Liberate the Caged Voices

The-Cultivators-Samuel-L.-Dunston-Jr., Liberate the Caged Voices, Behind Enemy Lines
“The Cultivators;” Cultivate, definition: try to acquire or develop (a quality, sentiment, or skill). Our California Elders, our California Political Prisoners captured in their youth, not only tried, but succeeded in burying themselves in books to educate themselves and one another, and to develop into New Men which was inevitably also the very action that got them thrown in the hole, gang validated and denied parole. – Art by Samuel L. Dunson Jr.

Elderly Parole and The Agreement to Come Home

by Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa and Bro. Balagoon K. Muhammad

In August of last year 2021 Minister King X put out a statement, and five basic demands of The Agreement to Come Home. The following is an extension of that statement and a restructured version of the Five Core Demands (developed during the first of three historic California Hunger Strikes that started in July of 2011).

The continued incarceration and inhumane treatment of Elders persists due to the discretionary parole practices of the board and an arbitrary system of punishment poisoned by racism and classism. The corporate media’s use of publicity tricks to give false narratives that shape public opinion regarding parole for Elders has also added to the problem.

Utilizing different platforms to boost the struggle, a mutually empowering partnership between inside and outside activists has devised a more viable solution to not just bolster the voices of those Elders still strong enough to cry out, but to challenge the false narratives that have been fabricated about these Elders still “posing a violent or criminal threat to the community.”

Building a public support network, while educating the masses about the racial bias and systemic failings of the discretionary parole process, is a necessary step in disrupting the cycle of discretionary parole. Our Elders take center stage in this effort because they are disproportionately at risk of disorders like dementia, aortic aneurysm, prostatic hyperplasia, cataracts, diabetes, glaucoma, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s, pressure sores, prostate cancer, stroke, urinary incontinence and much more.

Hence, it is the Elders that must be considered, as many of them were young adults, 20 to 25 years of age upon being convicted and sent to prison. Their maturation and development from boys to men have been within these tombs. Thus aging has been a slow deliberate process – beset with the positives of daily workouts as well as the negatives of poor diets, impromptu riots and disproportionate sentencing schemes by the Adult Authority and BPH (Board of Parole Hearings).

Many of these Elders have created viable programs that would have availed both state and local governments.

This gradual aging process can also be attributed to a decline in bodily functions, the lack of checkups and proper medical care. Understand that a prisoner is not traditionally considered elderly until they get to be 60 and older. And although new laws have forced the BPH to recognize 50 as the new age at which one can legitimately be designated as elderly, 65 is still the recognized age for retirement in this country. Now, there are three primary ways to distinguish the elderly:

1) Chronological age: this is based on your age in years only. Chronological age is good for predicting a lot of the health issues we face in today’s world as some health issues increase as we get older. 

2) Biological age: this is based on changes in our biochemical structure as we come of age. See, some people are biologically old at 45, while others are biologically young at 60, as the adverse effects of aging have not yet taken place. 

3) Psychological age: this is based on the actions and feelings that grow out of a mind that is maturing and evolving with time.

This last one is important for two reasons: 1) The parole board views age with our shift in understanding and a deeper, more consistent view of our common humanity. In other words, what we do subsequent to age 50, 60 and 70 reflects the various properties of our minds and our level of maturity. 2) With age comes a decline in our mental function – a universally recognized period during which priorities change. Hence, the board’s view that you have “aged out of crime” and reached that point where you represent a reduced probability of recidivism.

Long-term incarceration not only has a material adverse effect on the health of the elderly but it actually prevents the development of certain healthy habits. In fact, the life expectancy of a prisoner is increased only by virtue of the fact that they are incarcerated. Back in the late 50s and early 60s this wasn’t the case though, riots, police violence, poor conditions, no healthcare system and other factors gave a convict 46 to 51 years at most. 

Some of us Elders will never see the light of day as many of the current sitting commissioners still uphold the Draconian principles of a time long gone.

Today, however, with a drastic change in our level of consciousness, and awareness of the tactical manipulation of correctional officers and a much calmer environment, convicts can expect to live for more than 73 years behind the walls, and nearly 80 years if they come in at 46 to 50 years of age. 

Despite the increase in the average life expectancy, the lifespan of the elderly with health problems has changed. And the naturally occurring decline in the physical function of the elderly has increased. Understand that aging changes the body’s cell structure and by extension the function and appearance of the major organs. See, the body’s cell structure is programmed to die. In other words, at around 50 years old the body triggers the genes of certain cells in our body and a process known as apoptosis begins. In some cases it’s the age of the cell that starts this process. Sometimes it’s the natural progression of old cells making room for new cells or due to damage to the cells in the overall process.

Bones also become weaker and more likely to break as they grow less dense. This is because Vitamin D levels have decreased disallowing the body to absorb the high amounts of calcium from the food we eat.

The question in your mind is how does all that medical stuff play into the issue of elderly parole? All of it speaks to: 1) Diminished capacity for violence and criminal activity in the community.

2) It acts as the primary mitigating factor to be weighed in the consideration of your suitability (as an Elder) for Compassionate Release.

Of course, some of us Elders will never see the light of day as many of the current sitting commissioners still uphold the Draconian principles of a time long gone. While others with the crime and punishment mentality bring their residual effects of their previous careers into the boardroom, and by extension the decision-making process.

Most, if not all, of these commissioners have been involved with the penological system or criminology since the 1970s and think that the Indeterminate Sentencing Act of 1979 is still the criterion by which decisions are made.

