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My fellow American...

May this reach you full of joy and inspiration.  My name is not important, but my message is vital.  I will be speaking with you briefly about the Virginia prison system and a major issue plaguing  its operational fluidity.

 

First off, prison is an emotionally draining and lonely place.  There are no actors here like "Orange is the New Black".  The pain is real!  I came to prison as a twenty-four year old man with a bountiful of wasted potential.  I never saw this coming until one day I woke up, thirty nine years old with gray hairs infiltrating my beard, and the realization that fifteen years had passed me by.  The stories are numbering and inexplicably similar -- individuals who grew up with broken homes, beseeched by crime-ridden neighborhoods, and ignorant perceptions of life.  Or there's those individuals who grew up in a loving home, acquired substance abuse problems, and found themselves committing crimes due to their addiction.

 

I was high off PCP when I committed the offense for which I'm here.  It was almost seven years into my incarceration before flashes of my mistake began perplexing my memory.  The pain, regret, and tears rolled for many nights after that.  I left my mother, children, and family behind.  More importantly, I had hurt someone.  In 1995, Virginia abolished parole and required that "new law" offenders do 85% of their sentence.  It was the get-tough-on-crime 90's that was understandable then, but now twenty-three years later, you have a lot of redeemable people serving long 85% sentences.  Many of whom were misguided youngsters when their crimes were committed.  We are looking for hope!

 

Over the past two years, the Virginia Parole Board has been granting a steady number of granted paroles.  Many of those granted paroles were serving extremely high sentencing numbers and life sentences.  It is not beyond the norm for someone doing twenty-five years before making parole on a life sentence.  That's on a life sentence!  But a "new law" offender will do thirty-four years on a forty year sentence with no relief possible.  The good news is that the majority of those being granted parole are not coming back.  Virginia now has the lowest recidivism rate in the country!  But what about us "new law" offenders doing 85% of our sentences?  Should we also have hope?

 

I know, without a doubt, that I am changed!  I got my GED in my second year in prison, and I've completed countless programs.  I wrote a book titled "Life Is So You Know" last year and recently co-founded "The Unity Group" here at Nottoway Correctional Center.  Our group just completed a back-to-school book bag drive for Housing Families First in Henrico, VA.  We are doing even more right here in prison.

 

Below is a bill that I drafted along with two other co-founders of the United Group called, "The New Law Accountability Act."  We respectfully ask for more good time with accountability factors heavily required.  This bill is all about accountability.  Please support it and be a part of change that matters. 

 

The New Law Accountability Act

 

Our vision:  It is our vision to have a "good time" system that is focused on change, accountability, and behavior.  The three levels in this proposal is serving 70%, 65% or a sentence.  This is a modest change from the current 85%.  The accountability factors clearly negate any thoughts of this bill being easy on mean and women serving sentences.  We just want the opportunity to gain relief on strenuous sentences and to establish criteria that brings out the best in us!  These are the three points of fucus that will make this bill a success:

  1. Specific accountability factors that each prisoner must meet to be awarded good time.

  2. Allow this good time system the chance to make each inmate more equipped and prepared to return to society.

  3. This bill will detail a plan to raise two to three million dollars annually, by inmates who will voluntarily give a percently of their work salary to participate in the program.  This bill gives Virginia the chance to be trailblazers in prison reform!  We will now present this bill to you...

The New Law Accountability Act Proposal

 

Level 1 (70% of sentence -- 9 days a month)

  1. Must be in population and mental health cleared

  2. Must be infraction free for 18 months

  3. Must be employed or in school

  4. Must have completed at least one program

  5. Must voluntarily contribute 20% of pay each month

Note:  This voluntary contribution of pay factors into the rehabilitation and atonement of each inmate's offense.  The average contribution will be $7/month per inmate, which equals $84/month per year for year inmate.  That may not seem like much, but if you multiply it by 25,000, the inmate's impact is evident.

 

Level 2 (65% of sentence - 10.5 days a month)

  1. Must be in population and mental health cleared

  2. Must be infraction free for three years

  3. Must be employed

  4. Must have GED (mandatory)

  5. Must have completed at least two programs

  6. Must contribute 25% of pay each month.

Note:  The Virginia Department of Corrections offers a vast amount of programs for cognitive, substance abuse, thinking for change, etc. so program participation is important in this bill.

 

Level 3 (60% of sentence -- 12 days a month)

 

  1. Must be in population and mental health cleared

  2. Must be infraction free for 5 years

  3. Must be employed

  4. Must have GED (mandatory)

  5. Must have completed at least 3 programs

  6. Must contribute 30% of pay each month

  7. Must have DCE vocational trade

Note:  An infraction can be written on an inmate for something as simple as not wearing an ID or mistakenly not standing for count, so for one to be infraction free for 18 months, three, years or five years, shows discipline and commitment to follow the rules. 

 

We have introduced this bill to many inmates for their review.  They have agreed with the qualifications 100%!  But we can all agree that it will take work and concerted effort to change.  We want to be educated.  We want to stay employed and acquire a vocational trade that will translate into a career.  This bill is about redemption and those who have made a mistake having hope.  Let us join and create reform.  Please support the New Law Accountability Act and spread the word.

 

facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/courtney.henson.927

 

 

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