in the drug trade as a very young child and groomed her to be his “little soldier.” After running away from home and joining a rival gang, she and two older women shot and killed two adult male members of her step-father’s gang.

Because she was 15 at the time of the crime and charged with first degree murder, she was automatically tried in adult criminal court. This denied the court system the opportunity of conducting a transfer hearing to determine whether her case ought to have been tried in juvenile court where factors such as her young age, home environment or amenability to rehabilitation would have been considered. Jacqueline was also automatically sentenced to life without parole due to her conviction; the sentencing court had no discretion to consider her history, her age, the circumstances of the offense or her potential for rehabilitation.

Now 35 years old, she expresses deep remorse for her actions and believes that she has grown into a very different person. She has obtained a high school equivalency diploma and has become a certified trainer of service dogs for disabled people. She grieves for her victims and the pain that their families have suffered.

In Illinois, 80 percent of children in prison for life without parole received mandatory sentences; about 82 percent are prisoners of color. That number is even higher in Cook County, where the Montanez case originated. These findings were published by the Illinois Coalition on the Fair Sentencing of Children in its 2008 report Categorically Less Culpable, Children Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Illinois.

Jacqueline’s petition for executive clemency will be submitted to the Illinois governor and the Prisoner Review Board in January 2012.

David Young is one of two teenagers arrested and charged for the murder of Charles Welch in 1997. He was automatically charged in adult criminal court as required by North Carolina law for any criminal offense committed by anyone age 16 or older. Young’s co-defendant, who shot the victim, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 19 to 23 years in prison. David was convicted of first-degree felony murder and was sentenced to life without parole.

Young grew up in a hostile community environment where his parents abused drugs and his stepfather physically abused him and his mother. Now 32 years old, Young obtained his high school equivalency diploma and is in solitary confinement after being stabbed by two prisoners.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom and dignity are denied.

# # #

For a copy of the report, ‘This is where I’m going to be when I die’: Children facing life imprisonment without the possibility of release in the United States, email Gwen Fitzgerald at gfitzgerald @ OR Click here to view the report in PDF.

Photos are available online at For more information, please visit:

LIFER LESSONS: Marshall Eddie Conway talks about prison life

Read the story with links here:

By Van Smith

Published: April 27, 2011

Now 65 years old, Marshall “Eddie” Conway started serving a life sentence for murdering Baltimore police officer Donald Sager when he was 24. Back then, Conway was a postal worker and U.S. Army veteran. He was also a civil rights activist who, as a member of the NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equality, had helped organize efforts to better working conditions for African-Americans at a number of major employers in the Baltimore area. His most renowned role, though, was as Minister of Defense in the Maryland chapter of the Black Panther Party—a position that put him on the front lines of a successful government effort to undermine the party.

Now, Conway is a published author with two books to his credit. In 2009, iAWME Publications issued Conway’s The Greatest Threat: The Black Panther Party and COINTELPRO, in part as a fundraiser for Conway’s legal defense. And earlier this month, AK Press published Conway’s memoir, Marshall Law: The Life and Times of a Baltimore Black Panther, a release party for which takes place April 29 at 2640 Space featuring readings from the book by Bashi Rose and WombWorks Productions, Pam Africa talking about the Mumia Abu-Jamal case, and a performance by Lafayette Gilchrist. (Visit for more details.)

The new memoir provides an ideal opportunity to consider the man and his life from different perspectives. Edward Ericson Jr. takes a serious look at Conway’s claims to be a political prisoner in his essay about The Greatest Threat. Michael Corbin, who taught at the Metropolitan Transition Center, the former Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore, places Marshall Law in the American tradition of prison literature. And since decades in prison have tempered Conway’s revolutionary zeal, in a recent phone interview from the Jessup Correctional Institution, he spoke of what hurts and helps the corrective function of prisons, the challenges of fatherhood on the inside, the folly of drug dealing, his own unrealized aspirations in life, and what he would do as a free man.

City Paper: Maryland has a life-means-life policy, essentially denying the possibility for parole for those serving life sentences. It was put in place in 1995 by then governor Parris Glendening, who recently admitted his regrets.

