by Susan E. Lawrence, M.D., Esq.
California leads the way across the nation in reducing the impact of extreme sentencing. Senate Bill 394 became law in January 2018, permitting people sentenced to LWOP for crimes committed under age 18 to go to the parole board after 25 years of incarceration. Five years earlier, in January 2013, Senate Bill 9 went into effect, giving such persons the opportunity to petition the court for relief from LWOP.
Little, however, has been done for those sentenced to LWOP for crimes committed at age 18 and over. SB 260, SB 261 and AB 1308 were passed, now allowing those under age 26 at the time of their crimes to have Youth Offender Parole hearings at 15, 20 or 25 years, depending on the length of the sentence for the controlling offense.
All three of these laws, however, specifically excluded persons serving LWOP. Opportunities for elderly parole, medical parole and compassionate release are also denied to those with LWOP.
Currently, executive clemency is the only path to relief from an LWOP sentence in California for those who have been unsuccessful in the appellate process and who do not qualify under SB 1437. Gov. Newsom may have announced a moratorium on executions, but people serving the quieter, hidden death penalty, LWOP, have received no such reprieve.
AB 1812, which was signed by Gov. Brown in June 2018 and went into effect immediately, gave the CDCR broad discretion to decide which sentences to refer to the court for recall. It did not exclude people serving LWOP from this process.
AB 1812 and the CDCR resentencing process could be an additional avenue for hope for people who at this time will remain in prison until they die, no matter the extent of their rehabilitation, remorse and their efforts to give back to the community from which they have taken.
Pack the hearing Wednesday, Sept. 4, 9:30-3:30
The CDCR is seriously considering excluding this forgotten population from an opportunity to have a court take a second look at their LWOP sentence. Advocates, including LWOP prisoner family members, friends and lawyers seeking to end this cruel sentence will speak publicly at the C-ROB (California Rehabilitation Oversight Board)meeting in Sacramento this Wednesday, urging CDCR Secretary Diaz to allow people serving LWOP to be eligible for this process.
The meeting will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 4, at the Alumni Center at Sac State, 6000 College Town Drive, Sacramento, CA 95819, between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Public testimony is usually held in the afternoon, but the agenda is subject to change at any time.
This advocacy campaign is led by the Center for Life Without Parole Studies, a 501c3 nonprofit organization providing free and low cost legal services to California LWOP prisoners and advocating for the end of this cruel sentence nationwide.
For more information, please contact Susan E. Lawrence, M.D., Esq., the Center’s founder and CEO, at 661-466-7007 or firstname.lastname@example.org. By mail, write to Susan E. Lawrence, M.D., Esq., The Center for Life Without Parole Studies, 2851 West Avenue L #302, Lancaster, CA 93536, and visit www.lwopstudies.org.
To understand the impact of LWOP, read this testimony:
Grief in an 8 x 12 cell
by Samuel P. Redmond III
Since I was sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) 19 years ago, I knew one day I would have to face the death of my mom while I was in prison. While I had accepted my fate – death behind bars for my part in taking the lives of two young people – my mom never gave up on the hope that I would one day come home to her.
When I was growing up, my mom would tell me, “Don’t ever get in trouble, because if you go to jail, I’ll leave you there.” But her love for her son was, it seems, far too strong for that.
For five years, she visited me in jail twice a week, although because I was facing the death penalty I could only see her behind a glass window. At that time, I didn’t care that I might be sentenced to die; I wanted to, anyway, because I couldn’t live with myself for all the suffering I had caused to so many people.
But my mom had faith in me, far more than I had in myself. My lawyers told her if I went to Death Row, all our visits would be behind glass and she would never be able to touch me again.
My mom begged me to choose to live, to plead guilty and be sentenced to LWOP, so she could hug me when I went to prison. I don’t think she ever fully understood I was still choosing a death sentence, only one of a different type.
I am blessed my mom got to see how I have grown and changed in prison, how I became a man who lives every day to make up for the harm he caused. She was never really able to understand why I still had to die in prison despite my dedication to doing all I could to honor those whose lives I participated in taking. Especially when she grew older and developed problems with her memory and physical health, my mom would ask me over and over again when I was coming home to take care of her.
One day last May I was suddenly called to the Correctional Counselor’s office. My mom was very sick, they told me, and I needed to call home right away. I spoke with my sister who said my mom was being discharged from the hospital to die in peace at home on hospice.
I began to shake and sob uncontrollably. I couldn’t lose my mom – I needed her! She had always been my rock. All I wanted to do was rush to her side and hold her hand like she had done for me so many times, but I couldn’t, because I was surrounded by walls and razor wire and a bunch of people who don’t care about me. Or so I thought.
I am known at the prison as a positive person, always smiling and involved with self-help programming, encouraging others in their own recovery. One officer noticed something wasn’t quite right with me, and called me over to ask what was going on. When I told him about my mom, I was very touched by his response. He said how sorry he was for my impending loss, and that he would be there to talk whenever I needed someone to listen.
With the help of staff and my four close friends inside the prison, I was able to make it through the next seven days, clean and sober, until my mom died peacefully at home.
Losing my mom while in prison has been the hardest thing I have ever faced, in part because her passing also brought up the immense grief and sorrow I feel for my victims and their families. I had almost 20 extra years with my mom, something the parents of my victims were deprived of due to my actions.
It’s just not fair, and I am so terribly sorry.
Send our brother some love and light: Samuel P. Redmond III, V67481, RJ Donovan CF, 480 Alta Road, San Diego, CA 92179.