Letter To Justice Peter Siggins Of The First District Appellate Court, Division 3 – Mediation In The Coleman/Plata Federal Three Judge Court Proceedings.
Dear Justice Siggins,
Your Honor, I just wanted to say thank you on behalf of all the reformist lifers here and our families, for the personal touch of your letter and assurance of justice. You have done a lot to provide us with confidence that justice does exist, and that we can attain it.
I am clearly not advocating for every lifer to go home; it’s just that too many of us should be out in society doing reform work with our youth, or with newly paroled men, to keep them from coming here. We the lifers are the only ones who see people go home and come back with new crimes, time and time again, as I have over the last eighteen years (seen them come and go).
As In re Butler progresses in the Second Division of your court, I am confident that sentence reform for lifers will be achieved there. However, I am not shocked at the state’s unwillingness to explore new solutions to the public’s, not their personal, criminal problem.
Although I understand you’re busy, and would prefer not to bother you with this letter, I feel compelled to write not only to thank you for your professionalism and courtesy, rare among justices today, but because I believe you are a just man, and God has historically smiled on judges who carry out justice with clean hearts. I wish this blessing on you Sir, and one day I will record my experience as a positive one, hoping it was positive for you as well.
So that you understand the significance of this communication I am including a piece I hastily wrote, regarding prison reform. The point is, your charges (the parties) are negotiating a rather imprudent plan to delay “early releases” (or avoid them altogether) for three to five more years, in order to give us “more rehabilitative programs” in the hopes that the population will drop by attrition, apparently as a result of a ‘bombardment’ of program that will stifle recidivism. It is yet another illogical conclusion, with $315 million dollars and a plan to carry it out. Your honor, I simply could not stay quiet, and not write my opinion to you. I might spontaneously combust if I don’t express my frustration here.
Logic. It dictates that if the state has been trying this form of reform-less ‘rehabilitation’ for the past thirty-four (34) years or so, and it has not worked, then $315 million dollars (SB 105) and three to five more years of the same (SB 105) will not be the solution. In the game of Chutes and Ladders, it’s a chute back to square one. Your Honor, I have been part of an informal committee of elder lifers for the better part of my eighteen (18) years in prison. We are the ones who push the prisons’ CPM’ s to produce self-help programs, and fundraisers. We initiate it, not them. There are exceptionally few state-sponsored reform groups, such as SAP (Substance Abuse Program). Hand-to-God, I was plucked from Soledad to come to VSP, on the promise that this was the jewel in the states crown, the ultimate rehab/reentry hub. No sex offenders, only programmers. It was true at first (from October 2012 to January 2013), then suddenly, I began to see misfits and predators, the food went bad, the grass dried up, the program went from Level I/II to Level IV, and thirteen (13) months later, SAP has yet to open. I know this because I am a stationary engineer. I work as an HVACR technician, and I went around changing air conditioner filters and preparing the SAP trailers months ago. It is a dry, dusty mess, with dinosaur computer monitors and old equipment piled on tables in the middle of all that useful, but unused space. From what I understand, there is a “contract dispute” that has kept SAP from opening. So I wonder: how many inmates (short-termers) have paroled since 2012 when we converted to men’s population that have missed out on SAP due to “contract dispute(s)”? I think it belies the state’s true motives. In fact, for your information, the CC-III put out a matrix for SAP and the other programs there, and “lifers” will be excluded from 98% of it. That is, if and when it opens. The question is, if there are $315 million new dollars available, why not spend a little extra to settle this “contract dispute” versus the cost of those paroling without any of this state-sponsored program? Who will carry that cost? Perhaps the public, with the burden of recidivism?
