Twenty six years to life for possession of drug residue? How is this possible in the United States of America? I have come to ask myself this hundreds of times over the last 17 1/2 years, but that is exactly what I am doing — life in prison for drug residue.
This past November you, the voters of California, voted to amend the Three Strikes Law so that a person convicted of a non-violent or non-serious crime could not be given life. However, there was a minor distinction that gave judges the discretion to keep someone in prison for life if they determined that the individual is dangerous to society.
Recently a judge used that discretion to keep me in prison with a life sentence for possessing drug residue based on the fact that while incarcerated I “still broke the rules” and “failed to comply with a direct order.” This comes from the fact that in 17 /12 years of incarceration I received eight rules violations reports. These are basically the equivalent of a ticket.
The judge stated that my failure to lay down in the middle of 150 men fighting during a riot and another incident where I was involved in a fist fight with two other men but failed to lay down when told to by staff, was proof of my “failure to comply with direct orders.” He then went on to point out that my use of a state typewriter to type a personal letter 10 years ago and my possession of a cell phone in 2010 showed that I “still break the rules.” Although I agree and understand that my behavior was not appropriate, I do not believe it rose to the level of “being a danger to society.”
Furthermore, the provision that allows the judge this discretion states that both disciplinary behavior and rehabilitative behavior be taken into consideration. In my case he clearly took the disciplinary behavior into consideration but failed to look at my rehabilitative history. While incarcerated I graduated college with honors, became a certified drug and alcohol counselor, am a Relapse Prevention counselor, facilitate several therapeutic community groups, participated in youth diversion programs, facilitated numerous rehabilitation programs, have taken Alternative to Violence classes, and am a nationally certified tutor.
Yes, I have made my share of mistakes, but I have also changed and come a long way from the man I was when I started this life sentence. I now have the tools, knowledge and desire to be a better, more productive member of society. The judge in my case abused his discretion and erred in his decision to deny my Prop. 36 petition.