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Real talk on three strikes

August 27, 2011

by Richard Wembe Johnson

This is the D corridor, where Richard Wembe Johnson lives – if you can call it living – in the Pelican Bay SHU. The California Department of Corrections hosted a few major media reporters Aug. 17 in a rare tour of the SHU, but they were denied access to this corridor. – Photo: Julie Small, KPCC
For many years, the “three strikes” law has rained havoc and waste over the state of California, plunging its state debt increasingly deeper each and every year, which the taxpayers are paying for without any real justification. In getting the three strikes law passed in the first place, the general public was duped into believing that the law was directed to all those violent repeat offenders – child molesters, murderers, rapists and so on.

Quite naturally, anyone with common sense would view voting in favor of the law as a way to protect themselves and their communities from violent predators. Unfortunately, however, the people were tricked into a false belief: that the law was about ensuring safety and justice. Both can’t be further from the truth! Instead, any repeat offender regardless of the offense became a victim of this potential death sentence, condemned to a minimum of 25 years to life for as little as a DUI, petty theft, petty drug possession, petty check passing and so forth.

These are crimes, but do they rise to the level deserving of a life sentence for the perpetrators? On the surface it would seem like everything was above board and all about order and justice, yet a closer inspection would reveal the ugly truth about the law and its real implications.

From its origin, the politicians – in their quest for power and, for a few, retribution – played on the pain, hurt, fear and of course lack of insight of the people to push the law forward with all its hidden agendas and flaws. They knew that the climate was ripe for getting the three strikes law passed, so they lied, deceived, tricked, coerced and did everything else possible to have it their way.

Unlike previously, when most punishment was reflective of the crime, this law clearly demonstrates an aggressive and reckless push by certain politicians and lawmakers who are benefiting from this injustice that is costly not only monetarily but morally and socially as well.

By creating these outlandish draconian laws, the profiteers are amassing huge profits rooted in the prison industrial complex and its many, many subsidiaries that are constantly growing, rivaling big business. The politicians who are proponents of these laws aren’t so concerned with law; their main objective is the power that is generated in public office – especially if you’re seen as hard on crime, not to mention being soft on big business, with, of course, the desire to elevate yourself politically.

The three strikes law doesn’t alter nor deter crime. If anything, it makes matters worse: A person who is committing crimes has no incentive to rethink whether to commit a violent crime when the punishment is the same, whether violent or not. This is also applicable to those confined in these warehouses that are essentially rotting.

When you take an in-depth realistic look into the prison system, institution by institution, you see these prisons are on lockdown more often than not. What rehabilitation is gained from prisoners being entombed in their cages doing nothing but percolating in bitterness and defeatism, while the taxpayers pay the cost?

How can anyone expect to fix a problem by contributing to it? Sometimes, in order to fix something, you must first tear it down and restart from scratch, piece by piece. Granted, nobody in their right mind wants a continuation of crime in their communities, but until you can attack the causes rather than apply useless measures contributing to the effects, the problem will only intensify. With each passing year, the prison expenses increase, growing a larger deficit than the preceding year, thus begging the question: How long will it take for the people to recognize the sham for what it is?

How can anyone expect to fix a problem by contributing to it? 

Those elected and nonelected officials on their own personal quest for power aren’t serving those who entrusted them with the responsibility of fixing the problems generated by overcrowding and mismanagement of public funds allocated for prisons. If they’re proven to be inept, then they should suffer the consequences of their wrongdoing and incompetence. This should be the duty of the people by popular vote, based on real facts.

There have been at least a couple of attempts to amend the three strikes law. Thus far they have failed because the powers that be continue to lie and disrespect the people’s intelligence.

Until the voters take matters into their own hands and stand up for their rights, they will continue to be victimized by a corrupt and deficient system, sucking the life and blood out of the people. There are workable solutions to California’s prison crisis that could improve the entire economy in California, as well as the safety and wellbeing of both the community at large and those held behind the walls. But until you’re able to come to terms with the problem, you’ll never find the key.

Overcrowding first and foremost must be addressed in a sensible and informed manner: When you bring down the population, you bring down the costs. If you constantly increase the population, then, without fail, you increase the expenditures. It can’t be simpler.

Nonviolent criminals weren’t a part of this equation at the inception and shouldn’t be a part of the problem now. Spending nearly $50,000 a year per prisoner isn’t progress, nor is sentencing a prisoner to life because he stole a pack of biscuits, wrote a $10 check or possessed a small amount of drugs. Treating prisoners like commodities is wrong and there are repercussions for this mistreatment that are costing the people and abusing the use of their tax dollars.

Send our brother some love and light: Richard Wembe Johnson, K-53293, SHU D2-218, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532. During the July 1-21 hunger strike that originated in the Pelican Bay SHU, he wrote “A hunger striker’s journal,” Parts 1 and 2, Part 3 and Part 4, that enlightened readers on issues of great concern to prisoners. This story was written Aug. 15, 2011.


