It has been 18 years and seven months since I left the confines of incarceration. That experience with the young and old men that I met and forged bonds with is something I will never forget. I was 19 when I got arrested and age 20 when I was convicted and sentenced to 22 1/2 years. One of the first things guys often ask you when you make to Huntsville’s Diagnostics Unit, then again later when you make it to what might be your permanent or momentary prison unit, is “How much time you got?” This was an unusually long sentence for a first time offender and young person, but many prosecutors have little or no regard for any of that when you’re a black defendant in a jury trial.
This is a common practice and the status quo of what I call a “Judicial Lynching” in the South, similar to the Jim Crow era, when the first Texas prisons and reform schools were built only for white men, while black men were instead often lynched for their alleged crimes and never to be heard from again. This struck fear into the hearts of black men and women, preventing them from asserting their rights or standing up and challenging the merits of authority. Similarly this is how many of our criminal court rooms still operate today. You’ll often find that when black men and women, persons of color, and the poor of any race or ethnicity decide to exercise their rights to due process and stand trial, they are handed down the longest and harshest of sentences at the request of prosecutors, simply for daring to exercise their rights to due process and defying the status quo business as usual. This has also helped spur mass incarceration, because 95 percent of criminal cases are adjudicated through plea bargains.
These deliberate and maliciously large sentences requested by prosecutors and handed down by southern district court judges and juries, even in cases that involve no victim, hurt not only the accused and convicted. These sentences also destroy and hurt family members of those individuals, namely their parents, spouses and children. It strikes fear in the hearts of men and women and discourages them from ever exercising their rights to due process. These sentences ban millions of black men from society and civic participation and makes us what U.T. Professor of Sociology, Becky Pettit calls “Invisible Men”. These sentences castrate and sterilize men and women, preventing them from ever having a family, especially women during their child bearing years. Felony disenfranchisement and the 17 years I spent on parole prevented me from participating in any of the past municipal, gubernatorial and presidential election cycles, and I was never considered a full citizen. As a property/home owner during that time, I still had to pay county property taxes. If the formerly incarcerated are not full citizens, then please waive and do not accept our hard earned tax dollars.