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Parole: A perspective from a family member of a prisoner

Thank you first and foremost for hosting the Prison Reform Rally. It was my first time attending an event like such but I really enjoyed. It was informative as well as supportive to be around like-minded individuals who are experiencing the same thing that you are dealing with on a daily basis. I signed up to share my story and would love to have others understand the blatant criminal justice disparities that my husband along with hundreds of other individuals are dealing with in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

My husband, Jerry L James, is serving a 73-year sentence for a non-violent robbery offense. The sentence was imposed as a substitute for a life sentence, which was based primarily on very controversial sentencing guidelines that the court interpreted as mandatory. However, a life sentence was not required, and in Jerry’s case such a sentence was never just or fair. The judge suspended 35-years of the sentence but it was still severely outside the sentencing guidelines which was maximum of 12 years. Jerry had never been to prison before this and has absolutely no history of violence. Jerry was dealing with a lot of emotional stress in a failed marriage at the time and had even had a failed suicide attempt prior to his arrest.

Jerry accepts full responsibility for this and for the crimes themselves. He is truly remorseful for any harm he has caused to his community, family, and those affected by his unwise decisions. During the 17 years that he has spent incarcerated, he has taken a huge initiative to better himself as a man furthering his education by completing several educational courses ranging from G.E.D. to adult continuing education (ACE) and college courses to get a degree in Biblical Theology. He is proud of his accomplishments while engaging in programs which addressed issues of drug addiction, mental illness, and criminality, through challenges that highlight thinking errors that lead to the criminal behavior. These endeavors have heightened his awareness socially, educationally, and spiritually, allowing him to be more conscious of the human condition overall in order not to repeat his past mistakes. He uses this very positive perspective to draw from as he mentors younger inmates.

Jerry is a member of a loving family who has consistently supported him. As his wife, I visit him regularly and communicate with him daily. His children, siblings, and extended family also continue to offer strong emotional reinforcement through phone calls, cards, letters, and visits allowing him to maintain a powerful bond with family. With such a solid support system including a loving wife and a supportive pastor, Johnny will have the stability to rebuild his life and become a productive member of society if given the opportunity!

I will continue to fight for the proper justice for him and many others. So please keep doing what you're doing by allowing their voices to be heard through family, friends and loved ones.

Best wishes,


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