Furthermore, why exclude lifers to this extent? As in the motion to intervene I presented, there is evidence that the state, through the CA Board of Parole Hearings, run by CDCR and Dr. Jeff Beard, do indeed have a policy of stifling rehabilitation as we know it, so that it excludes lifers. As when I authored In re Butler and my amicus brief in that case, as well as the motion to intervene in Coleman/Plata, I have stated that CA PC 1170(a)(2) is exclusive of lifers. Subsequent Directors Rules (Title 15 Div. 2 and 3) have reinforced that policy mindset. Family visiting is one of them. You may or may not be familiar with Governor Wilson’s crusade to end lifer family visiting, but I’m including this Regulatory Notice Register, with the pertinent portion of the page highlighted. The point of it is to show you the utterly unjustifiable disdain the state has for its lifer prisoners. As you may know, the lifer family visits were part of the so-called “Inmate Bill of Rights”, and one Assembly member fought tooth-and-nail to repeal it. Your Honor, certain epochs may support certain changes in policy because of popular public support, such as when Richard Allen Davis raped and murdered Polly Klaas. The Three Strikes Initiative was born, and as we can see today by prop 36 and the NAACP’s amicus curiae brief in Coleman/Plata, it was misdirected, overbroad, and taken to unnecessary extremes. I suggest to you that family visiting and the paroling of WORTHY lifers as well as the reform of prison program policy have all similarly been ignored out of misguided anti-criminal sentiment. It is a costly, foolish approach, and believe it or not, from Butler to Coleman to family visiting for lifers and recidivism, all these issues are inextricably linked. The fact that prestigious criminologists have not explained this or even ventured to investigate the connections is a sign that there is no worse blind man than the one who chooses not to see.
The fact that a simple inmate like myself has to risk seeming like a pest to send a second letter to you, as if I had an open door policy, hurts me because I am conscious of etiquette and of how busy you must be. However, I risk it because I am a dreamer, and I envision the possibility that one day policy-makers will sit down with us and hear our ideas for solutions. Of course I include my class Mr. Siggins, Your Honor, because for too long we have been excluded and the proof of that ideology is in the net results of recidivism, overcrowding and even public confidence in safety.
I have lifer friends who have miraculously achieved parole, and they have been hired to become counselors in the transitional homes they parole to. They are incredibly successful mentors and motivators. Can you imagine if there was a program to train and raise them up for the purpose of helping paroled men avoid recidivism? Well, there is CAADAC, another state sponsored program (like SAP) to move inmates from prison to prison wherever needed, once they are trained as counselors. This CAADAC program was another piece of bait they used to lure us from other prisons, and it has yet to be produced here. Again, I changed filters in the tons of unused office cubicles over in the SAP trailers on “D” yard, but the program does not exist, although the space does.
See Your Honor, I believe we are an untapped resource. Most of us could better be serving society out there as youth counselors or counseling parolees. The PREP program (Partnership for Re-Entry Program) of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, run by Sister Mary Sean Hodges of the Office of Restorative Justice, is an example of how lifers pay off to society in spades. We have homes there, employment, counseling, and all the support we need to succeed. Meanwhile as you can see by the NAACP amicus brief, the state is doing nothing, literally nothing, to support those Prop 36 inmates who are paroling, to prevent them from recidivating. To my knowledge, only two counties are VOLUNTARILY appropriating funds to provide rent for these people. It is an idea on par with my logic that a small monetary sacrifice with honest intentions is a small price to pay in comparison with the cost the crime would impose on a victim, as well as the subsequent incarceration. How much of SB 105’s money is appropriated for PREP?
It is all inter-connected, and a part of the larger policy and mentality that has led to overcrowding, high recidivism, parole failure, and prison violence. As in the included piece, “The Real Solution”, prisons are a breeding ground for crime, not reform. It’s only a warehouse. “Redirection”, a scared-straight type program that was started here, has yet to run because (we are told) we lack the children. Really? You mean to tell me there are no children out there who are unruly and in need of redirection? Or is there simply the lack of a coordinator to connect Officer Gill with the community’s kids in need?
