Inside Voices is an opportunity for our members who are incarcerated to voice their ideas and opinions to the outside world. Since they can’t access our monthly electronic newsletter, Safe & Just Michigan prints a newsletter several times a year that is mailed to our members who are in prison. We have invited those readers to send us their letters for publication in the next printed newsletter, and in addition, we are sharing them here. Also, we invite our members who are not incarcerated to send along questions to our incarcerated members that they could use as writing prompts. If you have a question you’d like to offer, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Inside Voices’ in the subject line.
I have been trying to self-rehabilitate myself through correspondence courses. There have not been adequate classes available for rehabilitation provided by Michigan Department of Corrections in the past. I have requested to take classes from the staff of MDOC and I was told it is not my R.G.C. requirement or my requirement has been waived. I have taken on a large number of correspondence courses independently that were designed for people who are incarcerated. I completed the courses and received certificates, however I have been getting a lot of hassle by staff members when I asked to have certificates placed into my file for MDOC and the parole board to review and consider. I have currently begun taking college courses with Mott Community College to obtain a degree in business thanks to the federal government. I was wondering if there any type of clear policies, or legislation that will help people like me within MDOC whom have been working on their rehabilitation and trying to have it recognized by the correctional and parole board systems.
~ Christopher Weaver
Thumb Correctional Facility
Michigan an outlier on Good Time
I would like to see Good Time be advanced. Michigan is one of six states left to not have restored Good Time credits and is the only state to not have some sort of early release program. Good Time or similar programs would give hope to the incarcerated, not just create good behavior. If people are not given any chance to get out of prison, then that creates anger and bad behavior. This anger is caused by not having any hope of getting out because Michigan has the harshest sentences, that most can not serve, death sentences! This is due to the outdated “get tough on crime” era laws which are responsible for today’s issues. With prisoners having hope for a release or second chance, this promotes good behavior. Hope births rehabilitative readiness and redemption through programs like Good Time. Michigan Justice Advocacy is a group that is working to restore Good Time. Their website is mja.com. Please look and see everything about why Good Time makes sense. Thank you.
For a better world, differentiate between facts, opinions.
They say that prisons are a microcosm of society, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that the best and brightest don’t end up in here, as most enter with barely any formal education or higher academics. Yet plant someone in front of a television for any number of years — presto — we are suddenly qualified to express opinions on complex social issues based simply on our favorite news channels; drawing upon related values and mores. Nothing wrong with that per se, as we are all drawn to the familiar being a comfortable zone for the sensibilities.
The problem with this approach to information sharing is multifold. Beginning with a basic premise that opinions are not facts and vice versa. A fact is a statement that can be proved true. An opinion is a statement of preference or belief. Nothing more. Most of what I hear in prison day rooms, chow halls, classrooms and cells shared with a bunkie is the popular method of combining the two. Just as telling any good lie must, you have to stir in the same ingredients. Seems that we as a species are remarkably wired to do just that without testing the strength of our assertions; challenging the end product for validity.
Big news outlets know this and use it to their advantage in marketing. Apparently indignations and outrage sell commercial space, and in the capitalist worldview, it’s ALWAYS about making a buck. Simple enough. Meanwhile, people become passionate about ideas and beliefs, it doesn’t necessarily make things true or right. Now we are overwhelmed with so much negativity, both inside and out, because bad news is accessible, seemingly ubiquitous and heavily promoted to a daily crisis point. Sometimes it’s just too much! How did we get here? That’s the question and conversation we need to be having.
Finally, remember that a key value of any good system is tolerance. And to get there, we need to really get serious about education in our country so that we can stop dehumanizing each other based upon made up differences.
~Jack S. Copeman
Saginaw Regional Facility
Break the rinse-and-repeat criminal cycle
What legislation do we want to see advanced this session? There are two, Good Time and Second Look.
The majority of prisoners are remorseful for harm done to others due to their actions. We also don’t want to put our suffering above those who were affected by our actions! We look for complete restorative justice!
We are trapped inside an outdated, punitive criminal justice system that renders broken people, not actual rehabilitation.
This system has no humanity within itself for either victim or offender, other than those offenders who offer their humanity to their victim and fellow incarcerated. The very people who are cast out of society, are the humanitarians.
We are given no hope to make any difference or for another chance in life. Many of our actions are due to circumstances, mitigating factors that required intervention.
Victims of violence usually result in later violence from the victim if not restored. Hurt people hurt people, and the cycle begins and continues because the offender is only cast away — and the victim is, too. Poverty-struck rob/steal for needs, the cycle continues, there is no restoration, their sons and daughters are left to rinse and repeat.
