Bittersweet Progress

Good news/bad news. I would ask which y’all want first, but it would take way too long for the response to make its way back to me.

Me personally, I’m a bit of a cynic so let’s get the good news out of the way so I have plenty of time to get good and worked up over the bad news. I mean, heaven does have a suggestion box for a reason.

The good news is that SB5819 made it out of committee. This is the first time in 15-20 years that a bill for letting people have a review to be considered for release has made it out of committee to be considered by the Washington state legislature. So this is a big deal and exciting in all kinds of crazy ways. It shows that there actually is an opportunity to have some meaningful prison reform in Washington state.

The bad news is the committee axed first degree aggravated murder from the bill, meaning that this bill will help people with “defacto life” not die in prison, but those of us with LWOP are still faced with death by medical neglect in prison.

This was not just a reluctance to allow us a chance at review; there was a chain of events and argumentation which specifically caused this to happen.

Earlier this year the Washington state Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional. (Yay! Victory!) So naturally, a bill was introduced to make the state law reflect case law and make it more difficult for the supporters of state sponsored murder to bring back the death penalty. The bill also made it out of committee and is, in my opinion, all the the good. However, they argued that an LWOP sentence is still death in prison so why quibble over if the state actively kills someone, or just waits for them to die of natural causes. Also, it’s cheaper to keep someone locked up for 35-50 years than it is to have all the hearings and rigermarole which surrounds the path to the gallows or lethal injection (the two forms of state sanctioned murder which have been practiced in Washington state). Because of this argument, when legislators were considering postconviction review there was then an argument against extending it to first degree aggravated murder due to a need to “preserve the integrity of the LWOP sentence.” Because of this SB5819 no longer allows people charged with first degree aggravated murder to have a chance at review.

They use the existence of serial killers as an argument for anyone with a first degree aggravated murder to have to die in prison. This doesn’t make sense because in California they gave Manson a review every five years for 35 years before he died in prison. Just because a person gets a review does not mean they will be released. In fact, to really bring it home, when the Senate Law and Justice Committee was hearing testimony on SB5819, a group of people who were the survivors of harms caused by one person who is apart of our circles testified against the bill. Afterwards when those testimonies were being discussed in our circles we all agreed that those survivors were obviously in pain and we talked about what we can do (if anything) to try and help them and others in similar situations.

We also discussed our confusion regarding their testimony. The person who harmed them is under the old guidelines of the ISRB since he was sentenced before the SRA law was put in place. The only effect SB5819 would have on him is changing the number of people reviewing his ability to be released from five to eight. He’s been getting periodic reviews for decades and is still in prison and is highly likely to die in prison. He’s seriously old now.

Thus, our collective confusion about the people he harmed specifically opposing the bill and our desire to find a way to help them and other survivors of harm.

These various arguments have been presented to oppose letting people with first degree aggravated murder be allowed to be considered for post conviction review have more to do with a fear of too much change happening too fast and have nothing to do with justice, safety, humanity, or simply basic logical sense.

Human beings are fundamentally different than they used to be every seven years. This is one if those facts which, interestingly, is true on multiple levels. Physically thanks to cell replacement. Mentally thanks to psychological maturation. This argument can be extended even to spiritually if (like myself) you buy into the teachings of alchemy and astrology. By this measure a person can potentially completely and radically change themselves twice in a 15 year span. When we look at the data of who comes back to prison after release, this is why people who have done 15 years or more have a higher probability of staying out of prison.

What if, instead of spending millions of dollars on the medical care of elderly people in prison, we spent that money on facilities and services for survivors of harm? As is, they are given nothing except a headache every time the prosecutor’s office wants to use their pain as a weapon to keep the status quo in place. This is something that even the most jaded people in prison are not okay with. It was wrong for us incarcerated people to commit the harms that got us put in prison. It is also wrong for the prosecutor’s office to withhold care from the survivors of those harms.

Prisons don’t make people safe. They don’t carry out justice. And they do absolutely nothing for helping survivors of harm find healing or deal with the fallout of what was done to them.

This is the conversation I think is important. If you agree that investing in the healing of survivors of harm is more important than hurting those who have caused harm, please show your support by using the following hashtag:

#TradeHarm4Healing

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