When I arrived here, we were told to submit all our ideas for programs to the CPM. I fought hard for a blood drive, and an associated long-term bone marrow donation program for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The structure of that program would allow us, the “Long-Termers” (who presumably “[won’t] reenter society” or “return to the community” or “don’t have an established parole date”, to provide critical bone marrow and funds to save children’s’ lives. Thousands of us, like myself, are clean, healthy, and an untapped resource. We are demanding an opportunity to participate in programs to give back to the communities we took so much from. Given that most of us were never taught the value of giving as opposed to taking, from an early age, this would be an incredibly valuable reformation tool. Despite having a majority of the staff and medical here informally on board, it never even received consideration. I called it the “Warden’s Blood Drive”. Our names were not on it, and our only request was for all the funds to go directly to St. Jude’s, a fully transparent charitable hospital. I’ve also requested a small self help library for the men.
Your Honor, there are some men here who remember a time when your colleague, Justice J. Anthony Kline Jr., used to walk these prisons to visit with the men and see for himself what was fact and what was fiction. I am unsure of what capacity that was in; but as a judge, he has attended symposiums in his off-time to reinforce the idea of reform and rehabilitation for lifers. I wonder why Dr. Beard does not share that passion, and does not embrace the idea of reform. I wonder why he hasn’t validated our ideas, or even consulted us. The most successful Internet security companies today actually consult reformed hackers. Recently, the Prison Law Office sent out fliers asking us for our ideas for a solution. I doubt they will listen, but I submitted this piece to them. However, I am stuck in a more compromised position between increased lifer parole rates to resolve the overcrowding, and the idea of reforming the prisons into a boon for the social change and betterment movement. I have a foot in either puddle so to speak, and I don’ t see why we can’t make them both happen. Of course, I have a vested interest in going home; but that is no draw on my ardent desire to see both the lifer cause and the state of prisons improve, both for our youth and society in general.
In conclusion, I do not support early releases of short-timers. But I also do not support a 3-5 more year plan to “stay the course.” Changing the course is step one; produce a Secretary of Corrections who is willing to fulfill his duty to ensure public safety, by running his prisons more like hospitals, where his charges are treated and healed, not like dungeons or warehouses where people are whipped and time-bombs are stored. Dr. Beard has the degrees to reflect his knowledge in this field, but his heart is elsewhere, as is the Governor’s. While I understand and appreciate your point that you lack the authority to affect their decision, I appreciate your response and this opportunity to reply with my suggestion, and belief that you will temper the negotiations with logic and reason, as their mediator. Why is it important? Consider this, Your Honor: I have a nephew who is 21 now. He is in a coma from a gunfight. He recently got out of jail for attempted robbery (with a BB gun). His dad abandoned him before I came to prison. So he has lacked a positive male role model since he was three (3), and he has been troubled, as I was when my dad left. I now have a 15 year-old niece who lacks her dad as well. She has attempted suicide, and cuts her arms and legs, to ‘express’ her pain. I am currently trying to build a relationship with her. I mail her $15.00 a month out of my 32 cents pay number as an allowance. General visiting does not provide a reasonable opportunity to influence them positively. In fact, I took a 14 year-old gang member’s life when I was eighteen (18) years old.
I lacked the positive male role model and mentor in my life, and I am now ready and able to give these youngsters guidance and a positive influence and example. Will Dr. Beard give me the opportunity to? The Reg. Notice Register included here will show you that the CDCR does not recognize the value of such an opportunity because, as a “lifer”, “The Department recognizes this is not a factor for those who… do not have an established parole date.” Omitted is… “those who will never parole.” By inference, that would also be me. Hopefully In re Butler (No. A139411) will change that; or credit increases in Coleman/Plata will see my release; or perhaps you would inject logic & reason between these two stubbornly blind parties. All I want is a second chance, and for honest assessment at my initial parole consideration hearing by the board. Hopefully change and reform of our prison system will come as a by-product of all this litigation as well.
Thank you for your precious time and consideration in this matter. Again, I will never forget your signed response; you are truly an equitable and just public servant, thank you.
P.S. I remain at the Courts service.
Rodolfo Gonzalez #K57028
Chowchilla, California 93610
Until my next, I sign off.
Written by Rudy while incarcerated in California.