3 thoughts on “Real talk on three strikes

  1. John Dewar Gleissner

    Yes, three-strikes legislation and other mandatory sentences painted California into a corner. Profound reforms most generally follow disasters, major crises and first-class fiascos. California is therefore ready to solve its prison crisis with the following tough love reforms after they abolish three-strikes requirements:

    1. With regard to manufactured goods now made exclusively in foreign countries: (a) repeal the federal statutes that killed prison industries (Hawes-Cooper Act of 1929, Ashurst-Sumners Act of 1935, Walsh-Healey Act of 1936) and any state statutes that bar the sale or transportation of prison-made goods, (b) exempt and provide immunity for prison industries and employers from and against all labor and employment laws, wage & hour requirements, ADA, FMLA, discrimination laws, and all other worker protections; except OSHA should remain in full force and effect, (c) encourage secure private work communities and workhouses run by private businesses and religious organizations providing spiritual support, hiring prisoners to work under wages, hours and conditions of employment to be freely negotiated and agreed upon in writing, (d) make appropriate deductions from prisoners' earnings for crime victim restitution, child support, court costs and costs of incarceration.

    2. Enact laws providing for judicial corporal punishment in lieu of incarceration, particularly for non-violent drug-related offenses and crimes carrying sentences of less than 5 or 10 years; with the following safeguards:

    (a) Administer corporal punishment only for offenses carrying potential sentences of confinement or incarceration. Allow incarcerated offenders the option of taking their sentences as corporal punishment after some period of incarceration. A court could enter alternative sentences in its discretion, using all available punishment options and sequences. One of the purposes of re-introducing corporal punishment is to reduce incarceration with community corrections. Corporal punishment would take place in the community.

    (b) Take into consideration the age, weight, health, physical condition and gender of the defendant in order to determine the offender's ability to take corporal punishment. A formula or sentencing guideline could take account of these factors. Medical personnel could monitor the administration of punishment.

    (c) Administer corporal punishment only pursuant to a final judgment entered by a court of law, after a fair trial or plea agreement, and only in the discretion of the sentencing judge.

    (d) Impose corporal punishment sentences within a pre-determined sentencing schedule using standardized instruments, force and procedures.

    (e) Conduct corporal punishment in public, supervised by the judge who sentenced the defendant, and videotape it for a public record.

    (f) After corporal punishment, the convict should work full-time, go to school full-time, or participate in substance abuse rehabilitation. Required work would include employment in a work community or workhouse, at a job offered by the private sector, at a job provided by the public sector, as a fulltime volunteer, or as otherwise ordered by the court. Some juveniles from bad homes would need to recover in a better moral and physical environment.

    3. Enact laws providing for the placement of color-coded metallic or plastic collars on convicted felons or juvenile offenders in lieu of incarceration. Variations in weight, comfort, composition and color are based upon the gravity, type and time of the offense and current behavior. Shades of red = violent crimes, shades of green = property crimes, shades of yellow = sex crimes. After entry of a judgment by a court, allow probation officers and school officials to adjust the collars, within limits set by the judgment or statute, up or down depending upon the current behavior of the offender.

    John Dewar Gleissner

  2. HisLady

    Knowledge is everything, we have habitual offender laws, we have a 1-strike law for sex offenders, we don't need this emotionally motivated 3-strikes BS law. One must focus on the whole 3-strikes law to understand how it's really unjust, clogging our justice system with BS cases and prompting over-zealous, tail wagging prosecutors to over-charge, elevate misdemeanors to felonies & plea bargain as many cases as they can by scaring defendents with some ungodly, hyped up amount of prison time, which doesn't fit the crime.

    For those of you who think everyone doing time is a "violent repeat felon", understand this: If you've never been in trouble in your life, someone calls your mother or child a bi****h, you get in a fight and you break their nose, you now have your 1st strike (assault w/great bodily injury). Now read on what happens to the rest of YOUR life, aside from the discrimination you receive in trying to find a job, housing & a way to eat FOREVER in CA, as we don't have a "washout period" like the "sane" states.

  3. HisLady

    Second Strike: Penal Code Section 667 (b)-(i), specifically (e)(1), indicates a
    defendant who has ONE prior serious or violent felony (ex. breaking someone's nose in a fight) conviction that has been pled and proven in court and who is convicted of ANY new offense (misdemeanor elevated to a felony, non-violent felonies, it doesn't matter!) results in the new term being DOUBLED. It does NOT matter if the new offense is serious or violent as it is the prior serious/violent offense that causes the new term to be doubled. Not to mention our stupid sentencing structure gives people triple the time by the unjust "sentence enhancements" (ex. 3yrs for the crime itself & 10yrs for the enhancement). These persons are referred to as Second Strikers.

    After that we know writing a bad check, stealing a candy bar and ALL petty offenses will result in a 3rd strike, equaling a life sentence in prison. I can certainly think of better ways to spend MY tax payer dollars besides lining our muti-billion dollar prison industry pockets for trivial BS cases. Give the murderers and child molesters life!


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