Marshall “Eddie” Conway: Yes, I’m aware of his regrets, 16 years later and after about 50 of my associates are dead. During the course of waiting for this policy to be changed, they passed away.

CP: In your mind, what is wrong with this policy?

MEC: The real problem is that young people coming into the prison system see people that have been participating in the programs, doing all they can to turn their lives around and become usual citizens in the community, and they see how they’ve spent 10, 20, 30, 40 years doing that, with no kind of possibility of release. Well, right away, young guys end up saying, “Well, what’s the point?” It increases the potential for violence, because there is frustration, and it increases hopelessness, which means that people tend to act out. It doesn’t give an incentive for people to rehabilitate themselves, and instead creates negative activity and energy. If you take away hope in a system like this, then you’re going to receive a lot of people returning back to the community very frustrated and hopeless—which is not good, considering the unemployment situation. Also, when a person reaches a certain age, just the fact that a person is, like, 45, 50, or over, means that he becomes a safer risk for release in the community. And most of the time, when you get people that have done an extensive amount of time in prison, they got an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree, so they are more capable of taking care of themselves.

CP: Since the policy has been in place, have you seen an increase in violence, hopelessness, and nihilistic approaches to serving time?

MEC: There was a real spike in violence immediately after that policy was announced. In this institution, for maybe a 10-year period after 1995, pretty much every week there was something fatal or near-fatal occurring. I’m not saying that’s a direct result of Glendening’s policy, but it got so bad that the guards actually refused to come to work. And that violence spread from this institution to others.

CP: If the policy is overturned, would prisons become more suited for rehabilitation?

MEC: Well, of course it would. There are a lot of older prisoners, like myself, working to decrease the level of violence and conflict, and that’s really having a good impact. But in terms of people turning their lives around and having hope and having a desire to motivate change—if you can’t show them something at the end, there’s no incentive for that, and I’m kind of like swimming against the tide. But if they see a way to get out of this predicament—if they work, if they develop, if they grow and change their paradigm—that’s going to probably change the climate within the prison population.

CP: Do you suspect you would have been paroled if this policy hadn’t been in place?

MEC: I don’t know if I would have been paroled, but I have to assume that I would have. I was a model prisoner, quote unquote, meaning that I was—and I am—working to improve the conditions among the prisoners.

CP: Let’s pretend you hadn’t been convicted. What would have been your career?

MEC: I want to believe that, if the community hadn’t been drugged and the jobs hadn’t been shipped overseas, we could have turned this around, and I would have probably ended up teaching somewhere. I had two interests. One was history and education, and the other was the medical profession. I had an aspiration to go into school at Johns Hopkins University, trying to engage in further training for the medical profession. I don’t know that that would have happened, but the teaching probably would have. Either way, I would have been constantly engaging in the community, trying to better the conditions.

CP: What do your sons do?

MEC: I have two sons. One of my sons is an instructor at Bowling Green University in Ohio, teaching computer science. The other is a manager of a water-purification plant in Maryland.

CP: How did you manage as a father in prison?

MEC: Right at the beginning, I have to admit that I succeeded in the case of one and I failed in the case of the other. In the case of my second son, I was estranged from him all the way until he was 18. It was my fault that that was the case, and I certainly never was a father to him. We tried to recover and establish some sort of relationship, and it just didn’t seem to work out. My oldest son, who I knew from the time he was born, I kept in touch with his mother, but I kind of lost track of him through my early years in the prison system simply because, of my initial seven years, I spent six of them in solitary confinement. Somewhere along the line, his mother came to me and just pretty much said, “Look, you need to talk to your son.” So at that time I had organized a 10-week counseling program for young people, and I actually had my son brought to the program. I would sit down and talk to him, one on one, and we would counsel in larger groups. We developed and we started bonding. Like all young black men at the time, he was like, “I’m going to the NBA, going to be a baller.” He was really good, but only so many people get selected to go into the NBA, and he needed to be considering a profession. So he decided to go to college and do the computer-science thing. I’ve supported him as much as I could, and I tried to get him to get his doctorate, but he had had enough of that. I think it was a good experience for both of us.

