President Obama commuted the sentences of eight federal prisoners today. Some of those people were serving life sentences because of the time that they were convicted rather than for the crimes that they committed. If they had been convicted today, they would not have received such harsh sentences. The good news is that President Obama took a step in the right direction by commuting the sentences of eight federal prisoners. The bad news is that the president lacked the courage to commute the sentences of more than eight federal prisoners.
The media has reported widely on the lack of commutations during past decades. Presidents have been too timid to exercise their power of executive clemency. Prior to President Ronald Reagan, presidents routinely exercised their authority to grant mercy. Unfortunately, our nation’s commitment to mass incarceration has resulted in fewer leaders wanting to step up and take action to end this great social injustice that results in “far too man Americans serving sentences that are far too long.”
Those aren’t only my words. They’re the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and Attorney General Eric Holder. Both of those leaders have spoken out about the injustices of our nation’s prison system. Senator James Webb called our nation’s prison system a national disgrace.
I served 26 years in federal prisons of every security level until authorities released me on August 12, 2013. Since my return to society I’ve been working to help more Americans understand America’s prisons, the people they hold, and strategies for growing through confinement. I have a multi-pronged strategy to build a career that will contribute to the end of mass incarceration. This plan requires that I:
- Work to educate students, and I achieve that goal by teaching my course on the Architecture of Incarceration at San Francisco State University.
- Work to teach strategies on how to prepare for law-abiding, contributing lives through my Straight-A Guide Program that I offer to prisons, jails, and alternative schools.
- Work to help the formerly incarcerated transition into the job market, which I do through Straight-A Guide Staffing Solutions.
- Work to bring more awareness to the injustices of mass incarceration, which I do through public speaking events.
I am happy for the eight individuals who will return to their families because President Obama commuted their prison sentences. I am sad for tens of thousands of other federal prisoners who no longer need to be locked in America’s human warehouses, but who serve time because of our twisted perceptions of justice. I’m working to change those injustices.