Raising Hell for Prison Reform
Prison reform is constantly a hot topic from barbershops to the bureaucracy of government. It is believed that many prisoners enter the system in search of reform but instead come out rejuvenated criminals.
Unequal drug laws and the “Three Strikes Law” often result in petty criminals receiving maximum sentences while violent criminals are sometimes only hit with a “slap on the wrist.”
Although many see drastic prison reform as an insurmountable obstacle, Allen Jones of San Francisco is single-handedly attempting to raise awareness by launching a campaign called California Clemency by selling T-shirts in an effort to fund a billboard campaign throughout the Golden State.
One T-shirt reads, “YOU CAN’T MAKE IT TO HEAVEN BY RAISING HELL ON EARTH.” However, raising hell is exactly what Jones is attempting to do to change a system that some believe is impossible to change.
“I once saw a man get stabbed and I knew he was a goner based on the amount of blood lost at the scene,” Allen says. “I later found out that the reason the paramedics continued to work on him was because they ‘felt a very faint heart beat.’ And that’s how I live to help others. If I detect a very faint heart beat in an ex-con I will never give up on that person.”
Despite his optimism, Allen knows it is an uphill battle to rehabilitate many criminals, after spending 10 years (1983-1993) working as a Bible study teacher to juvenile offenders in San Francisco.
“Call me crazy but God will give up on me before I give up on you,” is one of Allen’s most famous statements that he uses to inspire juvenile offenders.
“The weapon of choice for most criminals is excuses. And if you disarm them of that weapon you have a real chance of turning a life around. I disarm them by paying little attention to the zillions of excuses,” says Allen.
Furthermore, he is definitely not looking for any excuses when it comes to prison reform in his home state, believing California could save billions with a new clemency system.
The case of Jackson Phaysaleum, who is in a persistent vegetative state costing the state $500,000 and Steve Martinez, a quadriplegic who was recently denied parole, would save the state an enormous amount of money, according to Allen. With the savings that could be made by clemency to inmates like Phaysaleum and Martinez, Allen believes more money could be spent on drug rehabilitation at female prisons, where 80 percent are incarcerated for drug offenses.
Allen cites the incarcerations of several California inmates as proof of the need of drastic prison reform.
Kevin Cooper is currently on death row for a murder conviction that resulted from a questionable DNA match. Santos Reyes is currently serving 26 years to life for forging a DMV test. Linda Susan Teague is incarcerated for 50 years to life for forgery. In addition, Gary Ewing is serving 25 years to life for stealing three golf clubs.
Most are facing stiff punishment because of the “Three Strikes Law,” which views them as career criminals. “There is no such thing as a career criminal,” Allen says. “People reoffend because they aren’t getting the proper help they need to get on track. Not because they like beating old ladies over the head just so they can go back to prison.”
Miskel is a writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine.