Dear President Obama and Others who should be concerned,
You hear from me often so I’m going to get right to it. Last summer I sent you a letter entitled, “2014; The Summer of My Discontent Letter” (FREE #LeonardPeltier)! By no means is this current letter the first you’ve received in 2015, but to continue a trend, let me call this particular letter, “Summer of 2015 & I’m STILL Discontented (FREE #LeonardPeltier)!”.
As I have said numerous times a discussion about Federal Prisoner Leonard Peltier – 89637-132 fits in nicely to just about any discussion where the topic of InJustice comes into play; there are so many topics within that broad subject. Let’s be honest. Marriage Equality is a tremendous coup for America in the Human Rights arena, but in far too many other areas we are woefully lacking when it comes to upholding Human Rights for other members of our society. Economically Marriage Equality will be a positive boon for our Country; this however will not be the case for others equally worthy of Human Rights. It’s hard to even know where to start but as I’m thinking specifically of Leonard Peltier, for the moment the focus needs to be on Prisoner Rights and Prison Reform….both Federally and for States/Territories.
To say that the Penal System is in dire need of Reform is an understatement. I applaud those who have committed to making a change that will be better for all involved. I’ve read numerous reports and articles on the subject and I have to say that some of them seem promising while others are clueless to what needs to be done. I understand that at the federal level the push is to release “nonviolent drug offenders”. To be certain the laws surrounding illicit drug use have been twisted with prejudicial interpretations that allow sentencing with harsher limits be put upon racial/ethnic minorities. So this is a likely place to start. But I have deep concerns; I’m afraid that Prison Reform will start and end with only “nonviolent drug offenders” while other Prisoners who have been equally given unjust, prejudicial, and racist sentencing will be forgotten…you know like Leonard Peltier.
It seems that many people are choosing to forget that drug offenders are not the only individuals behind bars. Our prisons remain overflowing with Individuals who have been wrongly incarcerated due to malfeasance, fraud, lies, subjective racism/prejudice, and more by police, public defenders, prosecutors, judges, courts, jurors, and other agents of the government such as the FBI. No matter what the alleged crime, there are too many innocent victims of the “InJustice System” behind bars and I have yet to see any type of proposal that truly tries to deal with fixing this problem. Certainly the case of Leonard Peltier is a prime example. There are so many others as well, and you know this. I think of Troy Davis (R.I.P.) where “reasonable doubts” kept surfacing again and again for 20 years or so and still the United States Supreme Court and the State of Georgia executed him — actually they murdered him; they murdered a man who was more than likely innocent of a crime. There are far too many examples of gross betrayals to Human Rights within the United States of America….and the World knows.
Please, I truly understand that you did not make this problem of an Unjust Justice & Penal System; it is inbred within the Institutional Racism within our Country and it has fallen in your lap. I have deep respect that you are willing to take on this necessity of Prison Reform. However unless YOU include doing something for those who are wrongly incarcerated then some of this “Reform” is nothing but a sham!
I understand that right now within the Federal Penal System there are some 30,000 individuals who are petitioning for clemency and I’m not sure if these are just individuals with drug offenses that we’re talking about. 30,000 is a big number….but with well over 2 million incarcerated within our prisons and millions more involved with parole or in local jails; 30,000 is actually a pin-drop. I’ve brought this to your attention when I discussed the public health crisis in a previous letter to you and others. I also understand that the clemency or pardon procedure is very tedious and even if the petition is put in place there is no guarantee that anyone will ever look at it. I’ve heard that the turnaround time is supposed to be 90 days. Excuse me, that’s a lie. With no guarantee that anyone will look at the petition for clemency no one has to even contact the prisoner as to whether or not their petition will be acknowledged and accepted; they wait and may be waiting for nothing. It’s also true that you as President do not need the Office of the Pardon Attorney to grant clemency or pardon to any Federal Prisoner. Again I’ve written to you about this on more than one occasion. We’ve certainly seen that the Office of the Pardon Attorney has been fairly useless up until now. The bottom line here is that Inmates are not being treated fairly and they’re also being given false hope. In reality there are a number of bottom lines. But I wonder just with these 30,000 Inmates how many of them will YOU free? How many of them will YOU deem worthy to be free? And what specific criteria will YOU use? We know that some of these 30,000 individuals should never have even spent a day in prison; some of them are actually innocent of any crime. Do YOU expect them to show remorse or admit to guilt if they are innocent? That certainly is the way the Justice Department and the Penal System including the Parole Boards operate. There is no “innocent until proven guilty”, what there is very sadly is “guilty until proven innocent”. And once that label of guilt has been placed upon an individual very few working within the Justice and Penal Systems will make any effort to right that wrong. Yeah, you know Leonard Peltier is again a prime example.
