Letters From Prison: Mercy Precedes Healing

Letters From Prison: Mercy Precedes Healing

Submission to: The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth

Pride precedes destruction, and so every teenager dwells on the doorstep of disaster. I lived it; I was 16, an honor-roll student with loving parents and no criminal record. But I had serious emotional problems – maybe even PTSD – from abuse I suffered as a boy, and I refused to face it. I told myself i was fine, indestructible. I was wrong.

In February of 1996, I killed my mom, step-dad, and younger brother. I didn’t know I was going to hurt anyone. I didn’t want to, but I did – because I denied my problems. Because I thought I was infallible, I wrecked my community, devastated my family, and killed the three best people I have ever known.

I was saved by acceptance into a prison that offered both college and therapy. Through five years of therapy sessions, I learned about how stunted my emotions were and how to open up to people in healthy ways. In college I not only got an education, I was also exposed to new ideas and to our society’s many needs for community service. From that, I gained direction in my life.

Now, I have committed myself to two missions – starting the Susan Rae Foundation, a charity I’ll name in honor of my mom, and working to develop better community systems for recognizing and assisting at-risk youth. I want other kids in danger to get help before it’s too late. I mean “too late” for everyone; not only the victims, but the kids themselves.

Right now, a kid who commits a crime like mine is done in life. I have 90 years. Many similar kids get life without parole or huge numbers like mine. I’m an author, I serve as a facilitator in the Alternatives to Violence Project here at the prison, and I’m always seeking opportunities to reach out to and aid the community. I do it because it feels good to help, and for my mom. I don’t do it because I hope it will pay dividends; when it looks like you’ll never leave prison, you need hope, but not too much of it.

That is my wish for all the children who are entering prison – hope. Coming here at 13-17 years old and knowing you’ll never see the world again is crushing. Young people who might be saved by a realistic sentence and education are lost to drugs, gangs, and despair because they see nothing in front of them. Pride precedes destruction, but mercy precedes healing. If we save our children, even when they err, we save ourselves as well.

I personally know two men who received life sentences as teens, but they both got an education and therapy, and received sentence relief in court. One now owns to software firms and the other appeared in Forbes magazine. How many more stories like this could there be? We will only know if we show our children mercy.

Letters From Prison: Frequent Unexplained Deaths

From a prisoner in the Sing Sing facility in New York.

inmate survey

Q: Please indicate issues you would like to see addressed in your facility.

A:  Actually, everything, because management could not run a hot dog cart for a week without going out of business. Clearly they want recidivism. Keep the cells full – just like a hotel needs its rooms full. Sing Sing may be best prison in NYS, but very badly run.

Main problems are health care with ZERO education, prevention, healthy diet, age appropriate care or exercise for older men. We have frequent unexplained deaths of fairly young men. Our pharmacy is very prone to errors. After our Nurse Administrator was “fired” and arrested, they gave her another job in mental health which is technically a different agency. She kept her parking spot! Does it sound like a certain church? Educational opportunities are here only for those who fit profile of 20-25 years, above average IQ, interested in college, and no mental illness. That is about 150 out of 1600. My GED classroom has 20 seats. About 1000+ men need a GED. Obviously, this “does not compute.”

Roughly half the population has substantial mental health problems (on psych meds, zero impulse control, talking to themselves, self-medication / drug abuse, very low intelligence, illiterate in any language). Treatment of mentally ill is overmedication, zero exercise, poor diet and isolation.

For those of us who came to prison with skills and education, the problem is no opportunity to use or maintain skills. Our library is okay for fiction, otherwise zilch. Very old, e.g., vacuum tube electronics and a book on Fortran IV (might be valuable to a collector?). Car books have carburetors and crank windows.

Drug problems are major. Head in the sand about problem because “they” don’t want to explain how drugs can get through a forty-foot-high concrete wall. (Staff, of course.) Only control point is poverty of most prisoners.