Walking slowly out through the prison gates, the young man never looked back. Freedom. What did it mean for him? He’d spent five years of his life behind bars for a non-violent crime he didn’t commit. He’d had no trial. After many threats and intimidation without benefit of adequate counsel he’d cut a deal with the prosecutor. At eighteen he’d had his entire adult life still ahead of him. His head was full of all the exciting dreams of youth. Those dreams had died during his five years behind bars.
Now he was free and his emotions were tangled. There were feelings of elation, happiness, and fear. He was scared to death. Would anyone hire an ex-con? Would he find a decent place to live? He had no money. His parents, who had very little, were determined to help him to the extent they could. He made up his mind to work hard and begin a new life—a life of freedom. He had his parole transferred to another state and left with a small bud of hope growing deep inside.
Things weren’t easy. He’d developed a drug problem in prison and once out, fell in with the wrong crowd. His mother gave up and abandoned him to the streets. His father stuck by him and in time he kicked his addiction, obtained gainful employment and rented a small apartment. He did well on his job, was promoted and met a nice girl. He continued to make the payments on his fine and was finally off parole. Two years had gone by since his release from prison and he was happy. He’d be okay.
Until one day he received a letter from the prosecutor’s office where he’d been imprisoned. According to the letter he was in the other state illegally. He phoned and explained that he’d been allowed to legally leave the state through a transfer. The prosecutor didn’t care about any explanations. That transfer was for parole, he was now on probation and would have to come back to the other state or risk being in violation and being arrested to serve out his ten years of probation behind bars. His father knew someone of importance in the state and a meeting was arranged. The young man got leave from work and traveled to the other state to sign papers for a transfer. The prosecutor asked if he was going to pay off the remainder of his fine in full. No, he told them. He didn’t have that kind of money and had no fast way of obtaining it.
If he wasn’t going to pay the money, then they didn’t have time to do the transfer papers. He’d have to come back. He explained what a hardship it had been to travel there the first time. They didn’t care. He’d come back and he’d remain for the four months it would take to do the paperwork or he’d be arrested. He’d also be monitored to make sure he didn’t leave the state. The young man was confused. He’d lost his freedom for five years on a breaking and entering charge. He’d paid a debt to society he hadn’t owed. He’d done all that was expected of him since being released. His life was just turning around. Now they wanted him to give up his job, his home, and his girl—come there to live on the street. How was this possible in a country like the USA? He returned home, feeling desperate. He knew he needed a good attorney, but couldn’t pay. His father couldn’t pay, but found a place where they offered free legal services. Will they be able to help or will this young man be forced by the system to become a homeless person and in all probability a repeat offender?
There are several things wrong with the above scenario. First, because of being poor, there was no adequate legal defense. Two, he was bullied and threatened into cutting a deal and confessing to a crime where the prosecutor had zero evidence against him and where there were witnesses to the fact he was somewhere else at the time the crime was committed. Three, he was allowed a transfer to another state to begin life anew and once he’d become a law abiding contributing member of society, he was threatened with arrest if he wasn’t willing to give up this new life and go back to the jurisdiction where he’d been convicted with no money, and no where to live. And last and most important, there is still no access to adequate legal counsel to fight against this kind of railroading for a person of limited financial means.
Let us imagine for a moment that all the above was true except the part where the young man was innocent. If I did a survey would most people say he was getting what he deserved? How could that be? He served his full term minus a couple of months for time served in jail before being convicted, and good behavior while in prison. If he’s getting what he deserves, does that mean he doesn’t deserve a second chance—he should pay for this one crime for the rest of his life? And do we truly want all the people released from prison every day to be forced by the system to return to a life of crime or do we want them to turn their lives around and become law-abiding citizens?
The above story is true.
©Copyright E. G. Parsons http://elizabethmeltonparsons.com