by Kenneth G. Keel
The people of the state of California, by and through their draconian Three Strikes and You’re Out law, have achieved another very shameful in-custody death. On April 19, at approximately 1:20 p.m., Jeremiah Sheppard tragically died on a dirt exercise track at the Folsom State Prison.
Jeremiah Sheppard (aka “Shep”) spent the last 16 years of his life incarcerated for possession of stolen property, a non-serious, non-violent offense. His passing ended his long and courageous struggle to have his indeterminate life sentence rectified. During the past 15 years, Shep submitted approximately 10 habeas corpus petitions and several motions to correct his illegal sentence, all to no avail. The California judicial system, at all levels, failed or refused to correct his obvious sentencing error. Shep is an example of Three Strikes injustice and inhumanity.
Who was Jeremiah Sheppard? Simply put, Shep was truly an extraordinary man! One does not meet rare people like Shep every day. His background, which is rooted in a good family from Louisiana, is very spiritual. Shep and all of his siblings were given Biblical names. Shep was genuinely humble, noble, respectful and optimistic all of the time. This author was fortunate to associate with Shep during the last 10 years of his life, and I had the misfortune to witness his tragic death.
A mere 10-year acquaintance is insufficient to adequately depict Shep with words. Therefore, this author has obtained comments from several of Shep’s other friends. This biographical sketch is too limited to accommodate all of the information available about Shep. However, the following excerpts, which are validated by yours truly, describes the sentiments shared by everyone who had the opportunity to get to know Shep.
Dan Dent, who has known Shep’s family more than 40 years, sadly noted that Shep “was family, good family.” Melvin Clark noted, “I have known Shep over 17 years and never witnessed him angry toward anyone, and he always wore a smile.” “Shep was always in pursuit to correct injustice, using his wisdom and ability to convey unbiased opinions, and he shared his gift of appreciation for life,” says Johnney Ramey. Jackie Rasberry said that, “from the first day we met, Shep and I became best of friends, and trying to express the friendship we had can’t be done with words.”
J. Fosselman noted that “Shep was someone who I could confide in regarding the daily problems of prison life. At times, I considered him more than just a friend. Instead, I thought of him as a surrogate older brother. Because of his minor third-strike offense, he was robbed of the opportunity to watch his daughter grow up, which was something that he deeply regretted. He often told me that he wanted to obtain his freedom to spend time with his daughter. On the morning of Shep’s death, I was with him in the law library, working on yet another habeas corpus petition. He fought for his freedom to the very end. I regret that I never told Shep what he meant to all of us prisoners who knew him.”
In a missive entitled “Honoring a Warrior,” Big Sid noted, in part: “Shep stood firm under oppression and taught many of us the meaning of being a man and accepting responsibility for our actions. He was not only a leader, but a Brother who often spoke about the history of African-Americans and what we must do as men to overcome the oppressive conditions that we are currently living in.” Likewise, Craig A. Ward pointed out, “Shep was very soft-spoken, yet solid. Shep was a true and positive warrior in life, and in everything he stood for. Shep was a political prisoner who truthfully should have been at home with his family when he received his final call. Shep will be truly and sadly missed by many. He is forever in our hearts.”
Send our brother some love and light: Kenneth G. Keel, D-12127, FSP B5-BAI-39L, P.O. Box 715071, represa CA 95671-5071. Learn more about Three Strikes and how you can help end this scourge at http://www.facts1.org.