I could go on and on; I could write to you for days and weeks or months and years about all of this….Oh wait I already have!! I’m currently having some vision problems and need to limit my time on the computer so let me ask some specific questions related to proposals for Prison Reform:
1. Will Prison Reform ensure that Prisoners who remain incarcerated due to any crime (or lack thereof) have their Constitutional, Legal, Treaty (were applicable), Civil, and Human Rights honored and upheld? Please don’t tell me this happens…I know for true it does not.
2. Will Prison Reform ensure that every Prisoner receives appropriate and adequate Health Care and Medical Treatment while incarcerated? Please don’t tell me this happens…I know for true it does not.
3. Will Prison Reform ensure that every Prisoner is allowed to practice their Religion or Spiritual Practice? Please don’t tell me this happens…I know for true it does not.
4. When Prisoners are released from Prison (with or without Parole), will their Constitutional, Legal, Treaty (were applicable), Civil, and Human Rights that they lost while in Prison be restored? Seriously where are former Prisoners supposed to live, find work, etc? There are just so many “felony friendly” places to live in any locale. Many States deny food stamps, medical care, etc for former Prisoners so if they can’t find work what do they do? Understand this, if a former Prisoner cannot find work and is on Parole within both the Federal or State systems….he or she very often gets sent back to Prison. It is one way to keep the prison beds full….it is one way to keep the oppression of mass incarceration in place.
5. What about the Private Prison Companies…they run by their own rules and sue States if their beds are not full. They are Corporations and as such have more “Human Rights” than actual Humans — there is something so perverse in all of this. They do not want Prison Reform and some supposed “proponents” of Prison Reform are tided to these Corporations. No doubts they want to ensure their Corporate Powers remain intact and that their Private Prison Companies retain their populations. Private Prison companies run detainment centers for youth, immigrants, women and men in some States, half-way houses for drug offenders, they oversee “medical care” and they are trying to get in on the Parole industry. I’ve seen that they now want to “provide” mental health centers for Prisoners with Mental Illnesses. Knowing the amount of medical negligence that happens within their programs, this will prove to be even worse than the current status quo…which now is beyond abysmal! The # 1 priority of Private Prison Companies is to keep their beds full at all times; they are a pariah on our society.
You know mass incarceration within America has been called the new Slavery; it seems like a fitting moniker to me. All this talk now of Prison Reform makes me think of the Institution of Slavery in America. The Civil War was a very sad chapter in our Country’s history. When Abraham Lincoln signed the necessary Emancipation Proclamation and then Reconstruction began….it turned out to be just another form of Slavery. There has always been Slavery in one form or another for racial/ethnic/religious minorities in America; we are an Apartheid Country. When you seriously put into action the deep necessity of Prison Reform I ask you to do the following:
1. Consider the true history of America and do your best to ensure that both the Institution of Slavery as well as Institutional Racism begins to fade away for good.
2. Make a Priority to Grant Clemency to ALL Prisoners who have been wrongly incarcerated no matter what their “alleged” crime. Leonard Peltier has been waiting too long!
3. Ensure that each State/ Territory within the United States of America follow the lead of the Federal Government and evoke beneficial Prison Reform for the People. Feel free to share my thoughts with others.
Respectfully I once again Thank You for your time and consideration.
Bonnie F. Walker, RN, BS, LNC