CP: How do you see it going with other inmates, and their issues with fatherhood?

MEC: It’s one of the things that we deal with a lot. I’ve been working with young guys for the whole entire 40 years, but at some point I had to stop for a while. They were just so angry, and the morals and values had changed to such a degree that I couldn’t be a neutral observer when somebody is talking about beating up their grandmother or disrespecting their mother. But after I started back working with them, I noticed this great hostility to fathers, this great anger at being abandoned.

But the other side of that is that they really want to be very connected and attached to their children, even though they’re locked up. They’re trying to break that cycle, even though the cycle continues due to the simple fact that they are here. They’re trying to be the father that they didn’t have. So that’s good, and it’s more young people like that than not, and a lot of them actually do end up going back out, and they realize that they almost blew that opportunity to be that father. So they tend to get jobs and do what they need to do to stay there because of that.

But, I’m in here now with three generations of people. I’m looking across the generations of absent fathers. And I don’t know how that cycle gets broken if there’s no jobs. One of the great negatives is that maybe 80 percent of people in the prisons around the country are there for drug-related activity, not necessarily violent. Just selling drugs, buying drugs, using drugs, or fighting over drugs, based on the fact that there’s no jobs out there.

CP: It strikes me that these low-level drug dealing jobs are just bad jobs. Low pay, long hours, harsh management.

MEC: You think? And there’s not very good health care!

CP: People tend to think drug dealers get into it because it’s an easy buck.

MEC: It’s not an easy buck. It’s day-to-day survival—and it’s detrimental to your survival. If you manage to make any money, the state comes and scoops up any you might have around, and what you may have stashed away is used for the lawyers. So you end up with nothing.

CP: I wonder, are there any drug dealers out there for whom it doesn’t end badly? The odds are probably better that you’d make it to the NBA.

MEC: This is the bottom line: The nature of drug trafficking itself means that you are going to be highly publicized, that people are going to know who you are, that there’s always going to be a chain of evidence back to you, and that there’s always going to be someone who’s going to want to avoid being incarcerated by saying, “Go look at him or her.” It’s definitely a loser’s proposition.

CP: What do you know about gangs in Maryland prisons?

MEC: The real problem is that anybody in prison that associates with street organizations is pretty much tagged or targeted, be it the Black Guerilla Family, Crips, Bloods, Dead Man Incorporated, or any of them. It has made it impossible to interact in any kind of a positive way with members of those organizations without being tagged. I was educating people, and on the days that I made myself available, I would be in the yard and anybody could approach me to talk about things like how to make parole, how to deal with domestic situations. The result was the prison authorities tagged me. When I talked to the lieutenant about it, I said, “These are the same guys that are going back into our communities, and if they go back in with negative attitudes they are going to be destructive, they’re going to hurt people—your family, my family, everybody else’s families—and I’m not going to ignore that, so I’m going to work with them.”

But you can’t get too close without being labeled, without it being reported that you’re associating with them. So I don’t even go into the yard anymore, but I still work with organizations that provide information, education, insight, and skills to manage conflicts. You get penalized if you try to work with these groups any closer than that. It’s almost as if the prison authorities want them to proliferate, so they can have “X” amount of members or associates documented and get funds for, quote unquote, anti-gang activities. I don’t know what the end is, other than everybody at some point will end up in Big Brother’s files.

CP: What would you do if you were released tomorrow?

MEC: With the rest of my life, I would try to get a house with a nice garden and grow some food and smell the roses. I would still be involved in developing good, positive communities, but I’m a big supporter now of organic food, growing your own food, developing your way to sustain yourself into the future. So I would want to do that and encourage other people to do it.

Published in the Baltimore City Paper

Victim’s Family Asks Ohio Board to Spare Inmate’s Life

From Death Penalty Information Center

The family of a man who was killed in Ohio recently petitioned the parole board to commute the death sentence of the defendant in the murder. Peter Mah, son of Chong Hoon Mah, who was killed by Johnnie Baston (pictured) during a robbery in 1994, told the Ohio Parole Board, “I was opposed to Mr. Baston receiving a death sentence at the time of his trial… [and] my family and I are opposed to Mr. Baston being executed.” During the trial, the family had filed affidavits saying that they preferred to see Baston spend his entire life in prison, but that sentencing option was not available at the time.

