I just wanted to share some great news about one of the bills (SB 5164) that our state’s (Washington) Congress passed and how it affected a man I know called “All Day,” who happens to live directly above me.
People call him All Day because he is doing Life Without Parole (LWOP). He’s a three-striker, meaning if you commit three different strikable crimes/offenses then Washington state law says you’re never leaving this place. All Day is a 46 y/o black man, and he’s been locked up for about 14 years.
Well, I was trying to help All Day convince the Seattle Clemency Project to take up his case for clemency with Governor Jay Inslee but they kept rejecting his case saying he’s not a viable candidate at this time. Clemency is basically a conditional pardoning of someone by the Governor.
One of All Day’s past crimes was a second degree robbery, which the state Congress had previously removed as a strikeable offense but didn’t allow it to apply to guys already in prison who were time-barred. This was grossly unfair.
But recently, in light of racial and social equity movements, Congress decided to take up the issue again. All Day, who’s not keen on law (obviously) and looks at it skeptically, wasn’t even aware that Congress was working on passing SB 5164 to fully remove second degree robbery from the strikeable offense list – and make it apply retroactively.
I caught up with All Day to let him know about SB 5164. Having been let down many times before, he wasn’t too hopeful. But I told him I’ll track the bill for him and monitor its progress through both chambers of Congress. He was appreciative.
To the surprise of several prisoners, Congress recently passed SB 5164 and made it apply retroactively to All Day and others also charged with second degree robbery! I showed All Day the bill and explained it to him, and then I found another guy and worked with him to figure out All Day’s offender score, which determines how much time he’d have to serve based on a set of sentencing grid calculations.
We figured out that All Day will actually be going home when he’s resentenced according to the Bill, i.e., when it’s signed into law by Governor Inslee and goes into effect 90 days thereafter.
The prosecutor will then petition the court to bring All Day into court to adjust his crime and then resentence him to a period of time that is shorter than the amount of time he has already served.
In short (pun intended), All Day will be a free man soon!
I, too, was waiting on a law to pass that could have resulted in my early release, as well as many others. But unfortunately it didn’t get passed out of the House Appropriations Committee.
Nonetheless, I’ve served the bulk of my sentence and will be released next April. I just feel bad that there are so many others who really needed HB 1282 to pass for them.
That’s the nature of our broken criminal justice system. Sometimes it works to the advantage of some, and to the disadvantage of others. But the only time it works is when good people stand up and stick their necks out to ensure justice and equity for others.
For now, I’m just glad that Dwight Russ no longer has to be referred to as All Day, which I’m sure you agree was such an ill-fitting nickname.
For the first time in almost 28 years, convicted murderer Yvette Louisell soon will live outside the walls of prison.
The Iowa Board of Parole voted Friday to move her to an Ames work-release program, ending years of legal wrangling that overturned an earlier sentence of life without parole.
Louisell was convicted of first-degree murder in 1987 for the killing of Keith Stilwell inside his Ames home. She was a 17-year-old college student at the time of the murder.
She is one the first Iowa inmates convicted of first-degree murder as a teenager to be granted conditional parole after a 2012 Supreme Court ruling declared that mandatory life-without-parole sentences are an unconstitutional form of cruel and unusual punishment for those who committed their crimes before turning 18.
There are more than 30 Iowa inmates who fall into this category.
She has received support from church members, sentencing reform advocates and even the prosecutor who convicted her of murder. They’ve all argued that Louisell has matured during her decades as an inmate and is ready to be released.
Louisell detailed the accomplishments she has made in the 10 months since her last parole hearing on Friday via a video feed from the Iowa Correctional Facility for Women in Mitchellville. She has a leadership role with a group that prepares inmates for release, and she has taken an increasing number of supervised trips outside the prison.
On Thursday, she rode on a DART bus to the downtown Des Moines headquarters and learned how to read bus schedules and download the transit authority’s smartphone app, she said. She earned an instructional driver’s permit during a trip to an Iowa Department of Transportation licensing center.
“Ms. Louisell has done above and beyond all that has been requested of her in the last few years, and certainly the years before that,” her attorney, Gordon Allen, told the parole board. “She’s ready to move on.”
Louisell and Allen spent three years in litigation, which ultimately led a district court judge to set aside her original life-without-parole sentence and open the door for her to one day leave prison.
Her bid for a new sentence went before the Iowa Supreme Court, and the ruling set significant precedent for how Iowa judges can sentence young people convicted of first-degree murder.
Louisell’s transition to a work-release facility will not be immediate. There is a waiting list at the Ames facility, parole board chairman John Hodges said.
Louisell had a promising future when she graduated from high school in Michigan at age 16 and accepted a full scholarship to Iowa State University, where she planned to study politics. But she drank heavily and began suffering academically. On Dec. 6, 1987, she stabbed and killed Stilwell, 40, in his Ames home.
Louisell met the older man after taking a job modeling at a local art institute where Stilwell took classes. Stilwell, who was handicapped and needed canes to walk, offered to pay the struggling college student for private modeling sessions at his home.