Drugs/alcohol addiction generates multiple choice crimes, and the cycle continues because their sons and daughters are left with the inherited disease, rinse and repeat.
Many offenders have mental health issues, which are commonly at the root of their actions, most are childhood trauma, rinse and repeat.
We can return to attend to those left behind and assist in preventing the rinse and repeat if given a chance. Please take time to step into the shoes of another for complete comprehensive understanding. We can assist the incarcerated with programming to grow and better themselves.
When do we, a civilized society, create a civilized criminal justice system? Allow us a second chance. We’ll go make a difference!
Ionia Correctional Facility
We need programs for post-prison life
Programs that explain comprehensively and with vivid examples how people live a life within the bounds of the law and what we prisoners need to do and not to do once we are paroled to better ensure that we are successful at achieving that goal, not excluding healthy, lawful and moral manners of thinking and behaving.
With almost 39 years in straight and my earliest release date in 2024, you can probably guess why I would submit such an answer and where I’m coming from, and what my mindset is by it. The state of this state’s prison system that I interact with is in disrepair and terrible, to say the least. I wake up and try to make a difference each day, both with staff and prisoners, but it’s not that promising.
~ Anthony Fawcett
Cooper Street Correctional Facility
Don’t forget youth sentenced to lengthy terms of years
It is unconstitutional to sentence a person who is under the age of 19 at the time of the offense to “life.” Whether it be life without the possibility of parole or life with the possibility of parole, neither provides a “realistic and meaningful opportunity for parole at a meaningful time in life.”
At the age of 17, I was convicted of 2nd-degree murder and felony firearm and sentenced to a total of 33-50 years. Because myself and others were sentenced to a lengthy term of years, we avoided an “unconstitutional” LIFE sentence. We continue to serve (virtual) life sentences that deny “realistic and meaningful opportunity for release at a meaningful time in life.”
Unlike a parolable life sentence that has an opportunity for parole after 15 years, we must serve at least the minimum before becoming eligible for parole. No court has considered the mitigating circumstances of our youth. At the time of the offense, such that we may constitutionally serve a sentence that fails to provide the realistic and meaningful opportunity for release at a meaningful time in life to which is constitutionally required.
~Randy R. Smith
Cotton Correctional Facility
Veterans abandoned by the justice system
We just had a discussion about how unjust the justice system is. I ask, “What is the percentage of people who experience this system really working?” I made the statement, “I hope there is somewhere in America the system truly works.” I really don’t know if there is. I just watched a proud combat veteran who takes extreme pride in his service to his country almost break down and cry right in front of me. A combat veteran who has fought and shed blood in war zones. He’s been in prison decades. He was saying how after being wrongfully convicted, not truly assisted by attorneys and watching a court system that at times won’t follow the law, he’s given up. He said, “I was dead when I entered combat situations before this, so buddy, being dead is not new to me.” This system is so broken it’s caused this proud veteran to give up. It’s made him not able to discuss law without almost having a heart attack. I understand the world might say, “Screw someone from the ghetto,” like me. No one might not care if a Black man’s life is taken by this unjust system. Your veterans, though? If you won’t fix this system for people like me — if you feel I’m insignificant and my family means nothing — I’m used to that. I hate it, but that’s how it is. Would you at least think about fixing the system for people like him? Think about starting to hold prosecutors and police accountable for misconduct. Think about making judges follow the law! If someone makes things just and right, we’ll all benefit. I hope that there is a place in America where the court system works like it was designed. I hope things will get better. I hope innocent people will someday have a process in place to prevent injustices. I hope my ex-military friend gets justice. I hope I get justice. I hope someone cares. Four individuals with natural life and one with 25+ years to go had this conversation in the prison laundry. I know every one of us would be a positive asset in our communities if we were in them now. Wouldn’t it be better to let us better our communities than sit here? Just something to think about. Thanks.
Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility
Thank you for taking time
I just wanted to take the time to say, “Thank you to all of you guys at Safe & Just Michigan” for not only what you guys do for the citizens of Michigan (those who’ve never been incarcerated, formerly incarcerated and currently incarcerated), but on a more personal level, for thinking of me and keeping me encouraged. For the past at least seven years, you guys have kept me encouraged with a birthday card, Christmas card, and/or New Year’s card. And the encouragement within the card is always handwritten, showing I was worth a few minutes out of your day.
