(Thanks for sharing your story as part of this American Moment)
22 December 2008
Dear Mrs Obama,
Of the many pieces of mail you must be receiving, I am sure you will not be allowed to even see this letter to read it. But the importance of this time and topic compels me. I will not waste time blowing up your head with extras. You already know we are all proud of you and your family (from the block to the boardroom). And it is obvious you are the cornerstone of your husband´s success.
Now I could easily detail the horrors of my life and childhood for you, how I came to be writing this letter from a prison cell. But this is not a self-interest piece. This is about an inherently flawed and corrupt judicial system. That wilfully incarcerates tens of thousands of people on wrongful convictions. And excessively sentences them, solely on the basis of race and social standing. We have seen in the past ten to twelve years more than 230 convictions overturned with the advent of DNA-testing. State and government officials say this is proof the system works.
In truth, these are 230 testimonials to the fact that the system is at best broken, and susceptible to corruption. Every year more and more people are exonerated by DNA-testing. But for each of them there are many more of us wrongfully convicted on the lies of snitch testimony, manufactured evidence, and bad identifications. So there is no science to save us from this torment. This letter is about a prison for profit-ideology that privatizes prisons and creates a growth industry reliant upon cutting programs, ignoring serious health problems, and locking up as many people as possible. In order to maximize profitability.
I just left a 16 year old kid at one of the other prisons, who was on the verge of suicide when I met him, because he has what amounts to a life sentence. He has already been sexually assaulted once. And the prison´s idea of protecting him is to lock him in a cell alone 24/7 until he turns 18. With no human interaction, no education programs, nothing! The kid could barely read or write, and had no working concept of basic math. But I reached out to the young man and he was eager to learn, eager just to be able to talk to someone. I taught him what I could by smuggling books and notes of encouragement to him.
You´d think the prisons would want us to educate each other and instil some sort of positivity. But simply sharing a book with another inmate is illegal here in Nevada. They call it “gang activity”.
You might think the situation with the kid is an uncommon occurrence. But it is by far the norm. There is a kid (18) across from me now who has been locked in a cell 24/7 for over a year. No programs, nothing.
I realize that the president has to focus on many other things to do a good job for “everyone”. And to ensure his election is not a fluke. We all want the hope/promise to manifest into reality. But you cannot get so caught up in that you fail to seize this time to address some of the uglier realities of our society. We are not asking you make judicial/prison reform the focal point of your time as First Lady in the White House. But your name alone wields great power and prestige. We are only asking you to put together a committee of eleven or so persons respected in the fields of civil/prisoners rights. To work in hand with the newly appointed A.G. Mr E. Holder, and other known advocacy groups, etc. Give them full authority to investigate the Nations courts and prisons. To enter any jail or prison wherever whenever and without notice. To identify points for improvement. And to come up with and implement an effective oversight program to address claims of misconduct, medical neglect, wrongful convictions, etc.
To have any teeth at all, the committee will need full authority to remove and replace prison officials, wardens, directors, etc. or place them on probation. Once the investigation is complete, and an effective oversight model is set, the committee can then break up the 50 States into (11) or so regions based on prison populations. Allowing each member to head up their own office and implement their own ideas and working all together to figure out what works best. The objective being to reduce recidivism rates. To honor the victims´ rights, without losing sight that these people in prison are also human beings. And to give these convicts an opportunity to redeem themselves, through education and service.
Over the next four years, hopefully eight, we must end this prison for profit ideology, the privatization of prisons, etc. as this only invites abuse and corruption. I could write a book detailing the many flaws in our judicial/prison system. Especially here in Nevada where there are no such groups or programs to address these issues on any sort of consistent or individual basis.
Giving prison officials free reign to brutalize us, ignore serious medical problems, and violate our basic civil rights with impunity… But men and women far greater than myself have authored numerous books covering these issues. And I implore you to read some of them.
You are in a unique position to call on people like a Cornel West, André Eric Dyson, or Melissa H. Lacewell of Princeton, to work with you on these things, that are not so romantic, but of great importance to so many of your husband´s constituency.
Recently Ms Condoleezza Rice spoke of the importance and urgency with which we need to fix our broken/dysfunctional school system. I can imagine you working with her and numerous others in this regard. And with your husband in office, we must finally remove the last vestiges of slavery from our constitution. If you know not of what I speak, I will direct you to the 13th Amendment. Our government has also not honored the Declaration of Human Rights, and other commitments we have entered into with the United Nations. More important, we have not honored the treaties and commitments our government has made with the Native American peoples/tribes, to whom the debt of this government´s forefathers is written in blood.
By organizing committees to address this and other issues vital to the harmony and unity of this country, not only will you be fulfilling the promise of America for all, bringing us all together. And giving us all a sense of ownership in this great country, you will be working that much more towards regaining our standing in the world community. As it has always been the way we embrace and treat each other, that is the greatest example of peace and freedom to the world.
P.O. Box 607,
Carson City, NV 89702
Moved since Jan 11thto:
ELY STATE PRISON
P.O. Box 1989
Ely, Nevada 89301
Ps Here are just a few of the many good books you can read on the fore mentioned issues. To which I am sure you already have at least some knowledge of:
No Equal Justice – David Cole
Prison Profiteers – Paul Wright
The Celling of America – Daniel Rose