Giving Ex-Offenders a Second Chance

Senate Bill SB5819 is being introduced to the Washington state legislature. It has the potential to completely rewrite my current life trajectory, and the trajectories of everyone currently sentenced to die of medical neglect or suicide in a Washington prison.

I’m calling it what it is. The judge may have said “life without the possibility of parole,” but she meant “die a horrible, slow, painful death after spending an unknowable number of years in a cage you monster” (And yes, she used the word “monster.” It’s in the transcript of my sentencing). The only way to avoid death by medical neglect is to literally take one’s death into one’s own hands and commit suicide. This is not okay.

At the time of my conviction I needed to be put in a place where I couldn’t hurt anyone else. I was broken in ways that go deeper than just psychology and because of that I was a danger to myself and everyone around me. The place our society has designated for housing someone as broken as I was is prison. My being put here was truly the best possible outcome among a selection of terrible options. However, it should not be forever.

Over the course of the past eleven years I have done massive amounts of work to deal with my damage, and I will continue to do this work for the rest of my life because the ways in which I was broken went soul deep.

Under the current system, society officially neither values nor cares about my brokenness or my journey to wholeness. This is wrong. Once someone has dealt with the issues that lead them to commit the harms which brought them to prison, they should have a chance to be considered for release. I don’t think I’m quite ready for this just yet, but I can see the day when I will be and I don’t think it’s that far off. However, as things stand, even after I’ve gotten to a place where I am ready to go back out into the world, there is no route available for me to be released. I could ask for clemency through the governor’s office, but the best I could hope for is getting placed under the ISRB.

Senator Darneille has introduced a bill that could change all that. It is called
Post-Conviction Review Board Bill: Relating to the establishment of a post-conviction review process for early release for qualifying offenders.”

The title may be a bit long, but it’s otherwise a good bill.

This bill will take the old ISRB, which is a part of the DOC, and rename it to the Post-Conviction Review Board and move it to be under the office of the governor, independent of the DOC. This is important because it gives the board the power to let people out, rather than only being able to submit a recommendation to the governor to let someone out.

It also designates who is to be on the Board. Currently the only real qualifications the five people on the ISRB have for being on the ISRB is having convinced the DOC to give them a job. This bill sets minimum qualifications for the eight members of the new Board and designates what different kinds of people have to be on the Board. Including a retired judge, a representative of a statewide racial equity organization, a representative from a group that does reentry work, and a behavioral health specialist.

The job of this Board will be to consider whether or not someone could be released early. Their job would not be to let people out, their job would not be to keep people in, their job would be to review each individual who chooses to petition to be considered for release.

All of this sounds really good right? Thinking there has to be a catch? Most of the bills I’ve seen like this have nasty little clauses in them that do things like give the cops a bunch of leverage in the decision making process or require the governor’s signature for release, or state outright that whole groups of people are not eligible. So it was with great trepidation that I turned to the section describing what is required to be considered for release.

This bill would apply to everyone retroactively, regardless of when they came to prison or what they did to get here. As long as a person has put in at least 15 years, hasn’t gotten in trouble in the past year, and is willing to let the Board look at all of the medical, mental health, and other files the DOC has on them, then they can be considered for early release. It doesn’t mean their gonna get it, but at least they are allowed to ask.

This is exactly what I think should exist. It’s not a “get out of jail free card” thing. Currently we sentence people to die in prison in Washington state, this bill gives people a chance. And that’s all I would ever dream of asking for, a chance to earn the opportunity to live my life.

We need to direct as many emails and calls as we can to the people listed below. They are responsible for getting the Sentencing Review Bill passed. When you write or call them you only need to tell them that you are in support of Senate Bill SB5819, and that you would like them to support the passing of such a bill. Calls are more effective. They may ask if you are in their district, just say yes. Their district is by their name.

The hearing of the bill will be on February 14, 2019 @ 10:00am in Olympia at the state capital building. It will be held in hearing room 4 in the Cherburg Building. We need to have as many people attend as possible. This will show that there is strong support for the bill.

Senate Law and Justice Committee

Chair: Jamie Pedersen, DEM., 43 Dist.

Mike Padden, REP., 4th Dist.

Jeff Holy, REP., 6th Dist.

Patty Kuderer, DEM., 48th Dist.

Jessie Salomon, DEM., 32nd Dist.

Lynda Wilson, REP., 17th Dist.

Manka Dhingra, DEM., 45th Dist.


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