Peace and Blessing to all who came out to support today. My name is Khayr Rooks. As an incarcerated individual, I truly appreciate an opportunity to voice the need for prison reform from my perspective. Speaking as a Blackman in America, we often find ourselves as victims of the justice system as opposed to citizens protected by it. My situation in particular is a prime example as it will shine some light on the flaws of our justice system.
To briefly describe my situation, I am currently 11 years into a 28 year sentence. I was convicted of multiple robberies and multiple firearm charges stemming from a situation in which myself and two codefendents entered into an apartment brandishing bb guns and robbed the people occupying the dwelling. Granted this was a terrible decision, the ensuing miscarriage of justice was the true travesty. I was given a mandatory 28 year sentence due to a misinterpretation of the 18. 2-53.1 statute, using a firearm in the commission of a felony. In 2011 the Va. courts ruled that this statute was being misinterpreted and that sentences such as mine weren't mandatory at all. So to put this in its proper perspective, I was sentenced to a mandatory 28 year sentence that wasn't mandatory for using a firearm in commission of a felony where no firearm was ever present. Although the courts ruled that this was incorrect sentencing, it is not retroactive as it is not a new law. Moreover, this is my first offense.
I have spent the vast majority of my adult life incarcerated. Due to the Truth in Sentencing Act, I will serve 85% of this harsh sentence with no avenue for relief or early release. Over the past 11 years I have grown tremendously, developing a profound understanding of life, God, family, self, hard work and a plethora of other things. I have done this basically of my own accord as D.O.C. doesn't offer much in the area of rehabilitation nor does one have an opportunity to legitimately further their education. I have received a trade in Computer Software/ Business Applications. I have taken the Anger Management and Thinking for a Change programs. Myself and countless other individuals find ourselves daily in this same position completely rehabilitated and ready to contribute to society yet decades away from release. Men devoid of hope and purpose for such extended lengths of time are doomed to fail upon return to society. Consequently due to all the changes in communication and lack of employment opportunities within the prisons, people find themselves further and further separated from family and friends. This in turn creates a recurring cycle of future generations of fatherless sons destined to follow blindly in their predecessor's footsteps. The unforeseen effects of this longterm incarceration on society are certain and can only be detrimental to the population as a whole.
One must ask, what lesson takes 30 years to learn? Or how is a 28 year sentence justified for a situation where no one was hurt or even in danger of being hurt? Or maybe one should be asking, who is keeping my nephew away from crime while his uncle and his father are incarcerated for the first 30 years of his life. At what point does the Department of Corrections become about correction and not destruction? These are conversations that are being had now so the next step is action. It is time for Reformation. It is time for change. Thank you. Peace.