So once again I want to thank you. On my end, I’m doing my part. For the past 10 years, I’ve been a US history and personal financial investment college prep instructor. Just last year, I resigned from that position to be a geriatric and fragile population aide. I’m also in my third semester with Mott Community College and Ferris State University’s 3+1 Business Management bachelor’s program.
Thumb Correctional Facility
We need to bring back Good Time
I would like to see disciplinary and Good Time credits restored during the 2023-24 session. Tough on crime and smart with time! Clearly, the truth in sentencing act must be repealed in order for the disciplinary and Good Time credits to be amended. This necessary change would promote us inmates to refrain from the behaviors that got us here to replace them with beneficial behaviors and living skills which are acceptable in our society. Unfortunately, this great state of Michigan is the last of 50 which do not offer us inmates any incentive by practicing, following the rules of law and authority where there has been several studies which show the citizens of Michigan would vote for the restoration of disciplinary and Good Time, repealing the truth in sentencing act, which has cost the taxpayers and does not conform to the true model of rehabilitation, not only retribution thereby decreasing the burden from the citizens of the $2.6 billion budget for other education and infrastructure. Giving us inmates the ability to enroll in self-help programs or furthering our education, which establishes meaningful rehabilitation, empowering growth and change by the restoration of disciplinary and Good Time credits, psychologically can be viewed as a form of changing the mindset of the individual to follow and obey the rules of law, even when no one is watching, creating good habits and replacing the old habits before returning to our communities.
When there is no incentive for change, there is no change, which is necessary the moment we realize we have made a bad decision which deserves punishment with rehabilitation. However, if us individuals don’t have anything besides retribution to look forward to, then our behaviors won’t change, which is a must in order to conform to become a productive part of this society.
The people of this great state must truly understand that the legislators who oppose restoring disciplinary and good time credits are those who believe they will be viewed as soft on criminals and crime and won’t be re-elected. In reality, statistics have proved that keeping criminals behind bars for longer periods of time does not reduce crime. Therefore, restoring the disciplinary and Good Time credits for those individuals working to proactively rehabilitate themselves would encourage others, thereby benefiting the taxpayers of Michigan and our society as a whole.
Dear legislators of Michigan: We are individuals who have been labeled as criminals. We must not be defined by our worst mistakes or bad decisions. We should be given the opportunity to prove that we are worthy of being part of the community. Please amend the disciplinary and Good Time credits and repeal truth in sentencing as part of this year’s prison reform.
May God continue to bless us all.
~Orlandus F. Calhoun Sr.
Saginaw Correctional Facility
Lessons I’ve learned
I was born and raised in Detroit. At the age of 17, I was arrested for felony murder, armed robbery, assault with intent to rob, kidnapping and felony firearm. With the grace of God, I was acquitted of murder. I was sentenced to serve 34-52 years. I have been incarcerated going on 27 years. I write this as a 44-year-old mature, educated man with hopes and dreams. I have Christ, who is the head of my life, and that has freed me and changed my life for the better. I constantly strive to be an inspiration to all men I come in contact with.
I want all young men to know what I wish someone would have told me back then; you can be anything you want to be as long as you believe in yourself. This is my attempt to right my wrongs in some way; trying to save others from making the mistakes I made and leading them down a path where they might get lost along the way.
I can never make up for the suffering I caused, but as a man, it is my intention to make sure I reach as many in my grasp and encourage them not to cause any further pain to a human being in any way. I seek to help heal others, and show all humans can be redeemed from their past.
Thank you for all the work and support.
~LeVar Lee Perkins
Marquette Branch Prison
We need more outside programing
I am a first degree lifer with 38 years served. Over the past decades, I’ve seen the MDOC slowly prevent our self-initiated programming with groups like the Jaycees, NAACP, and BASTA. In place of our chosen programming, the Department introduced classes of its own intended to reduce recidivism through better self-awareness and emotional control.
I have been fortunate to take the Cage Your Rage, Thinking For A Change, and Violence Prevention Program classes, and am now a VPP peer support. By applying the skills taught, I am a better person due to these classes. However, the MDOC is erring badly in one regard: people usually aren’t permitted participation until close to their Earliest Release Dates. Far too many people are set in their ways by the time they’re eligible. If the Department is serious about making responsible citizens, it needs to commit the funding and manpower to offering these classes at the very beginning of a person’s sentence and then at least weekly group accountability meetings until these skills form an integral part of one’s personality.
Right at the start of my sentence I benefited from our self-initiated classes, like the Jaycee’s Dynamics Series, and they gave me the motivation and skills to something more than just another murdering teenager. With all of its resources, surely the MDOC can do an even better job in this task.
Saginaw Correctional Facility