The Board makes a recommendation regarding clemency to the governor, who makes the final decision.  Baston’s attorneys have compared his case to that of Jeffrey Hill of Ohio, whose death sentence was commuted to life without parole by former Governor Ted Strickland. In Hill’s case, the parole board cited the wishes of the victim’s family opposing execution. Baston’s attorneys have also presented evidence that he was abused as a child by his birth family.

Baston is scheduled for execution on March 10.  If the execution goes forward, it will be by a method never used before in this country– a single dose of pentobarbital. UPDATE: The parole board unanimously rejected Baston’s petition for a recommendation of clemency.  (Feb. 11, 2011).

(J. Provance, “Killer to ask Ohio governor to spare his life, family of ’94 Toledo victim is against March execution,” Toledo Blade, February 2, 2011).  See Life Without Parole and Victims.

Retire Ohio’s death penalty: Paul E. Pfeifer

January 26, 2011

By Paul E. Pfeifer
Are we, the people of Ohio, well served by our continuing use of the death penalty?

Before we try to answer that, let’s take a quick look back at capital punishment in Ohio. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Ohio’s death penalty statute unconstitutional. In 1974, our state legislature revised Ohio’s death penalty law, but the Supreme Court rejected that one as well. Then, in 1981, a new death penalty statute was enacted, and this one passed constitutional review. We didn’t resume executions in Ohio until 1999. Since then, 41 condemned murderers have been put to death; there are 157 more awaiting execution on death row.

There are very few people in this state more closely associated with the death penalty than am I. As a state senator in 1981, I helped draft our current law. Now, for the past 18 years, I have served as a justice on the Ohio Supreme Court, where we render the final judgment on death penalty appeals.
I helped craft the law, and I have helped enforce it. From my rather unique perspective, I have come to the conclusion that we are not well served by our ongoing attachment to capital punishment.

Why the change? In short, because the death penalty law is not being applied as we originally intended.

The statute that we wrote in 1981 was designed to pass constitutional review by the U.S. Supreme Court. That meant that it had to provide safeguards and extensive due process for accused murderers. We set out to enact a law that would give prosecutors the capability to seek capital punishment for the absolute worst offenders.

Murder is a vile crime. But not all murders are the same, and we did not mean for all — or even most — murderers to be eligible for the death penalty. The law was meant to be employed only when a certain set of aggravating circumstances warranted execution. But over the years, the death penalty has come to be applied more pervasively than we ever intended.

We also wanted a review process implemented in which the Ohio Supreme Court, in addition to considering death penalty appeals, would monitor death sentences across the state to verify that they were being evenly and fairly applied. Simply put, that hasn’t happened.

Thirty years ago, the public’s support for the death penalty stemmed largely from decades of sentences that seemed too lenient for murderers. The fact that a convicted killer could be eligible for parole after serving only a fraction of his life sentence did not sit well, and rightly so.

But in 2005, the Ohio legislature corrected that by passing a law that allowed prosecutors to seek a penalty of life without the possibility of parole rather than a death sentence. Since that law passed, we have seen the number of death sentences drop precipitously. Prosecutors and jurors have told us — by their actions — that life without the possibility of parole is a more desirable outcome to a murder trial than a death sentence.

Part of the reason for that, I believe, is that even supporters of capital punishment feel uneasy about sitting on a jury that votes to take a human life. As George Orwell once said, “Most people approve of capital punishment, but most people wouldn’t do the hangman’s job.”

Make no mistake — I am not arguing for leniency or sympathy. There are no good citizens on death row. These are people who have committed heinous crimes. When a villain murders, he not only ends one life, he irrevocably damages dozens of others. Murder has a ripple effect that consumes all those who loved the victim.

