The Cruelty of Hope

This has been a pretty heavy month for me personally so I apologize for my inconsistency with posting. My already tenuous marriage has been even more strained than normal lately, finances are hard pressed and I’ve just been dealing with a lot of peripheral stuff. My husband was up for parole for the second time since he has been incarcerated (over two years now). We both felt he had a fair shot but TDCJ being the giant opaque bureaucracy that it is, we knew it’s really just a crapshoot. It is difficult not to have hope though. The parole review process begins four months prior to the review and his review was set for October of this year. The first time they go into review, it is six month prior. So you gather support letters, help them put together a realistic parole plan, ensure they have a place to stay and plan to gain employment (often a condition of parole), add any certifications or class documentation they’ve attended to show a commitment to improving themselves along with letters and such showing plenty of family and community support plus contingencies to deal with potential mishaps and so forth. It takes hours of preparation, phone calls and such to friends and family and a lot of thought to ensure you’re not just sending some generic piece of garbage forward for the “honorable” parole board members to review. For the second time in a row, it was all for nothing. He was denied, yet again – and what is really irritatingfor the exact same reasons as they gave before.

Now if he had done nothing to address said reasons, I may understand giving those reasons as an excuse for denying him. However, he has been to classes, has a very solid parole packet/plan and has not been in trouble a single time since being in prison. All three reasons go back to his behavior prior to incarceration which he can do nothing about at this point aside from attending classes (which by the way are not offered at the unit he is in) and doing self-help correspondence courses – which are not particularly cheap and something we pay for him to do. I am glad to help him in any way I can but it is incredibly frustrating when it feels like it is all for naught.  He has been very careful to stay out of trouble and hasn’t gotten any major cases – not in county and not since transferring into the state’s custody. And there is no recourse to the decision aside from appealing, which generally does no good anyway so really, what is the point? I hate dealing with everything to do with the state and government in general and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is no exception. What is even more frustrating is there is no independent oversight of any of TDCJ and their associated departments nor for the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Trying to make any sense of what may or may not help in the review process is like reading a manual on how to put together a swing set written by someone who really only speaks Polish. Take a gander at the lovely Texas parole guidelines annual report – the most recent version I could find was from 2016; fantastic bedtime reading, let me tell ya.

Now if he was a threat to public safety, I would understand the denial. His charge was a non-aggravated offense for which he received 12 years even though the minimum sentence was 2 years. We couldn’t afford a decent attorney so he just accepted what the state offered. The attorney we did have told us as long as he was behaving and doing what he was supposed to do, there was no reason he shouldn’t make parole his first or second time out. Turns out that was a bald faced lie but what can you do about it now? Absolutely nothing. I’ve written letters to everyone from the local district attorney to state senators and representatives all the way up to the governor’s office. I’ve sent countless letters to the Board of Pardons and Paroles and all kinds of agencies within the TDCJ behemoth. Typically you don’t even get a response and if you do, it’s the generic, “thanks for writing, we’ll be sure to take your concerns under consideration,” response. Gee thanks, I’m so glad my tax dollars are going to pay your salary. Y’all are swell.

If you’re just going to deny someone based on things beyond their control, regardless of what they’ve done to try and better themselves, what is the point of even giving them hope that they have a shot at relief? That is a cruel thing to do to someone not only incarcerated but for all the people who are working to support them on the outside. My children are fortunately young so I can control what they know about this situation but an older kid who knows their parent is up for parole and going through this crap – what a terrible thing to do to a child. The state is worse than the criminals they’re supposedly protecting us from. Famed author and former prisoner Fydor Dostoevsky said “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” What does our current prison status say about us as a civilization? We rip families apart and destroy marriages and relationships for years on end while offering very little in the way of true rehabilitation to actually help offenders avoid recidivism. We create stigmas for the mentally ill who are incarcerated and make their conditions both in and out of prison much more difficult. How does that make any sense?

According to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles Annual Statistical Report for 2017 – “The overall parole approval rate for FY 2017 was 34.94 percent.” So that means over 65% of offenders who went up for review were denied. WHAT IS THE POINT OF GOING UP FOR REVIEW IF SO MANY ARE DENIED!? Cruel isn’t even an adequate word to describe the trauma that is inflicted when you receive a parole denial. Here’s a lovely little graphic from the same publication to illustrate how they break down parole approvals by offense category:

Does anything strike you as odd or interesting about these percentages? Oh say, the fact that VIOLENT AGGRAVATED SEXUAL OFFENDERS have the highest percentage rate of approval. REALLY!? Keep telling me no oversight is needed here. Shouldn’t non-violent offenders by and large be the largest percentage group we’re approving for release and reintegration back into society? Can someone please explain this to me? I see it year after year and have never been able to figure it out. I know numbers wise this is a relatively low number comparatively speaking but regardless, you’re letting nearly half the offenders with this type of charge out on parole as compared to only about 4 in 10 when the offense is a non-violent offense.

We hear on the news there is a constant problem with overcrowding in prisons not to mention the dismal conditions of the units themselves. In Texas, very few units have air conditioning which I’ve talked about in a previous post – I can’t help but feel so sad when temperature soar over 100 knowing that inside units across the state there are people with no respite whatsoever, both inmates and Corrections Officers. We keep hearing the talking heads call for prison and parole reform but nothing ever really seems to change or happen. And if it does, it is at an abysmally slow pace and incremental change. So what can you do? Hope is a cruel mistress but what else is there? Surrender? I can’t surrender, I have kids who need their Dad and I need my husband. That isn’t an option for me. So I write; this blog, my representatives both at the state and federal levels, and try to educate people because by and large I’ve found most are ignorant of the plight of the American incarcerated and even when they are aware, largely indifferent. If you’re interested in helping change this mindset, join me and start reaching out to those around you and doing all you can to make a difference. These folks have no voice of their own.

Stay salty, friends,

Lacie

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