Elders who have “done the work,” fulfilled the requirements of the BPH and truly prepared themselves for re-entry are denied over and over until their will is broken, their faith in the parole process shattered and their spirit to fight for freedom is null and void.

Some commissioners misuse their positions of authority and the clause in AB 109 to superimpose new sentences (at each hearing) that violate the law and trample on the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. So, via this Agreement to Come Home we are saying that measures must be taken to ensure that this abuse of authority stops!

Commissioners are chosen and confirmed by the governor of California. This means that Mr. Newsom holds the power and authority not only to decommission the 14 commissioners who currently occupy those seats of authority, but also the power and authority to install the Community Release Board to decide on public safety issues and the Strategic Release of prisoners suitable for parole.

The Five Core Demands must also play and weigh in on the question of suitability for our Elders: 1) The immediate release of all Elders 50 and over who have served at least 10 years of their base term in the interest of justice, 2) The immediate release of all Elders suffering from an ailment(s) that could lead to their death in the interest of justice, 3) The immediate release of all Elders who have been incarcerated for 25 years or more in the interest of justice, 4) The immediate release of all Elders who have come before the parole board for suitability three or more times and met some of the demands imposed by the board in the interest of justice, 5) The immediate release of all Elders with plans that include a viable social, political, economic outreach or gang intervention program, or some type of proposal that will contribute to the various Community Development projects and civil initiatives on the governor’s desk.

Remember to Remember, Never to Forget that the court in its discretion could have sentenced each and every one of the 5000 + “Elders” languishing in prison (after 25+ years) to life without the possibility of parole, but it didn’t. The court left that door of possibilities open for several reasons. One of those reasons being that they knew that we who were committed to prison at age 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20 would “age out of crime” and that period in our development was when “criminal ideations” were most prevalent. Another reason is that the court can look at certain factors and see exactly what a person will do and where a person will be in terms of their development, so they leave the door of possibility open.

But the BPH succinctly closes it over and over again via their arbitrary system of discretionary parole and the extension of base terms of seven, 15, 25 and 27-years-to-life, to LWOP terms.

Hence, Elders who have “done the work,” fulfilled the requirements of the BPH and truly prepared themselves for re-entry are denied over and over until their will is broken, their faith in the parole process shattered and their spirit to fight for freedom is null and void.

Words-of-wisdom-Leroy-Campbell, Liberate the Caged Voices, Behind Enemy Lines
“Words of wisdom” – exactly what our communities need from our Elders, and why we must get them free! Art by Leroy Campbell

Many of these Elders have created viable programs that would have availed both state and local governments, while others possess the necessary street credibility to diffuse violence and hostilities amongst rival gangs while simultaneously implementing intervention measures and gang detox initiatives that could save lives.

Of course, commissioners who are ex-law enforcement agents don’t want these types to ever escape from the system’s control because they would bring about real change and take money away from the annual budgets of gang task force units and those special district attorneys that deal with the issue of gangs from a judicial standpoint.

Also, Governor Newsom could never publicly admit that the solution to his homeless problem came from the mind of an Elder convict that he kept in prison far beyond their base term or that those charged with the responsibility of judging character in seeing the suitability of convicts missed or overlooked one …

During the 1970s, the division of Adult Authority’s criteria for parole salute suitability was ‘a trade’ that would deem a person viable and of some value to the community of their arrest. In the mid 1980s, CDC introduced college education programs and ‘education’ became the new criteria for parole suitability.

Now, administrators have affixed ‘rehabilitation’ to the department’s title and introduced Cognitive Behavioral Treatment and Substance Abuse Treatment as the new criteria for parole suitability. Before attaching those two programs and what’s known as the Long-term Offender Program, the term ‘rehabilitation’ was vague and void of meaning as is the case with the terms ‘remorse’ and ‘insight’ as they apply to parole suitability. These are facts that most Elders have learned through trial and error. 

Hence, The Agreement to Come Home is not based on an agreement to buck, shuck, bow and smile for the BPH – or to strive with every iota of our beings to meet their demands. Our Agreement to Come Home is in agreement to do all in our power to make the general public see our Huemanity.

It is an agreement to make the various communities from which we’ve come see our value and worth to them. It’s an agreement to show and prove that we are now part of the solution and not the problem. Our Agreement to Come Home is an agreement to come out of an environment that strips people of their best years, scars their minds and mixes their emotions, into a world where peace can be found, family relations developed and the spirit infused with new life.

Our Agreement to Come Home is an agreement to evade and escape the dehumanizing, demoralizing, demonic expressions of an existence in hell and the agents of repression that tactically manipulate conditions to keep us here.

Yes, our Agreement to Come Home is all of that, and so much more than time and space will allow us to convey. Therefore, we advise and counsel each and all to connect the legal terminology to the medical ideas on aging and the policy objectives of the Board of Parole Hearings so that this agreement can be sent to the senate and assembly, or framed in a proposal for the governor of California.

Stand firm, rattle your K.A.G.E. and dare to face and overcome the impossible!

In solidarity, 

Bro. Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa and Bro. Balagoon K. Mohammad are both Elders with a combined time of 81 years behind the wall. They strive and struggle from hospital beds and wheelchairs to help others get free as life leaves their bodies. Light a candle for them and ask the ancestors for blessings on them, for they are true Freedom Fighters and Radical Humanists. 

Send our brothers some love and light: Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, C-35671, CHCF D-FAC B1A-127, P.O. BOX 213040, Stockton, CA 95213. Balagoon K. Muhammad, C95955, CHCF D1A-129, P.O. BOX 213040, Stockton, CA 95213.