But life without parole now offers us a viable alternative to the death penalty, and it’s an option that can satisfy our desire to punish killers for their crimes. There are, however, dozens of inmates on death row who were convicted before that option was available. How many of them would have been sentenced to death if the life-without-parole option had been available at the time? No one knows. All we know is that there are many people who will be put to death because they were convicted at the wrong time.

So, I ask: Do we want our state government — and thus, by extension, all of us — to be in the business of taking lives in what amounts to a death lottery? I can’t imagine that’s something about which most of us feel comfortable. And, thus, I believe the time has come to abolish the death penalty in Ohio.

Pfeifer, of Bucyrus, is senior justice of the Ohio Supreme Court.

Note on Feb 9, 2011.

Now read this article by Staughton Lynd, in which he writes about judge Pfeifer (towards the end).
And this, by judge Pfeifer (2005)

Finally: Why Life Without Parole is just a prolonged death sentence:

Life Without Parole in Alabama

We received by mail the following article and two bill proposals here and here for reforms.

Life Without Parole in Alabama:

“When is enough enough?”: Prisoners are human and can be rehabilitated.
Lock’em up and throw away the key?
Prisoners should be held accountable for their actions. This goes without saying. It is also true that the vast majorities of such prisoners are not innocent of the crimes for which they have been convicted. Nevertheless, under the current sentencing standards in the State of Alabama the long-term sentences imposed often do not fit the crimes committed. Why do we have prisoners serving Life Without Parole, for committing petty crimes, such as stealing a toolbox, stealing a bicycle and possession of marijuana? While a Drunk Driver who kills someone while under the influence, and who has a history of DUIs (Driving Under Influence) gets 10 years in prison, if that is so,  why do we have Prisoners who have served 20, 25 and 30 years for these Petty Crimes. 
Offenders should be remorseful and show a fundamental change from the behavior and attitudes, which caused them to commit the crimes they committed. However, what do you do to them once they have shown such change, and have served 20, 25 and 30 or more years of Incarceration? This is the question that needs to be answered when looking at the sentence of Life Without Parole in the State of Alabama.

Some Law Makers and Victim Advocate Groups would ask is there a Statute of limitation on the pain, hurt and suffering of victims, surely it cannot be, but why continue to warehouse an individual who has shown that he/she has rehabilitated and reformed, coupled with the fact that they have spent decades behind bars for their crime. In a majority of cases, such men are totally different people than when they entered the system. Most of them have taken numerous rehabilitation programs and a lot of them have become mature and have grown up, even grown old. 

If the public was aware of the money spent on their health care, medicine and even special dietary needs, this would no-doubt be an issue for debate. Think in terms of millions of dollars. A survey of America’s prisons by the Sentencing Project shows that Alabama (population 4.5 million) ranks third in the nation, behind California (population 35.5 million) and New York (19.1 million) in the percentage of its prison population serving sentences of Life and Life Without Parole. Alabama has the nation’s fifth largest incarceration rate. Alabama has the nation’s highest percentage of juveniles serving either Life or Life Without Parole.
Other findings with regard to Alabama included in the Sentencing Project Report were that in Alabama, along with Massachusetts, Nevada and New York at least one in six prisoners are serving life sentences. Todd Clear, professor at John Jay College of Criminal justice, quoted in USA Today said the cost of maintaining a permanent prison population is daunting: “The total price tag to keep today’s Lifers incarcerated for the rest of their lives could cost the nation Tens of Billions of dollars,” he said. 

The Alabama Legislature has been debating this issue since 2008. The 2011 Legislative Regular Session will be another opportunity to address LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE IN THE STATE OF ALABAMA. WHAT CAN BE DONE?? 

An immediate proactive approach that all concerned citizens can participate in, is a campaign consisting of Letters, E-Mails, Fax and Petitions to the Senators and Representatives from your respective Districts in support of Bills that will allow Judges more discretion in imposing sentences upon certain first time Offenders convicted of a Capital Offense and certain Offenders serving Life Without Parole under Alabama’s Habitual Felony Offenders Act. 

How Much time is Enough time? 
How much Money should the Public divert to a failed legal system with an irrational sentencing structure? 

Respectfully Submitted