At her trial, Louisell testified that he cornered her with a knife and threatened to rape her one night after she decided to quit posing privately for him. Louisell claimed that she stabbed Stilwell in self-defense after struggling for control of a knife, but she also took his wallet and tried to use his credit card at a mall before her arrest.
In a 1996 interview, Louisell said that abuse she suffered as a young child played a role in her crime. She also hedged her past claim that Stilwell tried to rape her.
“It had a lot more to do with my mental state than it had to do with his actions,” Louisell told Des Moines Register reporter Thomas O’Donnell in the interview from prison. “Because of what I came out of I took him to be threatening, you know, to be almost trapping me in a way that was very familiar to me. I didn’t have the sense to realize I could just get up and walk out of this situation.”
None of Stilwell’s family members was at Friday’s parole board hearing.
No early freedom
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan wrote the majority opinion in the 2012 ruling that deemed mandatory life-without-parole sentences unconstitutional for minors. She wrote that life sentences should only be used for the “rare juvenile whose crime reflects irreparable corruption.”
In late January 2014, Story County District Court Judge James Ellefson sentenced Louisell to 25 years in prison — a move that would have allowed her to be free within days.
But the ruling was put on hold while the Iowa Supreme Court considered whether Ellefson had the authority to fashion a sentence that would release Louisell while bypassing the parole board. The seven justices unanimously overturned the lower judge’s sentence last year, ruling that decisions about the release for most young killers should be left to the parole board.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, at least two other Iowa inmates sentenced as teens to life without parole have been released.
Kristina Fetters, who was imprisoned for killing her great-aunt, was released to a Des Moines hospice facility in 2013 after she was diagnosed with inoperable breast cancer. On May 12, the parole board granted work release to Mitchell Ronek, who was convicted of killing a man at a hotel in Maquoketa in 1984.
Louisell had a turbulent childhood growing up in a family scarred by divorce and her mother’s mental illness, according to a history of her case written in the 2015 Iowa Supreme Court ruling. Louisell accidentally took LSD and experienced hallucinations when she was only 3 years old after finding the drug in her home.
In Friday’s interview with the board, Louisell said a major factor in her crime was letting her life spiral out of control without asking for help. Prison psychologists and others helping her prepare to leave prison have taught her to set aside her own independence, she said.
“I’m a very independent person, but I know that not asking for help is a huge part of what led me down the path to committing my crime,” she said. “If I have any problems, they get dealt with at the first opportunity.”
Louisell is active in Women at the Well, a prison ministry at Mitchellville coordinated through the United Methodist Church. Finding and becoming active in a church would be one of her first priorities upon leaving prison, she said.
Louisell and Allen asked the parole board to consider granting a full parole Friday, under the condition that she move into the Butterfly Freedom House, a faith-based transitional home in Ames. But, Hodges and other board members each said they preferred a more gradual release.
Louisell will be eligible for full parole at the recommendation of her parole supervisor.
Q: How long have you been in prison? A: Since April 30th, 1997. (19 years)
Q: What is your sentence? A: Life without parole.
Q: Do you feel your time in prison has benefited you? A: Sure, I was out of control, I was unable to function as a part of society. I came to prison and lost my freedom, but found myself. I am free on the inside, the fact that I am in prison means relatively little. I enjoy life, I just live in here now.
Q: Have you made friends on the inside that you will keep after you or they have been released? A: I am not getting released, and although I’ve had many friends who have gotten out, none have kept in touch more than a letter or two.
Q: Do you have a job? If so, what is it? Wage? A: Yes. Houseman. Wage = $0. Inmates in Florida do not get paid for working like in most other states.
I make these friendship bracelets. They tie on and unite easily. The nice, even uniform side goes up. Let me know if you would like more.
Thank you so very much. I am interested to see what happens now.
Reading a book about the work of someone who has dedicated his life to freeing the innocent is inspiring. When you’re reading that book behind bars, it also evokes melancholy and wishful thinking. No matter where you are when you crack the cover on Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, be prepared to stay put until you’re finished reading it. Be prepared also to have your eyes opened – maybe even welling with tears.
Stevenson, who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, takes readers inside prison walls and courtrooms, introducing us to the human beings sentenced to die by the hands of justice system officials and a public who’ve forgotten to, or refuse to, view them as humans.
Here we highlight the Lady Lifers Chorus. Pennsylvania leads the country in the number of lifers that were sentenced as juveniles – nearly 500 – who will never see the outside of a prison.
The nine women in this chorus have each served 27 to 40 years, for a combined total of 293 years.
Beginning at 05:46, the ladies state their inmate number, time served to date, name, and place of birth, ending with the words, “this is not my home.”
Be an angel, send a letter.
To address the envelope: write the inmate’s name and number on the top line, followed by the name and address of the facility. Clearly write your name and address in the upper left hand corner of the envelope.
Inmate Name & Number
P.O. Box 180 Muncy, PA 17756