After several moves, my friend Jodie and I finally became roommates. Our other roommate Heather, Jodie and I all became pretty close. It was just the 3 of us for quite a while, which didn’t bother us one bit. They made moves on Wednesdays and Fridays for the most part, however one day a new roommate showed up at the door. The poor girl thought we weren’t excited to see her because we sat up and told Heather, “We got a new cellie”. We finally explained to her that it wasn’t that she became our new roommate, but that we weren’t expecting someone until possibly later in the week. I still laugh because here she wasn’t even supposed to be in our room. She got confused and was supposed to go further down the hall to the other section. I find that this wasn’t a mistake at all, but that the Lord intervened and brought us all together. She came in and introduced herself as Kim, (a nod back to the street names I referenced before). Once we finally knew her real name, it took me forever to call her that. I’d go back and forth, in the end we finally combined both. That was our new nickname for her. The time had come for Jodie to go see the parole board. I was just as nervous as she was because I was coming up not long after. She went to her one-on-one meeting, which many say is more important than seeing the actual board. I can understand why they feel that way, since this is technically the only time that you get to talk and sell yourself. This is the most important interview I ever would have in my life! She went to this meeting and felt that things went pretty well. It’s hard to tell because they won’t comment or say one way or another. You go in and answer questions, then come back to your room and wait to show up on the call out sheet to have an appointment with the actual board. Her day finally came, and she was a nervous wreck. You can offer as much support as possible, but this a meeting that holds your freedom in the palm of its hands. If you remember back to Phoenix, they told us that we were pretty much guaranteed parole because we had been part of this stellar program (even though it closed, it was still supposed to look good). Even the counselors at Cambridge gave us the same impression based on this fact and that she had never been in trouble or had any write ups. She completed everything she needed to complete, and this was her first time in prison. Her crime was also considered non-violent. All of these factors were to be positive. I have no way of knowing what she said or didn’t say during her one-on-one meeting. I can only tell you that she came back feeling extremely confident. After she met with the actual board, and she only needed to meet with one person, she felt that meeting went well too. All of the anxiety and stress that these meetings create, the actual time you are in there is about a 1/2 hour or less. I want to say that maybe 2 days later, possibly 3 she was on the call out again to go see the parole agent to give her the determination. She came back and she told us they denied her. She couldn’t go back to see them for another 9 months. I lost it. I cried like it was my decision. It made me even more afraid of what my outcome was going to be. They listed reasons on her paperwork of which none of it made any sense. We were upset because it seemed to us that they shouldn’t have been able to put the reasons they did because everything in her file contradicted it. The counselors told her that her Judge was the one who requested that she serve more time, that the time she had served to that point wasn’t enough. Now this really made no sense! Let me explain a few things to give you context. In Pennsylvania, parole is a privilege and not a right. You receive a minimum sentence date and a maximum date. The minimum date is the earliest that you are eligible to see the board. It doesn’t guarantee parole. The max date is the longest they can keep you. (Sometimes people will “max” out, so they don’t have to leave and be on parole after leaving. This normally doesn’t happen unless you are a parole violator and don’t have much time left). Our question started to then become, “if the Judge felt that she didn’t serve enough time, then why didn’t they sentence her longer to begin with?” The answer to this question is probably a simple one. Also, in PA there are sentencing guidelines. She was probably sentenced according to those guidelines, and if you as a Judge go too far outside of them it could be a reason to file for an appeal of your sentence. When you come up for parole, the Judge, DA, and any victims get to weigh in on how they feel about you being released. I can see both sides of this coin, but from being on this side of it, this isn’t right! This is again why there needs to be a re-evaluation of the justice system. Here is my take on this based on this situation and others similar I saw over and over again while incarcerated.:
You are arrested and charged with a crime. It’s then your decision after speaking with your attorney on whether or not you want to plead guilty or go to trial. Going to trial costs a lot of money. It costs you to pay your lawyer money and it costs the county a lot of money. Many times, people who can’t afford to go to trial will plead guilty-regardless of if they are at fault or not. (The innocent until proven guilty speech isn’t quite true, because once you are charged with something everyone treats you like a criminal). The other thing is that people who are familiar with how the system works, know that if they plead guilty and save the county money a lot of times, they’ll end up with lessor charges. (Regardless of if a plea deal is offered or not). The plea deal is a whole other way that they get you, because they entice you into taking the deal otherwise “you could be facing serious time”. So, you feel pressured into taking a deal knowing what you’ll get rather than rolling the dice. I don’t know about other states, but in PA we have sentencing guidelines. They take into account everything from the charges, your criminal history, and any other mitigating factors. The guide tells the courts that this is the least amount of time or fine you can give, and it tells what the maximum amount that should be given. The Judges are given a lot of discretion, however. So, in my friend’s case, since they probably couldn’t sentence her more, the other way was to then bulk when she came up for parole. The issue however is that once you are sent to the DOC, you are now in their care, custody and control. You have employed them with not only housing and feeding an inmate but evaluating their needs. This evaluation includes your attitude while there, your willingness to participate in classes, your rehabilitation, and your behavior. It’s the staff’s job, which is your housing unit manager, the counselors and your block reports (which are completed by the housing officers) all have a say in your parole process. These are men and women that are again, employed to do a job. A major part of that job is to again, evaluate you because they see you every day and know better than anyone else who you are and if you are ready to be released. These recommendations then go to the Superintendent of the DOC (aka as The Warden). If the staff feels that you are ready (you have to meet with them too as part of your parole process) then you will receive the institutional vote. My friend received this vote. They felt so sure that she was ready, that they sent her (and I) to Phoenix which required major changes in our classifications. They sent our files to Harrisburg to be changed to reflect that we not only should have the privilege to work outside the gates but to live outside them as well. There is then another code that you can receive that says you can do both of these w/o supervisions. Eventually, Jodie also received that code. That’s how serious the staff was in trying to help her be paroled. So, when someone who already had their chance to sentence you comes back and says your time served wasn’t enough-it bites hard! Not only are you saying that you are questioning your own decision, but that now you don’t trust the staff that was hired to do a job. The sad part is, when you see a staff member almost in tears because they too think that this was an overreach. When you serve your time and do nothing but great things while you’re there-what else do you then need to do to be released. I understand them asking the victims or their families. Even then however, will they ever want someone to see the light of day-no! If you are released at your minimum date, that means that you’ll then serve the remainder of your time on supervision. If you mess up and don’t follow the rules, then you end up going back. This is a small glimpse into a greater picture on why people like Van Jones, Kim Kardashian and others are trying to so hard for reform. There has to be a solution to this madness. My prayer is that healthy discussions can come and be productive. I would never have known any of this had I not found myself in this situation that I put myself in. I also hope that you don’t mind that I share these experiences with you, so that maybe you can help shine a light on this mess. Thank you for letting me get on my soapbox!